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Leah Sarat

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  •  School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies 975 S Myrtle Ave PO Box 874302   Tempe
Associate Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 4302
Assoc Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 4302

Leah Sarat's work explores the intersection of religion and migration in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, with attention to ways in which people draw upon religion to confront the challenges of the migration experience and navigate the boundaries of citizenship and belonging. Sarat received her PhD in religion in the Americas from the University of Florida and joined the Religious Studies faculty at Arizona State University in 2010. Her book, "Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream(New York University Press, 2013) centers on the relationship between U.S. migration and Pentecostalism in an indigenous community in central Mexico that operates an innovative U.S.-Mexico border crossing simulation for tourists.

Sarat's current work focuses on the relationship between immigration, coloniality, and incarceration in Arizona. With support from the Louisville Institute, she has interviewed chaplains, faith-based volunteers, and individuals formerly held at Arizona's Eloy Detention Center to highlight the religious narratives and practices that alternately explain, justify, and resist the realities of private, for-profit immigrant detention in the state. While these stories provide insight on immigrant policing in borderlands, they also offer a window onto the intersection of Christianity with broader debates about safety, fear, liberation, healing, and personhood within the U.S. carceral landscape.

From 2015-2018, Sarat served as ASU's project lead for States of Incarceration, an NEH-funded public humanities collaboration of over twenty universities that has produced a travelling exhibit and web platform on the history and current realities of mass incarceration throughout the United States. In addition to leading graduate students through exhibit curation and development, in fall 2018 Sarat partnered with Phoenix Burton Barr Public Library to develop exhibit programming that brought students, faculty, storytellers, artists, and other community members into dialogue on the intersections between immigration and other forms of imprisonment in Arizona and beyond. 

  • Ph.D. Religious Studies, University of Florida 2010
  • Graduate Certificate, Latin American Studies, University of Florida 2010
  • M.A. Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University 2006
  • B.A. Fine Arts and Comparative Cultures, Alfred University 2001
Research Interests: 

religion in North America, religion in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Pentecostalism, indigenous religions and Christianity, migration and border studies, immigrant detention, incarceration, coloniality 


Single-authored book

Fire in the Canyon: Religion, Migration, and the Mexican Dream. New York University Press (2013)

        Reviewed in Choice, Pneuma, and Hispanic American Historical Review; featured on AZBPS 

Articles and book chapters

“Reimagining the border: religion, territory, and identity.” In Samuel Schmidt Nedvedovich and Marcelo González Tachiquín, ed., La frontera de las identidades: Explorando los cruces y límites de las identidades. Chihuahua, Mexico: El Colegio de Chihuahua, 71-94 (2015)

“El dios sin fronteras y el sueño mexicano: migración, turismo y pentecostalismo en una comunidad hñähñu.” Estudios de cultura Otopame 8 (1) 327-348 (2012)

Other Publications

Review of Miraculous Images and Votive Offerings in Mexico by Frank Graziano. Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, 86 (1): 272-274 (2017)

“The Resident Alien,” Contribution to The Social World of Deuteronomy by Don C. Benjamin. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 62-64 (2015)

“Mexico: Indigenous Religions.” In Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, eds. Encyclopedia of Religion in America.  Washington, DC: CQ Press (2010)

“Anthropology of the Borderlands.”  In Andrew G. Wood, ed. The Borderlands: An Encyclopedia of Culture and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Divide.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 10-13 (2008)

Research Activity: 

Individual Grants & Awards

"Faith Behind Bars: Encountering Immigrant Detention in Arizona." Louisville Institute-Sabbatical Grant for Researchers, Louisville Institute (2014 - 2016)

"Shielded by the Blood of Christ: Evangelical Migrants in Mexico and the United States." ASU Fellow, Institute for Humanities Research, Arizona State University (2011-2012) 

Public Humanities Initiatives

ASU Partnership Lead, States of Incarceration, a collaborative, NEH-funded initiative of the Humanities Action Lab to produce a national traveling exhibit and web platform centering on the history and present reality of mass incarceration (2015-2018) 

Project lead, Arizona Detention Research, a collaborative digital platform featuring audio archive, film, and other web-based content highlighting the voices of those who have been held in immigrant detention in Arizona (2018-2019) 

Spring 2022
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 320American Religious Traditions
REL 321Religion in America
Fall 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 320American Religious Traditions
REL 321Religion in America
REL 690Reading and Conference
Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 319Religion, Violence and America
REL 320American Religious Traditions
REL 493Honors Thesis
Fall 2020
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 321Religion in America
Spring 2020
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 320American Religious Traditions
REL 493Honors Thesis
REL 691Seminar
Fall 2019
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 320American Religious Traditions
REL 492Honors Directed Study
Spring 2019
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 700Research Methods
PHI 700Research Methods
HST 700Research Methods
Fall 2018
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 321Religion in America
Spring 2018
Course NumberCourse Title
REL 205Life, Sex and Death
REL 320American Religious Traditions


  • “El dios sin fronteras y el sueño mexicano:’ religión, espacio, y migración en El Alberto, Hidalgo.”  XIII Coloquio International sobre Otopames, Puebla, Mexico, October 29 (2011)
  • “El ‘sueño mexicano’ y el ‘Dios sin fronteras’: dos visiones del viaje indocumentado en El Alberto, Hidalgo.”  53 Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, July 19-24 (2009)
  • “Prophecy, Predators, and Prayer: Ritual Dimensions of U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing.” Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, York University, Toronto, Ontario, May 27-June 3 (2006)


