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The Logic of Sanctuary: Religious Movements in Non-Sovereign Spaces

This conference took place at Duke University, 8-9 February, 2018. The main conference organizer was James Chappel (History, Duke University). He was joined by an active organizing committee, made up of William Chafe (History), Mona Hassan (Religious Studies), Michael Gillespie (Political Science), Negar Mottahedeh (Literature), and Luke Bretherton (Divinity School).

Panels included "The Logic of Sanctuary (Roundtable)," "Civic Activism: Religion in Urban Spaces," "Humanitarianism: Religion and the Body," and "Environmentalism: Religion and the Land."

The two-day conference began with a public forum on the sanctuary movement examining the question of how and why was this religious concept was revived, and what resources it offers. The roundtable brought together journalists, activists, and academics to think through these pressing questions, with time for Q&A with the audience. The event was moderated by Elizabeth Bruenig (Washington Post) and featured the following panelists: A. Naomi Paik (Asian American Studies, University of Illinois); Diya Abdo (director of Guilford College's Every Campus a Refuge project); and Julie Peeples (Senior Pastor, Congregational church, Greensboro).

Below is the original description of the conference from the organizers:

In the past few years, from Standing Rock to Rojava, we have seen the emergence of transnational and interfaith forms of religious activism. At the same time, we have seen the revival of the medieval concept of “sanctuary”: by offering sanctuary, cities and universities are in essence identifying themselves as sacred spaces, outside the reach of the state.

The obsession with religious mobilization in recognizably political spaces (“the evangelical voter”) has obscured this kind of activity. How should we conceptualize these alternative forms of religious mobilization? This conference uses the theme of “sanctuary” as a jumping-off point to think about the resources religion offers to communities seeking to gather around, and govern, non-national spaces: the human body, the city, and the environment. The hope is that this will help us to better understand the forces at work in a twenty-first century world of weak states and global challenges.

The conference will begin with a public roundtable, featuring both scholars and practitioners, in Goodson Chapel on Thursday, 8 February at 5 PM. That roundtable will focus on the specific sanctuary movement, which for the past several decades has revived older religious theories to offer safe space to human bodies deemed illegal by the state. It will feature academic experts and practitioners alike. It will then continue with a day-long conference in the Ahmadieh Lecture Hall, Smith Warehouse, Duke University. That conference will bring together practitioners with experts in anthropology, geography, history, and religious studies, all of whom will think through the concept of sanctuary as it relates to their own work. This will involve asking what resonance the concept of sanctuary has in other faith traditions (in addition to Christianity, speakers will focus on Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam).

All are welcome to attend, whether or not you are affiliated with the Duke community (or with academia, for that matter).