Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, University of Buffalo Law School

After Secularization: Governing through Spiritual Care

Mon, 03/07/2011
4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance
Event Category: 

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Professor Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Director of the Law and Religion Program at the University of Buffalo Law School, for a discussion of "After Secularization: Governing through Spiritual Care." Her commentator will be Carol Greenhouse, Professor of Anthropology, and Chair, Department of Anthropology.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Library Lounge at the Bendheim Center
for Finance
, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

For those planning to attend the seminar, hard copies of the seminar paper are available during regular business hours in 416A Robertson Hall, or you may write to Judi Rivkin at

Professor Sullivan writes: "This essay makes the argument that after the de-constitutionalization of religion in the U.S. religion is becoming subject to administrative regulation through public-private partnerships that effectively normalize religion as an aspect of human life. Understood to be fundamentally spiritual in her anthropology, the citizen is being provided with spiritual care. Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in the last couple of decades have shifted the Court's interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment away from the high separationism of the second half of the twentieth century toward a jurisprudence that increasing sees religion as being neither particularly threatening nor particularly in need of protection. Parallel with this shift in the Court's decisions have been changes in U.S. religious life, changes that reveal a religious field that is fragmented, decentralized, and syncretic, a field in which authority is increasingly exercised in a bottom up rather than top down manner. It is the coming together of these two trends in a private/public partnership that regulates American religious life horizontally - a regulatory formation I am calling spiritual governance - that I will describe in this essay. While this new situation resembles in some ways what is sometimes called the de facto protestant establishment of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is significantly different both in the way it is legally managed and in its religious content and style. The new normalization of religion erodes notions of American exceptionalism in church/state affairs, opens the possibility for more fertile comparative work, and points to a need to move away from secularist separationism as a background assumption in law and politics."

Winnifred Sullivan studies the intersection of religion and law in the modern period, particularly the phenomenology of modern religion as it is shaped in its encounter with law. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of 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). Sullivan serves on the editorial board of the Religion and Society series at deGruyter; is currently on the executive committee of the National Association for the Study of Religion and the American Society for the Study of Religion, and together with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter Danchin, is the recipient of a Luce Foundation award for a 3-yr project entitled "Politics of Religious Freedom.". Together with Robert Yelle (U of Memphis), she was consultant on the legal entries for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion and, together with Robert Yelle and Matteo Taussig-Rubbo (UB Law), organizer of a pair of conferences entitled, "Re-describing the Sacred/Secular Divide: The Legal Story" sponsored by the Baldy Center for Law and Public Policy in 2008 and 2009, forthcoming as an edited volume entitled After Secular Law (Stanford 2011). During the 2010-2011 academic year, Sullivan is a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her work for the year is also supported by fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Carol Greenhouse is a cultural anthropologist with primary interests in the ethnography of the law and politics. Her interests focus on the discursive and experiential dimensions of state power, especially federal power in the United States, and the reflexive and critical connections "in the U.S. and elsewhere" between ethnography and democracy. She is also interested in ethnographic genres as forms of knowledge, literariness and social action. Her publications include A Moment's Notice: Time Politics Across Cultures; Praying for Justice: Faith, Order, and Community in an American Town; and Law and Community in Three American Towns (with Barbara Yngvesson and David Engel); as well as edited volumes, Democracy and Ethnography: Constructing Identities in Multicultural Liberal States and (with Elizabeth Mertz and Kay Warren) Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Life in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change. She has taught at Cornell University (1977-1991) and Indiana University - Bloomington (1991-2001), and has served as visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). Professor Greenhouse teaches courses on the ethnography of the United States, the social effects of political instability, and the cultural dimensions of political and legal institutional processes.