Linda Rabben Gives Talk on Sanctuary

Dr. Linda Rabben, author of “Sanctuary and Asylum: A Social and Political History,” gave a talk titled “Past, Present, and Future of Sanctuary” that was hosted by Every Campus a Refuge on Thursday, Oct. 5 at Guilford College.

The presentation featured discussion on Quaker sanctuary, present-day sanctuary movements in the U.S., the world and the future of sanctuary.

Beginning with explanations of early occurrences of asylum in nature with a comparison to the natural behavior of human societies, the presentation investigated the roots of refuge movements. According to Rabben, sanctuary has been a common practice for millennia, starting with our common ancestors, the bonobo chimps. Sharing 90 percent of the same DNA with these primates, humans are not the only species to provide shelter and safety onto others. When lost or in danger, these primates arrange living necessities for one another, similar to the human practice of sanctuary.

Rabben provided examples of the earliest recorded human sanctuaries in history, such as the Temple of Athena in Delphi. The practice of sanctuary then spread more officially, and was later adopted as a core principle of select Christian communities. Quakers specifically began to adopt this practice of sanctuary, accepting people of different church denominations and different races. William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, designated the state as a safe location where religiously persecuted persons, and later runaway slaves, could rehabilitate and resettle. Another of the most famous Quaker-supported sanctuary efforts was the Underground Railroad.

“There was no one leader of the Underground Railroad,” said Rabben.

Instead of a single effort from a person or a church, this effort was powered by thousands of abolitionists, including Quakers.

Rabben then shifted her presentation to current situations. She discussed in detail the crisis where more than 5 million Syrians have fled from Syria due to the ongoing civil war. Germany has accepted several of these refugees as a mutually beneficial tactic to boost population growth.

Domestically, under the new United States’ federal administration, these doors to freedom seem to be closing once again.

“There have been many times when the golden door in our country has been shut, but there are many people who are trying to keep it open,” said Rabben.

Guilford College continues to promote the sanctuary tradition with programs such as ECAR, a non-profit entity that hosts refugee families and assists in their resettlement, started by Professor Diya Abdo.

Some attendees of the presentation exhibited similar goals for creating change.

“The more I educate myself, the more it think I can help spread information,” said junior Casey Graziosi. “This is a good step towards fixing this problem.”

Hali Kohls, Guilford alum and Program Coordinator of ECAR, echoed this sentiment.

“Even if we don’t think about, (refugees) are our neighbors. So far, they have hosted over 26 refugees from Africa and the Middle east,” said Kohls. “It’s crazy to me that we live in such a (problematic) state of life that people are getting completely thrown out, losing everything. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t be helping them more.”

Rabben encouraged Guilford College to continue to take action and support refugee movements, praising Guilfordians for their part in continuing to shape the nature of international relationships.