Religion and Public Life Lectures

Annual Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life​

The Annual Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life brings a distinguished scholar to campus each year for a public talk of relevance to both scholars of religion and the general public. The event is sponsored in part by the Rufus Monroe and Sofie Hougaard Paine Lectures in Religion, and often co-sponsored by a number of departments and programs from across the MU campus.

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University and Affiliated Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law Death-Qualifying the Jury, Constituting the People. April 6, 2017.


"The death penalty has had wide public support in the US, across religious communities and outside them. Much has been written about the arbitrariness of the actual implementation of this law. This lecture will argue that the jurors, as representatives of the people required to make an individualized moral decision for which each juror is asked to take entire responsibility, with no legal or other guidelines, are forced, in effect, to constitute a temporary tiny church-state for the purposes of the case before them. The American jury in the penalty phase thus encapsulates US church-stateness in the way in which it shows the paradoxically empty and lawless place at the heart of popular sovereignty/free religion, a place of irreducible surplus and entanglement—and suffering."

Dr. Sullivan is professor in and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. She is also an affiliated professor of law at Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law. She is the author of such influential books as Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), Prison Religion: Faith-based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009), and A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (Chicago 2014).

(Article about the lecture from the Maneater:


Judith Weisenfeld, Agate Brown and George L. Collard Professor of Religion, Princeton University. Apostles of Race: Religion and Black Racial Identity in the Great Migration. April 12, 2016.


The talk explores the intersections of religion and racial identity among black migrants from the South and immigrants from the Caribbean who encountered one another in the northern cities of the early twentieth century Great Migration and contributed to the religious transformations migration spurred. Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, Father Divine's Peace Mission movement, congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, and the Nation of Islam, all of which emerged in the context of urbanization, migration, and immigration, Dr. Weisenfeld wilI discuss members’ embodied approaches to alternative understandings of black racial identity and collective history to the dominant narratives provided by mainstream black Protestant churches and in broader American society.

Dr. Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collard Professor of Religion and Associated Faculty in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University, where she also serves on the Executive Committees of the Center for the Study of Religion, the Council of the Humanities, and the Program in American Studies.

Her research focuses on early twentieth-century African American religious history, with particular attention to the relation of religion to construction of race; the impact on black religious life of migration, immigration, and urbanization; African American women's religious history; and religion in film and popular culture.

Dr. Weisenfeld is the author of Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film 1929-1949, and African American Women and Christian Activism: New York’s Black YWCA, 905-1945. She is the co-author of The History of the Riverside Church in the City of New York, and co-editor with Richard Newman of This Far By Faith: Readings in African American women’s Religious Biography. Her new book, New World A Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity During the Great Migration, is forthcoming from NYU Press in Fall 2016.


Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America, Harvard University. Borderlands, Migrant Saints, Sacred Bundles: Latinos and the Remaking of American Religiosity, April 7, 2015.


Davíd Carrasco is a Mexican American historian of religions with particular interest in Mesoamerican cities as symbols, and the Mexican-American borderlands. His work has included a special emphasis on the religious dimensions of Latino experience. He is the author of Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers (1990), Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire (1992), and City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization (2000), among other books. Carrasco has been awarded the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government gives to a foreign national, for his contributions to understanding the history and cultures of Mexico. 

Dr. Carrasco will present an illustrated lecture highlighting the historical encounters between Christianity, Africa and native Mesoamerican religions as well as the migration of hybrid saints, rituals and symbols into the US resulting in a borderlands of religious sensibilities and practices. He will explore how Mexican migrations stimulate changes in public religious expressions. Reflections on Samuel Huntington, Virgilio Elizondo, Cesar Chavez, Gloria Anzaldua, La Virgen de Guadalupe, Days of the Dead, Cristos de Caña and Santeria.

Video of Dr. Carrasco's lecture can be found here


Edward Linenthal, Professor of History, Indiana University. The Predicament of Aftermath: Oklahoma City and 9/11, April 28, 2014. 

Video of Dr. Linenthal's lecture can be found here


Stephanie Kaza, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Vermont. Responding to Environmental Challenges: Insights from Zen Buddhism
April 18, 2013.

Video of Dr. Kaza's lecture can be found here

Mark Chancey, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University. Educating for a ‘Christian America’:  Religion and the Texas Social Studies Controversy, March 1, 2012.

Video of Dr. Chancey's lecture can be found here

[There was no Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life in 2011]


Mark Juergensmeyer, Director of Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, Professor of Sociology, Affiliate Professor of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. Global Rebellion: Religious Challenge to the Secular State. Thursday, April 7, 2010.


Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Candler Professor of Law, Emory University. Muslims and the Secular State: Dynamics of Majority/Minority Situations
Monday, April 20, 2009.


Robert Wuthnow, Andlinger Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University
The Global Reach of American Christianity, Monday, 14 April 2008.