Reimagining Asylum: Religious Narratives and the Moral Obligation to the Asylum Seeker


  • Silas W. Allard Emory University



Exodus, Bible, Hijra, Qu'ran, United States, asylum law, refugee subjectivity, narratives, asylum seekers, moral agency, supererogatory, ethics


The narrative that grounds the asylum policy of the United States portrays asylum seekers as passive objects of external forces. This narrative emerges from the complex interplay of exceptionality and victimization that characterizes the legal status and popular perception of the refugee. It is then read back onto the asylum seeker through a supererogatory asylum policy that is unable to recognize the moral demand made by the asylum seeker. The project this essay is drawn from seeks to challenge the policy of asylum as charity by interrogating alternative narratives grounded in the Hebrew Bible story of the Exodus and the Qu’ranic story of the Hijra. In these narratives, flight from oppression is portrayed as an act of moral agency, and the asylum seeker’s capacity as Other to make a moral demand on the Self emerges. Thus, I argue that an asylum policy informed by these alternative narratives needs must question its supererogatory assumptions.


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Author Biography

Silas W. Allard, Emory University

Silas W. Allard is Harold J. Berman Senior Fellow in Law and Religion and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. This essay is part of an ongoing project. The author is deeply grateful to Abdullahi An-Na’im, Elizabeth Bounds, Steve Kraftchick, Rebecca Spurrier, and John Witte, Jr. for their valuable guidance and feedback. The author would also like to thank the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University for the opportunity to present a version of this essay at the conference “Power, Representation, and Identity: Narratives by, about, and around refugees and forcibly displaced persons,” held at York University on April 27–28, 2012. In the hope of bettering this project and continuing these conversations, critique and comment are encouraged. The author can be reached by email at



How to Cite

Allard, S. W. (2013). Reimagining Asylum: Religious Narratives and the Moral Obligation to the Asylum Seeker. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 29(1), 121–129.

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