Religious Transformation and Gender: Contestations in/and the study of religion, gender and sexuality
Disputes about the status and position of religions are increasing throughout the world. Conflicts about morals, national citizenship and public space are often interwoven with questions about religion and the secular, and many times interlinked with questions of gender, sexuality and race/ethnicity. This becomes apparent in, for example, recent discussions about women’s covering on French beaches; debates regarding the niqab in various European contexts; the recently signed ‘Nashville’ agreement in the Netherlands in which Evangelical and Calvinist pastors took an explicitly anti-homosexuality and anti-transgender standpoint; and the rise of ‘anti-gender’ movements across Europe. In these discussions and developments, understandings of belonging are often framed in terms of questions about religion gender/sexuality and race/ethnicity.
In this secular/religion binary, ‘secular’ tends to refer to modernity and progress, while ‘religion’ is – in its public image – often perceived as conservative and resisting change. This conference questions the assumption of the unchangeability of religion, by focusing on religious change and transformation instead. In this conference, we focus on the transformative and transforming aspects of religion in all its facets – as a way of life, in public perception or representations, in the social or legal sphere, as a theological-historical phenomenon, and at the level of individual subjectivity. In contemporary secularized societies, some religious transformations are, however, much more at the center of attention than others, and are also more contested than others.
Religions are often transforming – changing – due to being located in, and sometimes contested by, secular modernity. At the same time, religions have transformative impact on individual and collective subjectivity formation, especially when individuals or groups experience a significant change in religious or spiritual life. Such transformative experiences include, but are not limited to, phenomena such as conversion or moving away from religion, or processes of religious intensification, revivalism, or decline. This conference is particularly interested in how these two sides of ‘transforming’ religion (as adjective: religion as a phenomenon that changes the lives of individuals, communities and societies, or infinitive: religion as itself subject to transitions), relate to bodies, gender, and sexuality.
This conference marks the closing of the five year research project, funded by the Dutch Research Council, titled ‘”Beyond ‘Religion versus Emancipation’”. In this project contemporary conversions – and transformation more broadly – have been studied in relation to religion, (post)secularity, race/ethnicity, gender and sexuality. In line with recent academic debates on secularism and sexuality (Göle 2015; Scott 2017, 2019), we take into account that questions of religion and secularism are embodied and gendered. Recently, the connection of sexuality, queerness and religion have been studied as well (Peumans & Stallaert 2012; Wilcox 2018) Moreover, the links between racism, gender, and religion have been increasingly explored (El-Tayeb 2012; Puar 2007). The aims of this conference are thus twofold. First, we aim to further the study of the manifestations of transforming religions in relation to gender and sexuality in politics, public controversies, daily lives, and media and cultural productions. Second, we aim to reflect on, and enrich, the theoretical framework of religion, secularism, sex, and gender as fluid and intersecting categories in relation to contemporary theoretical discussions about race/ethnicity, postcoloniality, decoloniality and indigeneity.
This conference therefore invites contributions that focus on these issues and/or theoretical intersections via the theme of ‘Religious Transformation’. In this conference, we will especially focus on the various ways in which religious groups or institutions are transformed; the ways in which people are transformed by, or are themselves actively transforming, religion in their daily life; how public perceptions and representations of religion and the secular are changing; and theoretical reconsiderations of concepts as ‘change’ and ‘conversion’.