Sarat's primary research interest is the use of the death penalty, which he refers to as "state killing." He believes that the death penalty, due to the extreme nature of its punishment, provides a unique opportunity to examine American values and beliefs and how they are manifested in the American legal system. His most recent book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, tells the extended tale of inhumane lethal punishment in the United States. His earlier book, Mercy On Trial: What it Means To Stop an Execution, investigated the use of executive clemency, particularly Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to commute all impending death sentences in the Illinois state penitentiary system.
Due to his extensive knowledge on this subject, he was widely consulted by the popular media during the coverage of the Stanley Williams execution in 2005. His research more broadly studies the intersection of law and culture and the ways in which law may be said to be socially organized.
Sarat's seminar, "Murder", has been profiled in ''The New York Times''. He also teaches another popular course at Amherst called "The Social Organization of Law."
Sarat has received the Ronald Pipkin Service Award, awarded annually to a Law and Society Association member who has demonstrated sustained and extraordinary service to the Association, 2014. He also has received the Lasting Contribution Award, awarded 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.” Recognizing "The Emergence of Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming," 2011. Sarat also in an Honorary Doctor of Laws at Providence College.
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