Detailed Bio

Barbara McGraw in Garden
Barbara A. McGraw offers a unique perspective on the meaning and role of religious liberty in American public life and why religious pluralism is important to public debates about the important issues of our time.

Barbara A. McGraw, J.D., Ph.D, is an author, speaker, and commentator on American identity, the role of religion in public life, the moral foundations of the American political system, and religious pluralism in public life.  She serves as Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism and is Professor, Social Ethics, Law and Public Life.

As a scholar-activist, Dr. McGraw has been a commentator on religion-politics and church-state issues in op-eds and radio interviews, as well as television, in addition to her scholarly work.  

Dr. McGraw has addressed, among many other organizations, the Commonwealth Club of California (San Francisco and San Jose), the American Academy of Religion, the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (several chapters), the Association of California Chaplains in State Service, the National Correctional Chaplaincy Associations (northeast and southeast), and the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association.

Professor McGraw served 2011-2015 on the Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion, a standing committee of the American Academy of Religion.  She previously served as co-chair of AAR's Religion and Politics Section and its precursors, 2003-2009, and was an Executive Council Member of the Religion and Politics Division of the American Political Science Association 2004-2006.  Before that, she served as president of American Academy of Religion/Western Region and was a member of the board of directors for many years. 

She holds a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics and a Juris Doctor Degree, both from the University of Southern California, is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, and is an Affiliate of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

Her publications include:

“Cross-Cultural Leadership as Interfaith Leadership." In Interreligious Studies: Dispatches from the Field. Hans Gustafson, ed. Baylor University Press (anthology under review by publisher)

"Religious Regulation in the United States." In Oxford Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Co-authored with James T. Richardson. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.781.

“From Prison Religion to Interfaith Leadership for Institutional Change.” In Interreligious/Interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field. Eboo Patel, Jennifer Howe Peace, and Noah Silverman, eds. Beacon Press (2018).

“Toward a Framework for Interfaith Leadership.” In Engaging Pedagogies in Catholic Higher Education (EPICHE). Vol 3, Issue 1 (2017).

The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Religion and Politics in the U.S. (2016), for which Professor McGraw served as editor and author contributor.

Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions (Prentice-Hall 1999- , several editions), which Professor McGraw co-authors with Robert S. Ellwood, Professor Emeritus University of Southern California this highly regarded and widely used world religions. The eleventh edition is forthcoming 2020.

Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America's Sacred Ground (Baylor University Press, 2005) welcomes many voices of America's religiously pluralistic society into public conversation. In addition to serving as co-editor (with Jo Renee Formicola), Professor McGraw is a contributing author. This book was reviewed by Jon Meacham in the cover article of the December 25, 2005 "New York Times Book Review" as an "important new book."  In that review, Mr. Meacham credited Professor McGraw with "coining the term 'America's Sacred Ground.'"  

In her book entitled Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America (State University of New York Press, 2003), which has received excellent reviews, Professor McGraw argues that a fundamental moral framework underlies the American political system––a framework she calls "America's Sacred Ground."  This is a framework for public discourse and law that moves the debate about the role of religion in public life beyond the false religious right/secular left dichotomy that currently prevails, shows that the American founders' seemingly conflicting positive and negative references to religion actually are not contradictory, and shows how America's many pluralistic religious voices can contribute to public discourse without undermining the "ground" of the American political/legal system.

In her capacity as member of the Bar of the US Supreme Court, Professor McGraw filed an amicus curiae brief in the Pledge of Allegiance case (Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. v. Newdow), in which she made the argument that the nation's shared value and unifying principle is pluralism.