January 25, 2002

A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty

University of Chicago Divinity School
Chicago, Illinois

At a time of heightened controversy surrounding the death penalty, most discourse relies upon the political, philosophical, and legal dimensions of the practice, and its racial and social implications. Quite often in this debate, religious traditions and theological perspectives are not fully explored beyond an occasional reference to “an eye for an eye” or calls for mercy and forgiveness. Religious voices, however, provide unique standpoints and important reflective dimensions that illuminate these political and other accounts of capital punishment.

This conference brought together scholars of various faiths and religious backgrounds from the fields of politics, religion, and law to take up a broad range of views on the death penalty. Special attention was given to the following guiding questions:

  • What resources does religion-including religious beliefs, traditions, and institutions-provide in shaping current views about the death penalty?
  • In what ways do faith traditions and theological ideas shape how justice is conceived of and meted out? How do positions both for and against the death penalty draw upon various theological understandings of justice? Are these political and religious accounts of justice ultimately reconcilable?
  • What role ought religious beliefs play in a pluralistic democratic society that often presumes strict boundaries between matters of private faith and political life? How might citizens, jurors, neighbors and people of faith draw upon religious ideas in carrying out their civic responsibilities?

With a discussion of these questions in hand, this symposium grappled with the relationship between religion and public life as it pertains to what is often called the “ultimate punishment.”

Conference Transcripts

The following transcripts of the conference sessions have been edited for clarity:


Transcripts, speaker bios and other conference resources are available on the conference homepage.