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Speaker Series: Winnifred F. Sullivan, University of Indiana Bloomington

  • When: January 24, 2018, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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The Church-in-law: Considering the "New" Institutionalism in First Amendment Law

For many, the strongest reasons to privilege religion in US law rest in respect for individual conscience. After all, the church was disestablished. Two recent decisions of the US Supreme Court seem to challenge this understanding, recognizing corporate religious rights—perhaps even a kind of sovereignty, Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC and Burwell v Hobby Lobby. Taken from a forthcoming book describing the legal fiction of the church—the body of Christ—as it inhabits the US legal imagination, this presentation will argue that notwithstanding disestablishment US law has not been able to think religion without the church. 

Courtesy of Indiana University Bloomington

Winnifred F Sullivan is interested in religion as a broad and complex social and cultural phenomenon that both generates law and is regulated by law. Her particular research interest is in understanding the phenomenology of religion under the modern rule of law. She has training in law and in religious studies and has taught both in law school and in religion departments. Her training in the academic study of religion is in two fields, American religious history and the comparative study of religion. I focus on the intersection of religion and law in the U.S. within a broader comparative field, both theoretically and cross-culturally. Within legal studies, my work falls broadly within socio-legal and critical legal studies.

She is the author of three books analyzing legal discourses about religion in the context of actions brought to enforce the religion clauses of the First Amendment and related legislation: Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), and Prison Religion: Faith-based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009). Each of these books offers a close reading of the texts of a US religion case using the resources of legal anthropology, socio-legal studies and the academic study of religion, with a view to displaying the multiple and contending models of and discourses about religion there represented. My goal in each case was to situate and critique American law about religion, setting that law in the context of American religious and legal history, and the scholarship about them. Her fourth book, A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (Chicago 2014), portrays the chaplain and her ministry as a product of the legal regulation of religion and as a form of spiritual governance. 

At Indiana, she teaches courses on religion and law, the politics of religious freedom, the history and phenomenology of Christmas as a church/state event, the trial of Joan of Arc, and contemporary theories of religion.

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