Barbara A. McGraw

About Barbara A. McGraw 


Barbara A. McGraw

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 and to interfaith leadership in the professions.

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 and interfaith leadership in public life. She is known for coining the term "America's Sacred Ground" for the aspirational moral foundation of the United States. She is the founding director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism and is Professor of 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 on television, in addition to her scholarly work.  

Dr. McGraw has addressed, among many other organizations and educational institutions: the National Conference for Ministry to the Armed Forces, the Religious Freedom Annual Review of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, the Commonwealth Club of California (San Francisco and San Jose), the American Academy of Religion, the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, the Faith in Politics Forum of the University of California, Berkeley, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (several chapters), Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas, the Association of California Chaplains in State Service, and National Correctional Chaplaincy Associations (northeast and southeast).

Dr. McGraw was appointed to serve on the Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion, a prestigious standing committee of the American Academy of Religion, by the AAR president, serving from 2011 to 2016.  She has also served as president of the American Academy of Religion/Western Region and was a member of its board of directors for many years. She served as co-chair of AAR national's Religion and Politics Section and its precursors for seven years, and was an Executive Council Member of the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. She presented at and then ran the Governmental Chaplaincy and Religious Diversity (aka G-CARD) program, co-sponsored by the AAR, for nearly a decade and a half (until 2020), and she serves as the International Interfaith Ambassador for the McCollum Foundation for Peace, a United Nations recognized international peace non-profit. Dr. McGraw was honored to be the recipient of the 2014 Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism from the Hindu American Foundation.

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 United States Supreme Court, and is an Affiliate of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University.


Barbara's Publications

"A Theological Interpretation of the Declaration of Independence." In The Cambridge Companion to the Declaration of Independence, eds. Michael Zuckert and Mark A. Graber (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

"Tolerance and Intolerance in the History of Religious Liberty Jurisprudence in the United States and the Implementation of RFRA and RLUIPA." In Secularization, Desecularization, and Toleration. Vyacheslav, G Karpov and Manfred Svensson, eds. Palgrave MacMillan, 2020.  Authored by Barbara A. McGraw and  James T. Richardson.

"Religious Regulation in the United States." In Oxford Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Paul Djupe, Mark J. Rozell, and Ted G. Jelen, eds. Oxford University Press, 2020. Authored by Barbara A. McGraw and James T. Richardson.

Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions (Prentice-Hall and Routledge, 1999- , several editions).  Authored by Robert S. Ellwood and Barbara A. McGraw. The eleventh edition was published in 2023.

“Cross-Cultural Leadership as Interfaith Leadership." In Interreligious Studies: Dispatches from an Emerging Field. Hans Gustafson, ed. Baylor University Press, 2020. 

“Congressional Efforts to Defend and Extend Religious Freedom and the Law of Unintended Consequences.” In Religion – Staat – Gesellschaft: Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews. Gerhard Besier, ed. LIT Verlag, 2019. Authored by James T. Richardson and Barbara A. McGraw

“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. Barbara A. McGraw ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Barbara A. McGraw, ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2016.

"Religious Pluralism at the Crossroads." In The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Politics in the U.S. Barbara A. McGraw, ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2016.

Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America's Sacred GroundBaylor University Press, 2005. Edited by Barbara A. McGraw and Jo Renee Formicola. 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.'"

Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic AmericaState University of New York Press, 2003. In this book, Dr. McGraw argues that a fundamental moral framework underlies the American political system––a framework she calls "America's Sacred Ground," which has religious pluralism at its heart. 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. America's many diverse voices were meant to contribute to public discourse on America's Sacred Ground.

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

Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism


Barbara A. McGraw, JD., Ph.D.
Professor, Social Ethics, Law, & Public Life
Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism