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Harold J. Berman
Born (1918-02-13)February 13, 1918
Hartford, Connecticut
Died November 13, 2007(2007-11-13) (aged 89)
New York
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Yale University

Harold J. Berman (February 13, 1918 – November 13, 2007) was an American legal scholar who was an expert in comparative, international and Soviet/Russian law as well as legal history, philosophy of law and the intersection of law and religion.[1][2] He was a law professor at Harvard Law School and Emory University School of Law for more than sixty years, and held the James Barr Ames Professorship of Law at Harvard before he was appointed as the first Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory. He has been described as "one of the great polymaths of American legal education."[3][4][5]

Early Life & Education

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Berman received a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1938, and a master's degree and Juris Doctor from Yale University in 1942 and 1947, respectively. He served as a cryptographer in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of Operations from 1942 to 1945 and received the Bronze Star for his service.


In 1948 he joined the faculty of Harvard Law School, where he built a reputation as one of the world's best-known scholars of Soviet law, and held the Story Professorship of Law and later the Ames Professorship of Law. He was a frequent visitor to Russia as a guest scholar and lecturer, even during the height of the McCarthy era. In 1958, he represented the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle in Soviet courts, in an unsuccessful attempt to collect copyright royalties from the government of the USSR.

He left HLS in 1985 for the Emory University School of Law, where he was the first person to hold the Robert W. Woodruff Professorship of Law — the highest honor Emory can bestow upon a faculty member. Berman was one of the pioneers of the study of law and religion. He played an integral role in the development of Emory's Law and Religion Program, now the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), where he served as Senior Fellow. “He was my mentor, but far more important than that, he was one of the few legal scholars in the country willing to write about both law and religion,” said Professor Frank S. Alexander, CSLR founding director, who persuaded Berman to join the faculty at Emory Law after being one of his students at Harvard in the early 1970s.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Berman consulted leading Russian officials on proposed legislation and led seminars for political leaders and academics on the development of legal institutions.

One of the world's most distinguished scholars of Soviet and post-Soviet law, Berman was a Fellow of The Carter Center, with a special focus in U.S.-Russian relations. He visited Russia more than 40 times since 1955 as a guest scholar and lecturer on the topic of American law, and he was the founder and co-director of the American Law Center in Moscow, a joint venture of Emory Law and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. He also took his expertise on Communist and post-Communist law to Eastern Europe and China in recent years, where his writings are well known and widely used.

In recent years, Berman worked to redress global societal inequalities and to establish systems of trust, peace, and justice in developing countries. He co-founded and co-chaired the World Law Institute, an organization that sponsors educational programs in global law. The Institute opened the first Academy of World Law at the Central European University in Budapest in 2000 and a later comparable program in Moscow.

In 1991, Berman was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by the Catholic University of America; in 1995, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, by the Virginia Theological Seminary; and in 2000, the degree of Doctor, honoris causa, by the Russian Academy of Sciences Law University. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.[6] In 2005, Berman represented American politician and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice in its amicus appearance in Van Orden v. Perry, defending the display of a Ten Commandments memorial on the grounds of the Texas state capitol.


A prolific scholar, Berman wrote 25 books and more than 400 scholarly articles, including Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition and The Nature and Functions of Law, which is in its 6th edition. The law journal Constitutional Commentary described Law And Revolution as "the standard point of departure for work in the field" [of Western legal history]. On his death, the New York Times characterized Berman as "a scholar . . . whose forceful scholarship altered thinking about Western law's origins."


  • Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition
  • Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition
  • The Nature and Functions of Law
  • Soviet criminal law and procedure: the RSFSR codes
  • The Interaction of Law and Religion
  • Soviet law in action: the recollected cases of a Soviet lawyer (1953) with Boris A. Konstantinovsky
  • Soviet Military Law and Administration (1955) with Miroslav Kerner
  • Soviet-American trade in legal perspective: proceedings of a conference of Soviet and American legal scholars (1975)
  • Religion and International Law (with Mark Janis)
  • Justice in the U.S.S.R.; an interpretation of Soviet law (Harvard, 1963)


  • Introduction to the World Law Institute


In March 2004, a symposium of some 500 scholars and students gathered at Emory University School of Law to celebrate the scholarship of its three Robert W. Woodruff Professors of Law, Harold J. Berman, Martha Albertson Fineman, and Michael J. Perry, and Visiting Professor Martin E. Marty. In 2008, Emory Law Journal published a special issue titled In Praise of a Legal Polymath: A Special Issue Dedicated to the Memory of Harold J. Berman (1918–2007).[4]

See also

  • List of Russian Legal Historians


  2. Martin, Douglas (18 November 2007). "Harold J. Berman, 89, Who Altered Beliefs About Origins of Western Law, Dies". The New York Times. p. 37. 
  3. April L. Bogle, Ginger Pyron, When law and religion meet: the point of convergence, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007, p. 12, ISBN 0-8028-6294-2, ISBN 978-0-8028-6294-5
  4. 4.0 4.1 "In Praise of a Legal Polymath: A Special Issue Dedicated to the Memory of Harold J. Berman (1918–2007)," Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 6 (2008): 1393-1470
  5. Thomas C. Arthur and John Witte, Jr., "The Foundations of Law: Introduction", 54 Emory Law Journal, 1-375 (2005).
  6. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 16, 2011. 

External links

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