Religion, Pandemics, and the Body Politic

with Professor Pamela E. Klassen, University of Toronto

Watch the event from Thursday, March 4: 

In this lecture, I consider how the stories we tell to make sense of pandemics matter enormously for how we live and die. I focus in particular on how religion shapes pandemic narratives, including stories about their causation (or their etiology) and stories and rituals of how to respond to them collectively, including public health measures. Religion is part of the massive disruption that is COVID-19 in ways that support public health (and public life) and in ways that refuse the very idea of “public health” as a “public good”. Drawing examples from Canada, the US, and Indigenous nations, I will reflect on how COVID-19 has prompted varying performances of the body politic, forcing societies to grapple with the vulnerability of the individual biological body as a collective concern.


Pamela Klassen is Professor & Chair in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. Her current research moves across religion, colonialism, and public memory in North American and Turtle Island, engaging with Indigenous studies, museum studies, critical secularism studies, and legal studies. Her most recent books are The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land (U Chicago Press, 2018) and Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State, co-authored with Paul Christopher Johnson and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (U Chicago Press, 2018). Her book, Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity (U California Press, 2011), won the American Academy of Religion Award of Excellence. Her collaborative digital storytelling project, “Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations” can be found at She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada writes frequently for The Immanent Frame, a blog of the Social Science Research Council.

For details about the Edgar and Dorothy Davidson Lecture Series and to mark your calendars for our final event on April 1 with Dr. Gay Byron (Howard University), visit this page.