‘Gender’, ‘Religion’, and ‘Postcoloniality’

The intimate bonds between colonial scholarship, European colonialism, and the discursive production and employment of ‘religion’ have by now been well charted as have the alternately fruitful and vexed exchanges between feminist, gender-critical, and postcolonial bodies of theory. It is curious, therefore, that there has been so sparse an engagement in the field of Religion and Gender (R&G) concerning the potential intersections between its eponymous objects of study and the constellation of concepts marked as and by ‘postcoloniality’. Even a cursory review of literature in the field in the last decade reveals a startling absence of sustained reflection by R&G scholars on the implications that postcolonial theory might have for their theorizations of gendered practices, identifications, and discourses within religious traditions, or of the ways in which the field itself might require reformulation and revision in light of the compelling epistemological and ontological challenges posed to metropolitan academia by a variety of postcolonialisms. Also worthy of note is the parallel lack of direct attention in postcolonial literature to the assertion of, or resistance to the imposition of ‘religious’ identities in response to colonial valuations of culture, communal identity, and social formations. Under the rubric of ‘postsecularism’, considerations of the overlooked relationship between gender and religion are only now beginning to garner attention, as postcolonial scholars have started to attend more forcefully to the ways that religious affiliation provides rich contexts within which women are able articulate political imaginaries that are consciously resistant to secular-liberalist and feminist frameworks of organising. There is as yet, however, little analysis of the possible formulations of masculinity that are enabled, prevented, or dissimulated via the conjunction of ‘religion’ and ‘postcoloniality’. Furthermore, little attention has been paid to the imperative question as to how ‘postcoloniality’ challenges, criticizes and moves forward discussions initiated by queer theory in relation to religion.

This workshop offers a timely, perhaps overdue, opportunity to (re)visit the question of the necessary triangulation of ‘religion’, ‘gender’ and ‘postcoloniality’ or, put differently, to pose the question of the necessity of thinking these categories together. What imperatives demand their assemblage, what constraints might require their dispersal? To what extent might the field of Religion and Gender need to undergo a process of ‘coming to terms’ such that the theoretical categories that underpin its intellectual itineraries are subjected to renewed critical reflection and reform? With these questions in mind, the workshop proposes a preliminary intellectual framework of the ‘catachresis’, defined by Gayatri Spivak as the act of ‘reversing, displacing, and seizing the apparatus of value-coding’[1], a definition that extends with political intent the Derridean formulation of catachresis as indicating the original and indeed originary incompleteness that is inherent in all systems of meaning. As Derrida has put it, catachresis ‘concerns first the violent and forced, abusive inscription of a sign, the imposition of a sign upon a meaning which did not yet have its own proper sign in language. So much so that there is no substitution here, no transport of proper signs, but rather the irruptive extension of a sign proper to an idea, a meaning, deprived of their signifier. A “secondary” original”’ (This ‘secondary origin’ produces ‘a new kind of proper sense, by means of a catachresis whose intermediary status tends to escape the opposition of the primitive [sense] and the figurative [sense], standing between them as a “middle”’.[2] Catachresis, as the ‘middle’, is here also a ‘between’, an interval that is neither purely semantic nor purely syntactic; a spacing in other words. As such, the conceptual richness of catachresis as a thematic focus for the triadic formulation of ‘religion’, ‘gender’ and ‘postcoloniality’ may enable some ground clearing, a space for reflection on the variety of naming and conceptualizing mechanisms, the forging of connections, the imposition of systems of intellectual prescription that have been wielded, challenged and refused with the field of Religion and Gender. It is the catachrestic nature of these three concepts that we seek to probe and push here such that the relationship between categorization and value coding can be disclosed, undone, displaced, and rethought.What do the terms ‘religion’, ‘gender’ and ‘postcoloniality’ disclose about their own and their respective incompleteness? What might the assumption of their intersection or dialogic necessity imply about their inscription in a particular type and time of ‘worlding’? Is the neglect of their intersection by R&G scholars a sign of their incompatibility or possible emptiness as intellectual constructs—indeed, as lived realities—or of a troubling lacuna in the field? What impropriety is promised by the conjunction of these three concepts and which boundaries might their coalition begin to transgress?

Addressing and exploring the above preliminary questions, the primary purpose of the conference-workshop will be to identify strategic areas for future research in the area, contributing to the development and enrichment of the interdisciplinary study of religion and gender from the perspective of postcolonial theory and to create a network for future research collaboration and exchange. Selected papers from the workshop will be published in a special issue of the international journal Religion and Gender.

[1] Spivak, Gayatri, ‘Poststructuralism, Marginality, Postcoloniality and Value’ in Literary Theory Today, edited by Peter Collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan, London: Polity Press, 1990, p. 228.

[2] Derrida, Jacques, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982, p. 255, 256.