Impression of the Start Meeting of the Religion and Gender Project
By An van Raemdonck, PhD Fellow at Ghent University, Belgium

As one of the PhD researchers attending the first introductory meeting, I am happy to give you a small impression. Central aim of the two days-meeting was for all participating institutions to get to know each other better. Anne-Marie Korte, one of the initiators of this project, highlighted the general framework and theoretical context that urged the organizing team of scholars in ‘gender’ and ‘religion’, and especially in the intersection of both fields, to start this new initiative.

Several reasons were stated why to start building on an international network and an academic journal that is centered around the two key terms of religion and gender. There is not only an increased scholarly interest in coupling those two terms, coming from a variety of classic disciplines, but in the last decades we also witnessed an augmented societal interest in tensions and interactions involving ‘religion’ and ‘gender’. A combination of theoretical perspectives such as post-secularism, postcolonialism and queer studies encourages research across disciplines that enables opening up those debates.

All participating institutions presented  themselves. The Barnard Center for Research on Women, based at Columbia University and represented by Elisabeth Castelli, drew most of my attention.  The Barnard Center has as remarkable and admirable objective to bridge scholarly activity and theory with activist practices and feminist struggles. In particular the multimedia, online-only Journal The Scholar & Feminist Online offers a creative forum that connects between Barnard College’s programming and activism.

Another telling observation from these presentations was the precarious situation, institutionally, of the academic study of religion and gender. Both the study of religion and the study of gender tend to be marginalized in academia and suffer from many of the challenges to the Humanities at large. It is an understatement to say that this does not create an institutional context where the study of religion and gender can  flourish, however vibrant this field is. This is another reason why this communal project really matters!

The second day continued with setting concrete goals and aims concerning future research projects. How to involve questions and debates from the crossroads between ‘gender’ and ‘religious studies’ in relevant research topics today? Using critical theory, postcolonial, post-secular, queer perspectives, how do we formulate research questions and include the historical dynamics between European and post-colonial societies? Discussions continued constructively in a convivial and pleasant spirit.  This friendly atmosphere was striking to me but well-known in women’s studies (as one of my colleagues told me with a bit of nostalgia).

Most compelling to me is the highly transdisciplinary approach that is put central in both the journal Religion and Gender and in formulating common research interest areas in this new project. Theoretically the project is not bound by any disciplinary boundaries but aims explicitly to cross and question boundaries between religious studies, theology, gender and cultural studies and anthropology/sociology of religion. In my own work I can easily identify with this vantage point as I’m combining genealogical perspectives with ethnographic methods to answer questions about religious identity formation, in its relation to issues of sexuality and gender. Therefore, being able to think along in this group was an exciting exercise that I’d love to continue in future.

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