Idolatry and Faith: The Jurisprudence of Sanford Levinson

25 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2003


This essay discusses several of the themes of Sanford Levinson's work, focusing particularly on his comparison between law and religious faith, and his view of the United States Constitution as the nation's civic religion. The article argues that if faith in law is like religious faith, it must also respond to the dangers of idolatry and the problem of apology for the evils of the world.

The article discusses the role of lawyers as rhetors, law as a performing art, and Levinson's well-known distinction between constitutional catholicism - belief in a central authority that determines the meaning of the Constitution - and constitutional protestantism - belief in the right and duty of individuals to determine for themselves what the Constitution means.

The article concludes by deconstructing the catholicism/protestantism distinction, showing that although the distinction is not as clear-cut as Levinson originally imagined, it leads to an intriguing theory of what constitutional law is and how it is made by non-judicial actors.

Keywords: Levinson, faith, religion, law, catholicism, protestantism, idolatry, apology

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Balkin, Jack M., Idolatry and Faith: The Jurisprudence of Sanford Levinson. Tulsa Law Journal, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Jack M. Balkin (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1620 (Phone)

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