Religion, Property Law, and the Crisis of Houses of Worship: A Virtual Conference
Submit by 2/17/2023
In May 2023, the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University (CSLR) and Canopy Forum will convene a virtual conference about issues facing religious congregations, neighborhoods, towns, and cities where houses of worship are falling into disrepair or vacancy. Countless locales in the USA and around the world are confronting questions of what to do with empty religious buildings in town centers or along major streets. These challenging situations are complicated by economic, social, legal, theological, and cultural questions that merit analysis and attention.
Participants will deliver a short virtual presentation (via Zoom) and submit a 2000-word article on their chosen topic or theme. Conference proceedings will be livestreamed and published on Canopy Forum, CSLR's online publication, which has tens of thousands of readers spanning every country in the world. Scholars, practitioners, and other topical experts are invited to submit a 200-word proposal outlining the key arguments and insights they wish to present. Additional details and instructions for submitting proposals are below. An example of this conference format can be viewed on the Canopy Forum website.
We invite proposals that explore diverse issues related to religious property and the law, drawing on both theoretical perspectives and specific examples. For example:
- How do houses of worship and other religious architecture(s) contribute to a local sense of identity and place, and how does that change if a building is repurposed?
- In which ways, and to what extent, do local congregations and communities maintain ownership and control of emptying or vacant properties over and against the broader denominational bodies of which they are a part?
- To what extent are the potential (re)uses of religious buildings limited or defined by local or national laws and regulations?
- To what extent can the repurposing of religious buildings sustain their historic role as public gathering places? Should such reuse be a priority?
- How can partnerships be built around buildings traditionally considered the private domain of a particular religion?
- What legal remedies in preservation, property, and tax law and practice would contribute to the preservation, revitalization, and/or repurposing historic houses of worship?
- How do municipal or county zoning, property tax, and building code ordinances affect historic houses of worship, and how could they be modified to facilitate rehabilitation and reuse of these properties?
- What complications arise from deeds for religious properties and denominational rules?
- What are the risks, limitations, and possibilities of using public funding for repurposing houses of worship?
- What is the nature of the sacrality of a house of worship? Does it retain a sacred quality or designation even if it has been deconsecrated, and what is the appropriate adaptation of such a sacred space?
- How do the property laws of various countries and/or jurisdictions differ from one another in relation to religious property?
We will accept approximately fifteen proposals representing varied disciplines, perspectives, religious traditions, and areas of expertise. Please submit a proposal of 200 words maximum describing the thesis and primary examples of what you propose to write and present about. Upon selection, participants will prepare short articles of no more than 2,000 words, written for the general educated public rather than specialists alone. Additional brief endnotes and bibliographic references are welcome. Please attach a two-sentence biographical statement with all submissions.
Note: this conference and article series will be conducted in English, but non-English written contributions will be considered for publication as part of this series.
Please submit proposals no later than February 17, 2023, via the Canopy Forum submissions page, and direct questions to the conference organizer, Dr. Thomas E. Frank, University Professor Emeritus at Wake Forest University, at email@example.com.