FALL 2000 ISSUE

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It's one o'clock in the morning on a rain-soaked secondary road in rural Canada. Professor Sarah Barringer ("Sally") Gordon is running along on her leg of a 187-mile relay race. Enjoying her first weekend off since school let out this May, Gordon is doing what she can to help her husband's Philadelphia road racing club compete in a 27-hour rally. As far as Sally Gordon is concerned, free time is no excuse to be inactive.

For those who know Gordon, the image of her racing vigorously in the dark is an easy one to conjure. She enjoys hard work, physical and intellectual, and a relay race around Cape Breton Island fits the profile.

That's a good thing for the Penn Law community, as Gordon's current responsibilities include, among others, associate dean, chair of the Sesquicentennial Committee, and director of the School's Legal Oral History Project. She also teaches Property, and Church and State at the Law School, and courses on twentieth-century religious history in the University's undergraduate history department. And those are just a few of the things she does when she's on campus.

"If I had to describe myself, I would have to use the word 'lucky'," she says. "There is no question in my mind that I'm doing what I want to do. I cannot imagine being anything other than an academic." She cites her elevation to full professor in 1999 as affirmation that she is on the right track. "It told me that the hard work I was putting into my life at the School, the work that I cared so much about, well, that care was reciprocated by my colleagues." While she admits to occasional fatigue, she insists that her work provides a basic satisfaction, one she has sought since her undergraduate days.

A native of Princeton, New Jersey, who was reared in Boston, Gordon graduated from Vassar College (where she is a trustee) in 1982. She then went on to Yale University, where she simultaneously earned a JD degree, and an M.A.R. (Masters in Arts and Religion) degree with a concentration in social ethics from the Divinity School. During her undergraduate days she was torn between religion and the law, "but little did I realize that I would spend my graduate school years learning that my sense of the need to decide between the two was fundamentally misguided. In fact, religion and law collide in productive or conflict-ridden ways every day. The constitutional law of religion is one legacy of those conflicts." Her interest in religion has never flagged, and her scholarship focuses on the legal history of religion in America.

"It wasn't exhausting, although it sounds like a lot of work," she remarks, adding that pursuing the two degrees, an unusual and rare endeavor, was a "lonely undertaking. The work itself was an important lesson. It forced me to think deeply about what it was that I wanted to do." Her studies revealed the very broad themes that connect both fields, fields that, she observes, "are often assumed to be separate. Working on the joint degree, I traversed the boundaries daily, and learned that understanding both fields is key to careful work on their many and often bitter conflicts."