Sanctuary and Asylum

A Social and Political History

Linda Rabben

  • Published: September 2016
  • Subject Listing: Environmental Studies; History
  • Bibliographic information: 352 pp., 12 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Contents

The practice of sanctuary-giving refuge to the threatened, vulnerable stranger-may be universal among humans. From primate populations to ancient religious traditions to the modern legal institution of asylum, anthropologist Linda Rabben explores the long history of sanctuary and analyzes modern asylum policies in North America, Europe, and elsewhere, contrasting them with the role that courageous individuals and organizations have played in offering refuge to survivors of torture, persecution, and discrimination. Rabben gives close attention to the mid-2010s refugee crisis in Europe and to Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States.

This wide-ranging, timely, and carefully documented account draws on Rabben's experiences as a human rights advocate as well as her training as an anthropologist. Sanctuary and Asylum will help citizens, professionals, and policy makers take informed and compassionate action.
Linda Rabben is associate research professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Give Refuge to the Stranger: The Past, Present, and Future of Sanctuary and Fierce Legion of Friends: A History of Human Rights Campaigns and Campaigners.

"A crucial book on a crucial topic. Absolutely essential to reconstruct both a moral and sensible understanding of how people are received when they are out of their original context."
-David Haines, author of Safe Haven? A History of Refugees in America

"Refugees are among the main migrant flows in the world today, and often the most controversial. Sanctuary and Asylum is an essential source on this issue. Rabben's evocative and clear writing conveys the realities that refugees face, both the persecution that sends them on their way and, often, the persecution with which they are received. She also tells the story of people who give sanctuary to refugees and defend their rights and well-being."
-Josiah Heyman, University of Texas at El Paso

"This is the book everyone who cares about human rights, asylum seekers, and global migration has been waiting to see-the foundational text on sanctuary and asylum. Rabben has brilliantly researched the tradition of sanctuary since the beginning of history, as well as the rise of asylum law in secular nation-states, and her extensively documented thesis is that asylum has proven to be easily corrupted by anti-immigrant political movements. Sanctuary is the practice that is being reestablished globally as an effective, strong, and moral defense of human rights. Sanctuarians are rising!"
-Rev. John Fife, cofounder of the 1980s-era Sanctuary Movement in North America

"In Sanctuary and Asylum, Rabben offers a rich historical analysis of individual and community responses to the need for protection of migrants and refugees. At times disheartening, at times inspiring, Rabben conveys the fear that drives discrimination and the welcome that follows when we see migrants as our neighbors, our friends, as us."
-Jeanne M. Atkinson, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)



1. Asylum and Sanctuary Seekers' Stories
2. Sanctuary's Beginnings
3. A Thousand Years of Medieval Sanctuary
4. From Religious Sanctuary to Secular Asylum
5. Nineteenth-Century Sanctuary outside the Law
6. The Pleasures of Holocaust Rescue
7. The Twentieth-Century Heyday of Asylum
8. Asylum Now in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom
9. Asylum Now in Europe and Beyond
10. The Golden Door Ajar: US Asylum Policy
11. Contemporary Sanctuary Movements
12. The News from Tucson

Afterword Does Asylum Have a Future?

Illustrations follow page