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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

This Land is My Land: Religion, Politics, and the Power of Controlling Places

Tina Shepardson, Associate ProfessorCollege of Arts and Sciences - Department of Religious Studies

Ancient religious buildings compete on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. An American president calls Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an “Axis of Evil.” For thousands of years, physical and rhetorical manipulations of powerful places have fundamentally shaped religious and political identities. My research on fourth-century Christian history suggests that we can better understand – and intervene in – these complex power dynamics if we realize that local places are not inert backdrops against which events transpire, but are ever-shifting sites of, and tools for, the negotiation of authority and identity. From constructing new buildings to describing places controlled by their rivals as morally and physically dangerous, early Christian leaders fundamentally shaped their landscape and thus the events that unfolded within it. Physically controlling the appearance and use of places, and rhetorically shaping perceptions of them, remain powerful, yet largely unrecognized, tools for negotiating the complex intersections of identity, religion, and politics.​

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