The Oxford Handbooks

A Legal Approach to Questions about Religious Diversity

Nathan C. Walker

Chapter Abstract

Academic legal research and the associated method of legal analysis can significantly enhance the study of religion. Scholars of American religions cite legal cases but often do not apply the necessary legal methods to ground their claims. For instance, when approaching questions about religious diversity, scholars may inadvertently work from an inaccurate legal definition of religion. In U.S. Constitutional law, the legal definition of religion has meant different things at different points in history and remains a highly contested term. These contradictory definitions reflect society’s struggle with religious diversity, defining who is, and who is not, protected by American law. The following chapter summarizes the evolving legal definitions of religion, surveys some central legal questions regarding American religions, and introduces a five-step legal methodology for scholars of religion to apply to questions of religious diversity. The purpose is for scholars of religion to demonstrate a sophisticated level of legal literacy to more effectively assist the courts in achieving religious literacy.


religious diversity, religion, law, legal analysis, American law, U.S. Constitution


Nathan C. Walker (2014) “A Legal Approach to Questions about Religious Diversity” in Chad Meister, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Oxford Handbooks Online. New York: Oxford University Press.

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