photo of winnifred sullivan

Read my blog posts in The Immanent Frame

Read about Politics of Religious Freedom project

Read about the Religion and Diversity Project

Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad
Read about Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad

Listen to my interview about A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law on New Books in Religion

Learn more about my latest book

Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State

Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State
University of Chicago Press, 2017

Ministry wins AAR Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Analytical-Descriptive Studies

Photo Ministry of Presence

to watch a video about After Secular Law click here.

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Winnifred F Sullivan

Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Affiliate Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law

Director of Center for Religion and the Human

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 217


B.A., Cornell University, 1971
J.D., University of Chicago, 1976
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1993

Research Interests

Professional Biography

I am interested in religion as a broad and complex social and cultural phenomenon that both generates law and is regulated by law. My particular research interest is in understanding the phenomenology of religion under the modern rule of law. I have training in law and in religious studies and have taught both in law school and in religion departments. I practiced law after graduating from law school before returning to graduate school to study religion. My 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.

I am 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. My 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. Forthcoming is a co-authored work, Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State (with Paul Johnson and Pamela Klassen)(Chicago 2018) I am also co-editor of three volumes, After Secular Law (Stanford 2011), Varieties of Religious Establishment (Ashgate 2013), and Politics of Religious Freedom (Chicago 2015).

At Indiana I teach 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.

Courses Recently Taught

Publication Highlights


Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

Politics of Religious Freedom (editor with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin) (University Of Chicago Press, May 2015)

A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (University Of Chicago Press, 2014)

Varieties of Religious Establishment (editor with Lori Beaman) (Ashgate 2013)

After Secular Law (editor, with Robert A. Yelle and Mateo Taussig-Rubbo) (Stanford University Press, 2011)

Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009)

The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005)

Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994)

Selected Articles

"'Going to Law': Reflections on Law, Religion, and Mitra Sharafi’s Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia" Law & Social Inquiry Volume 42, Issue 4, 1231–1239 (Fall 2017)

"Dialogue about Religious Freedom" (with Cécile Laborde) Quaderni di Diritto e Politica Ecclesiastica n. 1, aprile 2013.

"Joan's Two Bodies: An Essay in Political Anthropology"; for special issue "Body and State" Social Research 78:1-18 (Summer 2011)

"The Religious Expert in American Courts" for special issue "Expertise publique et religion" Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions (2011)

"The Conscience of Contemporary Man": Reflections on U.S. v. Seeger and Dignitatis Humanae, U.S. Catholic Historian vol. 24:107-123 (Winter 2006)

Selected Chapters

"Being Human: Negotiating Religion, Law, and Science in the Classroom and the Courtroom" in Elizabeth Mertz, William K. Ford, and Gregory Matoesian, eds., Translating the Social World for Law: Linguistic Tools for a New Legal Realism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

“Imagining Law at the Newark Earthworks” for Lindsay Jones, et al, eds., The Newark Earthworks and World Heritage: One Site, Many Contexts(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2015)

“Religion, Land, and Rights: Reflections on the Park51 Controversy” in Varieties of Religious Establishment, edited by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Lori Beaman. (Ashgate 2013) (An earlier version of this chapter was published as an Occasional Paper on the Institute for Advanced Study website:

“Reforming Culture: Law and Religion Today” in Robert Orsi, ed., Cambridge Companion for Religious Studies (2011)

“Religion Naturalized: The New Establishment” in Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, eds., After Pluralism (Columbia 2010)

Blog Posts

“Notes on Johnson v M’Intosh” in Theologies of American Exceptionalism.

“Notes on the Johnson Amendment” at HistPhil (posted February 6, 2017)

“Teaching Religion: Refusing the Schempp Myth of Origins" The Immanent Frame (posted 15 August 2016)

The Impossibility of Religious Freedom” in The Immanent Frame (posted 8 July 2014) re-posted at the University of Chicago press Blog, and at

“Law’s Prayer: Town of Greece v Galloway” in Reverberations

“Separationism and the Sex Abuse Crisis” in The Immanent Frame (posted 20 July 2012)

“The World that Smith Made” in The Immanent Frame (posted March 7, 2012)

“The Church” in The Immanent Frame

“Going to Law” in The Immanent Frame

“Shakeela Hassan” in Frequencies


Religious Studies News

New Books in Religion: A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law

Radio Canada:


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