Religion at the Borders

Borders demarcate edges, and edges can be powerful places from which to understand, undermine, or underscore the stability of centers. Geographical borders, for example, may serve to delineate religious identities, while recitations, practices, and rituals may define the boundaries of belonging within religious communities. Borders might also separate orthodoxy from heterodoxy, serve as transitional or liminal spaces, or provide sites for critiquing mainstream ideas or identities. Borders are also bridges, that is, areas where people, cultures, genders, families, economies, and religious traditions meet and meld. An examination of “Religion on the Borders” offers the opportunity to expand and redefine the intersections of religion, society, and culture across time and space. We invite scholars to consider the ways that religion on or at the border(s) can advance our understanding of tradition, identity, practice, as well as the built, material, and intellectual culture of religion.

Conference co-conveners:

Amy L. Allocco, Associate Professor of Religious Studies (Elon University)

Evan Gatti, Associate Professor of Art History (Elon University)

Sandy Marshall, Assistant Professor of Geography (Elon University)

Shayna Mehas, Visiting Assistant Professor of History (Elon University)



Leah Sarat (Arizona State University), “The Terror of ‘Safety:’ Christianity, Immigrant Policing, and Detention at the Nation’s Edge”
Drawing upon a decade of experience navigating the boundaries between academic and activist spaces in Arizona, Sarat will highlight the stories of two Christian leaders whose lives have been closely impacted by the private, for-profit immigrant detention industry in the state: an asylum-seeker from El Salvador who emerged as a peer faith healer during four years at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, and the former national Director of Chaplaincy for CoreCivic, the company that profited from her time behind bars. While these stories provide insight onto the commodification of human beings that contributes to immigrant policing in borderlands, they also offer a window onto the intersection of Christianity with broader debates about safety, fear, liberation, healing, and personhood within the U.S. carceral landscape. Dr. Sarat is author of Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream (NYU Press, November 2013).


Banu Gokariksel (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Dr. Gokariksel’s research examines bodies, intimacy, and everyday spaces as key sites of politics and geopolitics. Her work is situated in the fields of geography of religion and feminist political and cultural geographies and uses a multiplicity of methods, including focus groups, interviews, visual analysis, discourse analysis, and surveys. She is interested in lived religion and religious spaces beyond the ‘officially sacred’ and politics beyond elections and state institutions but as manifest in and produced by ordinary people and the ways they make their bodies, traverse spaces of everyday urban life, and encounter others as differently positioned subjects. Her research trajectory includes projects on shopping malls, veiling fashion, and sectarian difference in Turkey.

Thursday, Feb. 11

4:00: Welcome, Brian K. Pennington, Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society

  • 4:15-5:15: Session 1: Rituals of Care at the Borders
    • Sandy Marshall (Elon University), presiding
    • Harini Kumar (University of Chicago), “At the Border of the Sacred: Muslim Shrines as Spaces of Care in Coastal South India”
    • Barbara Sostaita (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), “Weaving the Wall: Care and the Devotional Femme in the Militarized Desert”
  • 5:45-6:45: Keynote Address
    • Leah Sarat (Arizona State University), “The Terror of ‘Safety:’ Christianity, Immigrant Policing, and Detention at the Nation’s Edge”
    • 6:45-?: Virtual conference reception
Friday, Feb. 12
  • 10:00-11:00: Session 2: Gendered Bodies and Border-making
    • Shayna Mehas (Elon University), presiding
    • Justine Howe (Case Western Reserve University), “Affective Economies and the Transnational Revivalism of Maryam Jameelah”
    • Brooke Brassard (McMaster University), “On the Border of Monogamy: Suppressing and Rewarding Non-Monogamy Among the Latter-day Saints and Kainai Nation in Alberta, 1887-1905”
  • 11:15-12:15: Session 3: Borders and Racialized Religion
    • Pamela Winfield (Elon University), presiding
    • Aarti Patel (Syracuse University), “Boundaries and Thresholds”
    • Alexander Rocklin (Otterbein University), “Becoming Hindu in Panama: Contesting Race and Religion across Borders”
  • 12:30-1:30: Session 4: Lunchtime Discussion: “Borders before the Nation-State”
    • Michael Carignan (Elon University), presiding
    • Thomas A. E. Greene (University of North Georgia) and Evan Gatti (Elon University)
Saturday, Feb. 13
  • 9:30-10:30: Session 5: Violence and Border-(un)making
    • Amy Allocco (Elon University), presiding
    • Ehsan Sheikholharam (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), “Borders within Borders: Superkilen as the Site of Assimilation”
    • Aniket De (Harvard University), “Divided States, Shared Songs: Gambhira Performances across the India-Bangladesh Border”
  • 10:45-12:00: Session 6: Concluding Analysis and Discussion
    • Brian Pennington (Elon University), presiding
    • Banu Gokariksel (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)