Landscapes of the SecularLaw, Religion, and American Sacred Space

Landscapes of the SecularLaw, Religion, and American Sacred Space

Nicolas Howe

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226376776

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Secularization has changed how Americans see their cultural landscape. This book explains why by examining the language and lived experience of legal conflict over sacred space since the 1970s. From high-profile fights over wilderness areas to small-town spats over schoolhouse nativity scenes, battles across the religious-secular divide have produced a new geography of religion, one in which the very idea of sacred space is continually both called into question and restrictively defined. In this climate of religious ambivalence, law has played an ever-greater role in shaping how Americans experience and imagine their material environment, especially in the public realm. Public space has not only become a constitutional battleground; it has become engine for producing forms of secular legal consciousness that are strangely new and yet deeply rooted in Protestant culture. Through case studies in a diverse range of cultural and geographic settings, this book shows how increasing religious diversity, the rise of the Christian Right, environmental politics, and the growth of seeker spirituality have helped drive this trend. For the activists, legal experts, and ordinary citizens profiled in this book, secularity is both an intellectual abstraction and an embodied condition, engrained in the intimate politics of religious belonging.