Commentary on “Siting Pluralism”

in Religion and Society
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan Indiana University Bloomington

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There are some things we seem to need to learn over and over and over. Among them are the ways in which modern legal efforts to expel the sacred—or, perhaps more pointedly, as Neena Mahadev shows in her article, interventions to end it—condemn us to its constant reproduction. State secularism results not in the evacuation of the sacred but in an almost neurotic picking at the scab of the wound—and the continuous management of what Hussein Agrama (2012: 186) has called the “problem-space of secularism.”

The four articles collected here are exemplary in their fine-grained analysis of this reality, both of the often pathetic inadequacy of regulatory efforts and, even more interestingly, of the glimpses we have of religious life lived in the in-between spaces of formal policing efforts, whether of church or state. The spatial gesture uniting this collection—siting pluralism—proves particularly potent. Sometimes imagined as uncompromisingly singular (i.e., spatial ‘locative’ religion as opposed to utopian portable religion) and at other times as spatial in a plural, less exclusive sense, the spaces/places of these articles are teeming with contradiction and multiplicity.

Contributor Notes

WINNIFRED FALLERS SULLIVAN is Provost Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Affiliated Professor of Law at Indiana University Bloomington. She 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. Her publications include Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (2009), A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law (2014), and Church State Corporation: Construing Religion in US Law (2020); she is a co-author of Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State (2018). E-mail:

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Religion and Society

Advances in Research

  • Agrama, Hussein Ali. 2012. Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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  • Grant, Bruce. 2001. “New Moscow Monuments, or, States of Innocence.” American Ethnologist 28 (2): 332362.

  • Howe, Nicolas. 2016. Landscapes of the Secular: Law, Religion, and American Sacred Space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Kaplan, Benjamin J.. 2007. Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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