photo of winnifred sullivan

Read my blog posts in The Immanent Frame

Read about The Politics of Religious Freedom

Read about Religion and Diversity

Read about my talk on "The (im)possibility of religious freedom?" for PluRel

Listen to my interview on Radio Canada

Learn more about my latest book A Ministry of Presence

Photo Ministry of Presence
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Photo After Secular Law

to watch a video about After Secular Law click here.

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Winnifred F Sullivan

Professor, Department Chair, Department of Religious Studies

Affilliate Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 228
(812) 855-3531


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. I have training in law and in religious studies and have taught both in law school and in religion departments. I practiced law for six years 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. My research interest is primarily in understanding the phenomenology of the religion under the modern rule of law. 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.

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


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

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

“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)

"Law" and "Justice" articles for Vocabulary for the Study of Religion (Brill, online and print, forthcoming 2011)

"Why Are We Talking About Civil Religion Now?" Symposium on "Civil Religion" in the United States and Europe: Four Comparative Perspectives, George WashingtonInternational Law Review (2010)

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

"Religious Freedom and the Rule of Law: Exporting Modernity in a Postmodern World?", Mississippi College Law Review vol.22(2): 173-183 (2004)

"Neutralizing Religion or What is the Opposite of 'Faith-Based'"?, History of Religions Journal vol. 41: 369-390 (2002) (reprinted in Religion: Beyond a Concept (H. deVries, editor, Fordham University Press, 2008)

"Indifferentism Redux: Reflections on Catholic Lobbying in the Supreme Court", Notre Dame Law Review 76:993-1018 (April 2001).

Selected Chapters

"Being Human: Negotiating Religion, Law, and Science in the Classroom and the Courtroom" in Elizabeth Mertz, William Ford, and Gregory Matoesian, eds., Translating the Social World for Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

“Religious and Legal Particularism and Universality” in the Blackwell Companion to Anthropology of Religion edited by Michael Lambek (2013).

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

“Religion Naturalized: The New Establishment,” After Pluralism (C. Bender & P. Klassen, editors) (2009)

“Comparing Law Comparing Religion”, Introducing Religion: Essays in Honour of Jonathan Z. Smith (W. Braun & R.T.McCutcheon, editors) (Equinox Publishers, 2008)

“Overview” to Law and Religion entries (with Robert Yelle) Encyclopedia of Religion (Macmillian Reference USA, 2nd edition, 2005)

“American Religion is Naturally Comparative”, in A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in the Postmodern Age (Kimberley C. Patton and Benjamin C. Ray, editors) (University of California Press, 1999).


Immanent Frame: "Religion & American Politics: The Impossibility of Religious Freedom"

Imanent Frame: “The Politics of Religious Freedom”


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