Inaugural Hendricks Lecture to Address When Massachusetts was Religious and Virginia Wasn't

Lexington, VA Thursday, January 31, 2008

William E. Nelson, the Judge Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law at New York University Law School, will deliver the inaugural Hendricks Lecture in Law and History. The lecture will debut on George Washington's birthday, Friday, February 22, at 2:00 p.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Professor Nelson's lecture is titled "When Massachusetts was Religious and Virginia Wasn't - and Why it Changed." During his lecture, Professor Nelson will address the puzzle that arises when comparing the history of law and religion in Virginia and the larger American South with its history in Massachusetts and the Northeast. 

The new lecture series was endowed by Pete Hendricks ('66A, '69L), who has a private practice in Atlanta involving land use zoning and government permitting. A history major himself, Hendricks also endowed the Ollie Crenshaw Prize in History at the College several years ago in honor of his favorite professor.

 "It's important to have a sense of history to put what you are studying into context," said Hendricks. "I know W&L's philosophy is to produce a well-rounded lawyer," he explained, "and I hope this lecture series will serve as an interface between the two disciplines."

Professor Nelson says that religion was substantially more important in colonial Massachusetts than in colonial Virginia. But today, Virginia is the stronger seat of faith. Hence the puzzle:  how did the once faithful Northeast become secular and, in places, even irreligious, while the deist commonwealth of Thomas Jefferson, with its commitment to a wall of separation between church and state, was transformed into a center of evangelical influence on politics and the law?

Professor Nelson holds a J.D. and LL.B. from New York University School of Law, as well as a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has been active as a legal historian since the publication of his first history article in the Annual Survey of American Law in 1966. Over the intervening years, Professor Nelson has published two prize-winning books, eight other books, and numerous articles in leading law reviews and history journals.

This lecture is sponsored by the Frances Lewis Law Center.

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