Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Ruth Mas

Second Advisor

Najeeb Jan

Third Advisor

Deborah Whitehead


The building of a mosque in downtown Manhattan created a significant controversy in the media due to its proximity to the World Trade Center site. The discussions were produced by and have produced a certain conception of contemporary Islam within the US public sphere that recast the tradition of Islam itself as a possible threat to the security of the United States. I examine how the building of something new, a replacement of an "American" building by a mosque, directly impinges on the physical and societal boundaries of the definition of a US citizen, as understood in relation to religious identity. Since many Muslims own real estate in Manhattan, the questions that I raise are not merely about what it means to give Muslims land, but also what it means to give up land upon which Muslims can construct their own version of "sacred space." Furthermore, I examine how the claim to space and sacrality relies on citizenship and ask whether one can be Muslim and a US citizen? Can a Muslim claim "sacred" space in the US? Since the language of "sacrality" contributes to a normative understanding of Christianity, how does the idea of the US as a secular nation contribute to the tensions relating to Muslims in the US? I argue that the Park51 debates are linked to the physical space of "ground zero" in such a way that the placement of the mosque within Manhattan affects the discourse surrounding the placement of Muslims in the US by claiming "ownership" of "ground zero" and its surroundings by various groups. This "ownership" is not limited to the physical space; these are also claims to the emotions surrounding the events of 9/11. I examine how the appeal to emotion is a foundational element in this debate. I understand this in relationship to the religious language that has emerged in these debates. This language illustrates some of the major rifts in the conception of the modern nation state of the United States, and is compounded by discursive claims to "place" oneself, as an individual and as a group, within US society. My focus is on the emergence of these discourses in the media which not only presents debates concerning Muslims in the US but shapes and molds them as well. The key terms and phrases utilized paint a specific picture of the US and who is considered a citizen and are part of the shifts in the language that I trace. I suggest that claims, legal and religious, to the specific space of "ground zero" recast the discourse surrounding Park51 into a political struggle for Muslim emplacement within the US. This recasting is due to the structuring and allocation of space in society which works to organize multiple layers of, and obvious stratifications between, classes in that society. I use the work of Michel Foucault to demonstrate how spatial constructions are an active part of a biopolitical framework within the contemporary US and how that framework structures the emplacement of Muslims.

Included in

Religion Commons