McGill University, 7-8 March 2019

Patti Tamara Lenard (University of Ottawa) and Laura Madakoro (McGill University)

In recent decades, there has been a great deal of attention given to modern sanctuary practices,
ranging from the sanctuary offered to asylum seekers from Central America in the 1980s to recent
efforts to declare university campuses, cities and states sanctuary spaces. Although much of the
focus has been on contemporary activities in the United States, sanctuary is a global, and deeply
historic phenomenon.

A quick glance at the historical record reveals the multitude of ways in which sanctuary practices
have manifested themselves, the ways they have been justified, as well as the ways in which they
have been woven into the very fabric of human life. One can look to ideas in Ancient Greece and
Rome, to the Old and New Testament and a sense of obligations to strangers as well as the Islamic
tradition of istijara (to be one’s neighbour), to Medieval practices designed to offer the guilty time to
make amends, to refuge among Indigenous communities (17th century Iroquois Wars), to protection
for slaves via the Underground Railway and more recent state-sanctioned offers of refuge (via
resettlement programs) and semi-authorized refuge in the form of sanctuary cities as well as
individual acts of sanctuary.

The question of what animates or characterizes any sanctuary practice is central to unpacking the
many ways in which benefactors and recipients are part of larger political, social and cultural
landscapes. Sanctuary can be offered and received publicly or privately, sanctioned by the state or
undertaken by civil society actors for religious or secular purposes. The interdisciplinary Stakes of
Sanctuary workshop interrogates how and why sanctuary has become so central to public discourse
on the protection of refugees and migrants, with the recognition that sanctuary practices have
diverse and complex genealogies. The diversity of sanctuary practices invites critical engagement
around the character of sanctuary and its significance. To this end, the workshop asks about the
impulse and character of sanctuary, now and historically, as well as what is at stake, and for whom,
in the claiming and offering of sanctuary.

To investigate what is at stake in the practice of sanctuary, the workshop organizers invite paper
proposals that engage with one, or more, of the questions below:

  • How might we understand the character of various sanctuary practices, historically and
  • What is being offered / signified through the construction and offer of sanctuary or refuge?
  • Who are understood to be the recipients of protection? How have recipients (prospective or
    otherwise) understood the stakes of sanctuary, of what is being offered?
  • What reasons are given by entities that offer sanctuary, and other forms of protection or
    hospitality, and what is their moral foundation? How should the justifications for
    sanctuary be weighed against other state imperatives?

Confirmed contributors include Michael Blake (University of Washington), Vinh Nguyen (University
of Waterloo), Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University), Charmaine Nelson (McGill University),
Rebecca Schreiber (University of New Mexico), Shelley Wilcox (San Francisco State University).

To propose a contribution, please send abstracts (300 words) to Patti Tamara Lenard and Laura
Madokoro at: and, by August 1, 2018. Papers
will be pre-circulated, so drafts must be submitted by 1 February 2019.