Michael J Kessler


Managing Director and Visiting Assistant Professor
Adjunct Professor of Law


Berkley Center
General profile



+1 202-687-5818


200 3307 M Street NW Suite


Michael Kessler is Managing Director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government, and an Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center. He works in Theology, Ethics (theological, philosophical, and political approaches), and the nexus of law, politics, and religion. Kessler received his Ph.D. focusing on Religion and Moral and Political Theory from the University of Chicago, where he was a William Rainey Harper Fellow and held a Henry Luce Dissertation Fellowship. Kessler received a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. He graduated with a BA with honors in Theology, a second major in Philosophy, and a Classics minor, from Valparaiso University.

While at Chicago, Kessler taught in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division, teaching a year-long Social and Political Theory Core class on Classics of Social and Political Theory. He was the Preceptor for the inaugural year of the Religious Studies Concentration, advising 5 students on their 4th year BA thesis. Prior to teaching at Chicago, Kessler was a visiting Assistant Professor of humanities and philosophy at Purdue University for 4 years.

Kessler’s research and writing focus on theology, philosophical and religious ethics, and social, political, and legal theory. He is interested in problems of religious freedom, both globally and in the US constitutional context. He is the author of a number of articles and reviews, and co-editor of Mystics: Presence and Aporia (University of Chicago Press, 2003). Presently, he is assembling two manuscripts with Oxford: Political Theology for a Plural Age (Oxford, 2013) and coediting with Shaun Casey the Oxford Handbook of Political Theology. He is also presently at work on a monograph, Sparks of Conscience: Law and Moral Endurance, which aims to elucidate the rise and devolution of conscience as a concept and the subsequent difficulties Anglo-American legal institutions faced in trying to protect conscience in modern law and policy. This sets up an explanation for the context in which we currently find ourselves—so many concepts of conscience, so little agreement about what conscience is and how it is to be protected. To overcome this weakness, the book develops a theory of conscience that is compatible with modern understandings of liberties and democracies and is both consistent with the kind of progressive policy goals pursued by contemporary western nations and responsive to the need to provide accommodations to disparate claims of conscience that motivate diverse modes of social being and action. The book situates this theory of conscience within contemporary debates over conscience exemptions from general laws and the broader arguments over the role of religious claims in public policy discourse.

Besides an active scholar and teacher, Kessler has served in various roles as an administrator. At the Berkley Center, Kessler helps coordinate the development of academic and public programs and manage Center logistics, including strategies for fund-raising, events, and communications. Kessler is the faculty leader for the program areas on Law, Religion, and Values and various curricular initiatives like the Undergraduate Fellows Seminars.

Prior to joining the Berkley Center, Kessler was Assistant Dean for Strategic Planning and Faculty Development for Georgetown College, managing a portfolio of responsibilities that provided primary support to the Dean of the College in faculty affairs, curricular development, international affairs, graduate program development, development and fundraising for special programs, communications, and strategic planning and special initiatives. While a dean in the College, Kessler taught in the Department of Theology.


  • JD (2009) Georgetown University Law Center,
  • PhD (2003) The University of Chicago, Religion and Political Theory