  • "'Welcoming the Stranger' on Occupied Land: Migration, Metaphor, and the Decolonial Challenge to Faith-Based Border Activism," invited keynote speaker, 4th Annual Religion Graduate Student Association Conference, University of Florida, February 21, 2020 
  • "The Word is Not Detained: Trauma and Transformation in an Immigrant Detention Facility," American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Denver, November 19, 2018
  • "From Fragmentation to Wholeness: Envisioning Immigrant Detention in the United States," invited panelist, Religion and Media Workshop, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX, November 18, 2016
  • “I Lift up Mine Eyes to the North: Mexican Evangelicals and U.S. Migration.” XXX International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association. San Francisco, CA, May 23-26 (2012)   
  •  “God Bless America: Undocumented Evangelicals in the Shadow of Arizona’s S.B. 1070.” American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, November 21 (2011)
  • “Reinventing the Border: Religion, Tourism, and the U.S.-Mexico Frontier.” American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL. October 31-Nov. 3 (2008)
  •  “Simulated Border Crossing: On the Boundary of Ritual and Tourism in Mexico’s Parque EcoAlberto.” Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies Annual Meeting, Tampa, Florida, April 17-19 (2008)

Local - Arizona State University  

  • Invited Panelist, "Undoing Time: Art & Histories of Incarceration Convening," ASU Art Museum, January 9 (2020)
  • Invited Speaker, "Captivity and Liberation: Religion and For-profit Immigrant Detention." 8th Annual Prison Education Conference of the ASU Prison Education Awareness Club, February 15 (2019)
  • Participant, “Public Salon on Latino Religiosities,” with Felipe Hinojosa and Sujey Vega, October 19 (2015)
  • Panelist, “Is America Still the Land of Opportunity?” with Damien Cave, Julian Limand Matthew Garcia, September 29 (2015)
  • Organizer, “Beyond the Border: Understanding the Central American Refugee Crisis.” ASU School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies Public Panel, Arizona State Univerity, September 3 (2014)
  • Panelist, “Whose Nation Under God? Religious Identity and Belonging in the 2012 Presidential Election.” ASU School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies Faculty Roundtable, Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale, AZ, October 17 (2012)
  • Organizer, “Homegrown Nativism or Corporate Profits?  Culture, Detention, and the Politics of Immigration” with Robin Jacobson. Institute for Humanities Research, Arizona State Univerisity, March 27 (2012)
  •  Speaker, “A Cell Phone on her Pillow: Religion, Migration, and Those Who Stay   Behind.” Religious Studies Faculty Forum, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, September 1 (2011)
  • Panelist, “Crosses, Flags, and Fences: Religion on the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Religion in Many Places Faculty Panel, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, February 24 (2011)


Honors / Awards: 

Noemí Quezada Award for the best dissertation about Otopame populations, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, UNAM, Mexico (2011)

Professional Associations: 

American Academy of Religion

Latin American Studies Association


To the Profession

External reviewer for: Routledge Press, Journal of Ethnic and Migration StudiesJournal of Contemporary Religion, Latin American Research Review, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 

To Arizona State University

2012-14     Member, Advisory Board, Institute for Humanities Research 

To the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies 

2019-          Faculty Head, Religious Studies

2019-20      Member, Graduate Committee in Religious Studies

2018-19       Associate Director of Graduate Studies, SHPRS

2018-19       Search Committee Member, Black Experience in the Americas (History and Religious Studies, Open Rank)

2015-2016    Search Committee Member, Modern Mexico (History, Open Rank)

2015-2018    Member, Committee for Undergraduate Education in Religious Studies

2012-2015    Member, Religious Studies Forum Committee (Chair 2014-2015)

2013-2014    Search Committee Member, Assistant Professor of Borderlands History

2012-2013    Search Committee Member, Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanites

Community Outreach 

Volunteer Coordinator, The Phoenix Restoration Project, an organization providing support to immigrants in detention in Arizona and those who are newly released  (2013-  )

Member, Board of Directors, Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice, Phoenix, AZ (2011-2012)   

Media Appearances 

2020         Episode appearance, Making America,

2019         KAET Channel 8. Arizona Horizon, “Reports of Inhumane Treatment at  Immigrant Detention Facilities Holding Children are Coming out,” aired July 25.

2018         “What’s the Difference between a Refugee and a Migrant? ASU professor says immigration distinctions are important in understanding the migrant caravan story.” Interview with ASU Now, November 27

2018      Worried about immigrant detention? Learn about immigrant detention, mass imprisonment at these Phoenix events. Interview with Phoenix New Times, September 7.

2018     “The Morality of Immigration with Professor Leah Sarat.” The God Show, aired August 26.

2018      KAET Channel 8. Arizona Horizon, Controversy Over Separating Kids from Immigrant Families Grows,” aired June 18.

2014      KAET Channel 8. Horizonte, “Religion and Migration.” Aired September 25.  

2014      KJZZ, Here and Now, “ASU Panel Considers Legal Questions about Migrant Children” (with Prof. Evelyn Cruz). Aired September 3.