Academic Year Seminars

The Witherspoon Institute and the James Madison Program are co-sponsoring a year-long noncredit reading group on The Federalist, meeting on Thursday afternoons beginning September 21, from 1:30 to 3:00 in the East Room of Bobst Hall.  The seminar will be led by Professor Matthew J. Franck of the Witherspoon Institute (and visiting lecturer in Politics at Princeton) and Professor John D. Wilsey, historian, visiting fellow in the James Madison Program, and author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion.

Many students, for one class or another in college or high school, will have read a few of the “Federalist Papers,” a series of 85 newspaper essays published in 1787-88 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, advocating the ratification of the new Constitution of the United States.  We will read and discuss all of the essays, at a pace in which we can absorb the arguments, over the course of both fall and spring semesters in the coming year.  A full projected calendar of meetings will be shared with all participants.
Students joining in this noncredit experience will have no “assignments” at all other than to attend the seminar as much as they can and to keep up with the reading.  They will be provided with a copy of The Federalist, and from session to session the reading assigned will not be onerous.  Our objective is simple—to read together and seek understanding of this remarkable work that is simultaneously the most relied-upon guide to the meaning of the Constitution and the most influential work of political thought in American history.  
Interested Princeton students may contact Professor Franck for more information at

Summer Seminars

Each summer the Witherspoon Institute offers a series of intensive courses exploring vital moral questions in various aspects of social, philosophical, legal and political thought. They constitute the core of the Institute’s effort to encourage and inform outstanding young men and women at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level who aspire to academic careers. While the Center on the University and Intellectual Life hosts some of these summers, the Center on Religion and the Constitution organizes the following summer seminars:

Moral Foundations of the American Constitutional Order
June 11-15, 2018
Princeton University • Princeton, NJ
Sponsored by the James Madison Program, co-sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute
This one-week seminar for postdoctoral and advanced graduate students in American political thought and political theory will examine major interpretations of the founding, with a view to understanding the American constitutional order’s elements of republicanism, liberalism, natural law and natural rights, the common law, and Christianity.  Is there a coherent moral teaching that underlies the American regime from its inception?  If so, what is it?  If not, what then?  And how do these questions bear on the development and future of American politics?  In addition to the core faculty, several guest faculty will join the seminar during the week’s sessions.
Applicants must demonstrate familiarity with core texts in the American founding.
Dr. Bradford P. Wilson, Executive Director, James Madison Program, Princeton University
Dr. Matthew J. Franck, Director, Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, Witherspoon Institute
Principles of American Politics
July 9-13, 2018
Princeton University  Princeton, NJ 
 Sponsored by the James Madison Program, co-sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute
This one-week seminar for upper-level high-school students and rising college freshmen will study the fundamental questions of equality and liberty in American political life.  What have Americans meant by these principles from the founding to the present?  What is their relationship with one another, with political power, with law, and with the private sphere of civil society?  Are they in tension or in harmony?  Readings will be in primary sources including The Federalist and Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, as well as other basic texts from American history.
Professor S. Adam Seagrave, University of Missouri
Professor Jeffrey Poelvoorde, Converse College
Dr. Bradford P. Wilson, Executive Director, James Madison Program, Princeton University
Dr. Matthew J. Franck, Director, Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, Witherspoon Institute

Moral Foundations of Law Seminar
July 29-August 4, 2018
Princeton, New Jersey
Moral Foundations of Law is a comprehensive, week-long program investigating the relationship between sound norms of critical morality and the civil law. Under the direction of Gerard V. Bradley (Notre Dame Law School) in collaboration with Robert P. George (Princeton University) and John Finnis (University of Oxford; University of Notre Dame), the seminar covers some of the most challenging questions facing law students today, including: the moral justifying aim of punishing criminals; morals legislation; marriage and family; legal positivism and natural law theory; the right to privacy; church and state. Evening lectures are presented by legal experts, including appellate court judges and law professors.

Church and State:
Religion in the Young American Republic

July 22-July 28, 2018
Princeton, New Jersey
The seminar on church and state for young faculty directed by Gerald McDermott, Thomas Kidd, and Daniel Dreisbach explores the interaction of religion and political life in the early American republic. Beginning with consideration of the American colonial and revolutionary eras, including the First Great Awakening and the theological contribution of Jonathan Edwards, the seminar considers take up the nations early life under the new Constitution with its First Amendment protection for religious freedom. As the Second Great Awakening swept over American Christian life in the period 1795 to 1810, how did various religious and political actors in the country come to consider or reconsider the relationship of church and state? Looking forward to the Jacksonian period, what political, legal, and social forces came to affect the further evolution of this relationship? Readings in the seminar are primary sources in early American religious and political thought. 

Summer Seminar Application Information 

The following documents are required of applicants: cover letter explaining your interest in the seminar, resume or curriculum vitae, copies of your unofficial transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. All application materials must be submitted online on or before February 18, 2018; applications received by email will not be considered. 

Admissions Information 
Admitted students will be notified of their status in mid-March. A non-refundable $250 registration fee is required of all admitted students to offset the costs of tuition, room, and board to attend each program.

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Click here for a list of seminars offered by the Institute’s Center on the University and Intellectual Life.