Austin Sarat
Book Speaker
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Austin Sarat

Fee Range1: $ 4000 - $6000

Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst University


Criminal JusticeCurrent EventsGovernment & PoliticsHistoryHuman RightsInternational AffairsLegal Issues




Austin Sarat

Austin SaratProfessor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst University

Austin Sarat is Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College and Hugo L. Black Visiting Senior Scholar at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Professor Sarat is a pioneering figure in the development of legal study in the liberal arts, of the humanistic study of law, and of the cultural study of law. He is also an internationally renowned scholar of capital punishment, specializing in efforts to understand its social, political, and cultural significance in the United States.

Professor Sarat founded both Amherst College’s Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought and the national scholarly association, The Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. He is former President of that Association and has also served as President of the Law and Society Association and of the Consortium of Undergraduate Law and Justice Programs.

He is author or editor of more than ninety books including Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty, The Road to Abolition?: The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States; The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture, When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition, The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment: Comparative Perspectives, and Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution.

Other books include Something to Believe in: Politics, Professionalism, and Cause Lawyers (with Stuart Scheingold);  Cultural Analysis, Cultural Studies and the Law: Moving Beyond Legal Realism (with Jonathan Simon); Looking Back at Law’s Century (with Robert Kagan and Bryant Garth); and The Blackwell Companion to Law and Society.

He is currently writing a book entitled Hollywood’s Law: Film, Fatherhood, and the Legal Imagination. He is editor of the journal Law, Culture and the Humanities and of Studies in Law, Politics, and Society.

Professor Sarat has received numerous prizes and awards including the Harry Kalven Award given by the Law Society Association for “distinguished research on law and society;” the Reginald Heber Smith Award given biennially to honor the best scholarship on “the subject of equal access to justice”; the James Boyd White Award, from the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, given for distinguished scholarly achievement and “outstanding and innovative” contributions to the humanistic study of law; the Stan Wheeler Prize. awarded by the Law & Society Association, for distinguished teaching and mentoring of undergraduate, graduate, or professional students working on issues of law and society; the Hugo Adam Bedau Award, given to honor significant contributions to death penalty scholarship by the Massachusetts Coalition Against the Death Penalty; and, in 2011, the Lasting Contribution Award by the American Political Science Association’s Section on Law and Courts “for a book or journal article, 10 years or older, that has made a lasting impression on the field of law and courts” and the Ronald Pipkin Award, given by the Law and Society Association for distinguished service to the field of law and society.

His book, When Government Breaks the Law: Prosecuting the Bush Administration, was recognized on one of the best books of 2010 by the Huffington Post.

In May, 2008 Providence College awarded Prof. Sarat an honorary degree in recognition of his pioneering work in the development of legal study in the liberal arts and his distinguished scholarship on capital punishment in the United States.

His public writing has appeared in such places as The New Republic,, US News, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, The National Law Journal, The Providence Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Aljazeera America,  Politico, and The Daily Beast and he has been a commentator or guest on HuffPost Live, National Public Radio, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Public Television’s The News Hour, Odyssey, Democracy Now, RT International, ABC World News Tonight, MSNBC, Aljazeera America TV, Sputnik News-Moscow, All In with Chris Hayes, and The O’Reilly Factor.

A profile of him in US News and World Report noted that he is “one of the best loved professors at Amherst College” and praised his teaching for combining “innovation and inspiration.” His teaching also has been featured in The New York Times, on NPR’s Fresh Air, and NBC’s The Today Show.




Four Trials That Changed America

Even if we know little about the law, most of us know something about one of law’s great rituals, the trial. We are regularly fascinated when this or that legal case is played out in a courtroom and proclaimed in the media to be “the trial of the century.” Courtroom contests pit good versus evil, right versus wrong. But, in addition to their dramatic quality, they also are educational moments, occasions on which some of our most important political and social issues get played out before judge and jury.

In this lecture we will consider four trials that changed American history during the twentieth century. We will start by examining the so called “Scopes Money Trial.” In this 1925 case, a high school teacher was accused of violating a state law that made it illegal to teach human evolution in public schools. Next we take up the Nuremberg trials, held by Allied forces after World War II to prosecute the leaders of Nazi Germany. Our third trial occurred in 1992 after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. Finally, we will discuss what happened three years after the King trial when the state of California prosecuted O.J. Simpson for the murder of his wife.

Each of these trials crystallized crucial issues of the day. And, the decisions reached in each of them had a profound impact well beyond the boundaries of the courtroom. If you are interested in such pressing issues as freedom of speech and religion, the responsibilities of perpetrators of war crimes, the legal treatment of celebrities, and tensions between law enforcement and minority communities, or if you just want to have the fun of revisiting some of the most riveting moments in recent American history, this lecture will give you considerable food for thought.


How Americans Think About Punishment

Justice is a deeply perplexing idea. Everyone seems to have their own idea about what justice requires. In this lecture we explore one of those ideas, namely that justice means giving people what they deserve, and examine the that idea informs American practices of punishment. We will ask what Is the relationship of desert and punishment, and how we can we decide whether a punishment is just and proportional. Examples will include the biblical story of Job and the  history of punishment in the United States as well as the contemporary debate about America’s use of capital punishment. We will consider whether it is the commitment to just deserts as the measure of justice in punishment that is plays such an important role in a new national conversation about the death penalty.


Privacy: Old Values and New Realities

This lecture examines the ways Americans think about privacy and the ways our thinking about privacy is responding to new realities. Can we maintain our privacy when surveillance cameras are everywhere? When we put so much information about ourselves out into the digital world? When we seek securing from terrorism? Is privacy a right to be let alone or a right to control the circulation of information about ourselves?


The Truth About Lying, Secrets, and Other Bad Behavior 

From our intimate relationships to our business practices, from our families to our politics, the truth about lying and secrecy is that they seem to be almost everywhere. We may worry about such bad behavior, but life without some kinds of secrecy and deception is almost unimaginable. In this lecture we will consider why secrets and lies are so pervasive and whether we would lead better lives if our society was marked by greater candor and openness.

Drawing on examples from philosophy, psychology, law, sociology, political science, and popular culture, we will consider whether truth and openness are virtues in themselves and whether it is ever right to lie or to breach confidences. We will ask: When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to lead a moral life? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? What would family life, business, and politics be like without secrecy and deception? Come prepared to wrestle with fascinating ethical issues and to examine the role that secrets and lies play in your own life.





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