By Preeta M. Banerjee, Sheron Fraser-Burgess, & Anya Phillips Thomas
We’ve got yet another edition to our Multi-Dimensional Design Series on our blog with thanks again to Dr. Preeta M. Banerjee. This entry is on the importance of sanctuary — the development of safe spaces to foster sacred bonds, thoughts, work, and community.
The democratization of suffering opens new vistas for shared sacredness as an ontological category of our humanity and foregrounds the ancient wisdoms of ancient cultures that have navigated these paths before of pain, personhood, and perseverance to endure and thrive. Such a project dismantles patriarchy, sexism and other forms of oppression in religion that constrict the soul’s journey towards spiritual wholeness. In 1892, Anna Julia Cooper (1858–1964), a foundational womanist and Black Feminist, wrote:
All prejudices, whether of race, sect or sex, class pride and caste distinctions are the belittling inheritance and badge of snobs and prigs. The philosophic mind sees that its own ‘rights’ are the rights of humanity. That in the universe of God nothing trivial is or mean (sic); and the recognition it seeks is not through the robber and wild beast adjustment of the survival of the bullies but through the universal application ultimately of the Golden Rule.
The sacred can be a basis for an interreligious, universal, and common space of sanctuary.
That which is sacred can be one ground of sanctuary in its plural sources of inspiration across diverse religious traditions. For the sacred not only gestures to that which is moral or good, but is also a space of refuge away from the outward facing combativeness of contemporary politics and the racialized, nationalized, and normative internalized pressures it elicits within the self. Katie Cannon, an esteemed Black womanist theologian, underscored the cultural and experiential prism through which the sacred is lived and becomes a sanctuary for one’s cultural legitimacy in the human pantheon. Cannon held that the folklore of the Black community was its “corporate story” — in that it enshrines the “interlocking complexities of the beliefs, etiology and practices of the community, and also constitutes the community’s understanding of, and response to, its own humanity.”
This cultural soul orientation leads into acknowledgement of the facets of the phenomenological and ontological connection of the sacred and sanctuary. In addition to providing a haven for social, cultural and interpersonal connection, the experience of sanctuary equips the subject as a political being for discursive deliberation. For it provides a proper determination of the embodiment-to-spirituality connection. The ethics of that which power in various forms visits upon bodies can be evaluated in light of the inherent spirituality that resides in each person. Layli Maparyan asserts that luxocracy (rule by light) — in the spiritual sense of the consciousness being illuminated by divine insight) — is essential to our political discourse. “If politics is not undergirded by a sense of the spiritual, the sacred, it is a dead end.”
The notion of sanctuary acknowledges that we are entitled as such spiritual beings to a (physical or nonphysical) place of safety to which to return from the public square. We must tend to the skills necessary for the finding, building, and maintenance of sanctuary. In the words of famous Afrofuturist Octavia Butler: “Intelligence does enable you to deny facts you dislike. But your denial doesn’t matter. A cancer growing in someone’s body will go on growing in spite of denial. And a complex combination of genes that work together to make you intelligent as well as hierarchical will still handicap you whether you acknowledge it or not.”
So we welcome you, our reader, to this special issue to learn more.