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Protecting Religious Liberties? Security Concerns at Places of Worship in Chicago

Authors: Maxim Samson*, DePaul University
Topics: Religion, Social Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Terrorism, security, places of worship, geography of religion
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Following numerous high-profile attacks, security has become a key concern for places of worship in contemporary American society. Indeed, the past seven years alone have seen fatal attacks on churches (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church; First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs), temples (Sikh Temple of Wisconsin), and Jewish institutions including synagogues (Overland Park Jewish Community Center; Tree of Life Congregation; Chabad of Poway), several of which were unprecedented in their scale. (Perhaps surprisingly, despite numerous Islamophobic incidents, there has reportedly been no fatal attack on a mosque in the United States in this period.) Accordingly, many such sites are developing comprehensive security policies, recruiting professional security personnel, and ensuring that staff undergo anti-terrorist training in order to mitigate the risk of any attack. However, the impacts of these threats for religious practices and community remain under-explored, with previous scholarship more commonly viewing religious institutions as sites with the potential to radicalize congregants from within, rather than as possible targets of attack from without. Given security concerns, places of worship may struggle to create a warm and comfortable environment that can also ensure the safety of congregants, necessitating attention to their provision of a range of community functions in today’s tense and polarized political climate. Consequently, this paper explores the ways in which security concerns have affected religious practices and community functions at various places of worship in Chicago, and some of their implications for discourses of citizenship and belonging in American society today.

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