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Harold J. Berman
Born February 13, 1918(1918-02-13)
Hartford, Connecticut
Died November 13, 2007 (aged 89)
Occupation Professor of law
Known for Soviet Law

Harold J. Berman (February 13, 1918 – November 13, 2007) was Ames professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Emory University for more than sixty years.


Early Life & Education

Born in February 13, 1918 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 also was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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 “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
  • 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

See also



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