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Understanding human dignity.

Named after distinguished American theologian Michael Novak, this $15,000 award rewards new outstanding scholarly research concerning the relationship between religion, economic freedom, and the free and virtuous society. This award recognizes those scholars early in their academic career who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of the rule of law, limited government, religious liberty, and freedom in economic life.

2017 Winner

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., May 30, 2017 — In recognition of Professor Wim Decock’s outstanding research into the fields of theology, religion and economic history, the Acton Institute will be awarding him the 2017 Novak Award.

Professor Wim Decock teaches legal history at the Universities of Leuven and Liège (Belgium). He is an associate fellow at Emory University’s Centre for the Study of Law and Religion (USA) and an affiliate researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History (Germany). Decock holds an M.A. in Classics, an LL.M in Law, and received his Ph.D. in legal history in a joint program through the Universities of Leuven and Roma Tre (Italy). His 2014 book, Theologians and Contract Law: The Moral Transformation of the Ius Commune, earned him the H.M. Leibnitz Prize of the German Research Foundation. 


Current doctoral candidates or those who have received a doctorate in the past five years are eligible. Applicants should have studied theology, religion, philosophy, history, law, politics, economics, or related fields.

Strong academic performance is essential.

Scholar applicants must have a demonstrated interest in the relationship between religion, economic liberty, and the free and virtuous society. Important principles in this relationship include the recognition of human dignity, the importance of the rule of law, limited government, religious liberty, and freedom in economic life.

Scholar applicants must display the potential to contribute to the advancement of a free and virtuous society.

The Novak Award is open to all qualified persons irrespective of race, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, religious affiliation, or disability.


Include the following to be considered.

A complete application is required to be considered for this award and includes the following: 

  • A signed application form [PDF] (must be completed in English). Applications are due on March 15.
  • A Curriculum vitae.
  • A 500-word essay that describes your intellectual development, future plans, and career goals. This statement should elaborate on the source and development of your interest in the ideas and principles listed above. Include how you expect to contribute to a better understanding or application of these ideas.
  • A research paper, refereed published article, or other scholarly work, such as a book, monograph, or a conference paper, on a theme relevant to religion and economic liberty or a related theme.
  • Two letters of recommendation from professors or other established scholars in your field.

Completed applications must be mailed to the Acton Institute and postmarked by March 15

Apply Now

Mail the completed application materials to:

Acton Institute
Grants and Awards
98 East Fulton Street, Unit 101
Grand Rapids, MI 49503 USA

Past Winners