Researcher Uncovers the Unexpected History of Separating Church and State

A forthcoming book from a Penn Arts and Sciences professor will showcase how the formal separation of church and state moved slavery to the political sphere, but defenders of slavery argued that religious critiques of slavery violated that separation. 

Sarah Barringer Gordon, a history professor in Penn Arts and Sciences and the Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law at Penn Law, is in the process of writing Freedom’s Holy Light: Disestablishment in America, 1776-1876, which will offer fresh perspectives on the disestablishment of religion during the century following the American Revolution.

In Freedom’s Holy Light, Gordon hopes to explore the separation of church and state not in theory but in practice. No one has ever studied how it worked “on the ground,” she says.

“Disestablishment was widely assumed to separate religion from politics. At the same time, defenders of slavery understood the institution as a purely political one,” Gordon says. “The idea that religion and politics were so separate that a person could confine slavery to only the political side of the spectrum and keep religion completely separate—this notion was misguided and unworkable.”

Click here to read the full release.

Arts & Sciences News

Michael C. Horowitz Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Lead Team on Study of Autonomous Systems and AI

Michael C. Horowitz, Professor of Political Science, will oversee the study of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence.

View Article >
Earthquakes at the Nanoscale

In collaboration with Robert Carpick and David Goldsby, Tian, who graduated from Penn in 2017 with a doctorate in physics, recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters which attempts to tackle these devastating natural phenomena by investigating the laws of friction at the smallest possible scale, the nanoscale.

View Article >
Doris Wagner Named Robert I. Williams Term Professor

A leader in the fields of plant biology, chromatin modification, and epigenetics, Wagner’s research focuses on understanding at the molecular level the complex changes that occur when an organism switches developmental programs.

View Article >
Wrongful Convictions Reported for 6 Percent of Crimes

A study from Penn criminologists results in the first general estimate for the prison population as a whole.

View Article >
Race Has a Place in Human Genetics Research, Philosopher Argues

Penn philosopher Quayshawn Spencer says there is a racial classification that’s medically useful to reliably sample human genetic diversity.

View Article >
Exploring the Sounds of the Middle Ages

Assistant Professor of Music Mary Channen Caldwell's freshman seminar course, “Hearing (in) the Middle Ages,” explores a range of sounds heard throughout the medieval period, whether produced by people, instruments, bells, or animals.

View Article >