Date of Graduation

Spring 2015


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

John Schmalzbauer


In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, visitors from across the US and the world descended on Boston to pay their respects to the three people who were killed and the more than 260 who were injured at the race's finish line. The public commemorated the tragedy in multiple and diffuse spaces, both physical and virtual. In recognition of this fact, I use the changing location of the spontaneous shrine as an organizing structure for this study, analyzing the memorialization in three "movements,” each of which corresponds to a physical relocation of the shrine itself in the weeks following the tragedy. Conducting interviews with Springfield, Missouri, residents who were present for the 2013 Boston Marathon and analyzing stories and interviews from the digital archive, I argue that bodily movement is the defining characteristic of the Boston Marathon memorialization process. The reflexive process of sharing material things and personal stories related to the bombing enhances the significance of the Marathon's finish line in the public imagination, lending these artifacts the iconic power to shape attitudes toward the event. My conclusion is twofold: first, digital archives, while increasingly common, are inadequate for fully preserving memory. Second, the fact that the archivists when preserving do not distinguish between sacred and non-sacred implicitly deems all things worth saving. What is discarded, however, is the constellation of embodied interactions that led to their coexistence at a location characterized as sacred space.


Boston Marathon, ritual studies, religion and the body, material culture studies, visual culture studies, spontaneous shrines, critical spatiality, digital archives, memorialization, American civil religion

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© Austin Thomas Jacobs

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