Decolonizing Contemporary Women’s Spirituality
8 December 2022, Ghent University
Invited speakers: Prof. Amanda Lucia (University of California-Riverside), Dr. Kavita Maya (University College London) and Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe (University of Bremen)
Scholarship on what is referred to as “contemporary women’s spirituality” mostly deals with new and alternative forms of spirituality in the West that emerged with the 1960s counterculture and, more recently, as part of the rise of subjective wellbeing culture. As such, it includes goddess spirituality, feminist Wicca, women’s circles and a broad range of offerings aimed at enhancing women’s wellbeing through using globalized spiritual resources such as yoga, tantra, Daoism or shamanism.
These forms of spirituality are a predominantly white phenomenon. Yet, they often rely on teachings and practices that originate from peoples of colour and that are eclectically mixed and interpreted in line with romanticized views of the primitive other. Therefore, they have been accused of cultural appropriation and of sustaining the colonial logics of white privilege and possessivism. Other critiques have targeted the religious exoticism which these spaces of spiritual seeking propagate by reproducing stereotypical ideas of the other in the service of white identity needs. A first aim of this symposium is to uncover these neo-colonial logics as they operate within contemporary women’s spirituality. This also includes the question of what decolonizing women’s spirituality might actually entail.
A consequence of the self-referential representation of the cultural other in contemporary women’s spirituality is the marginalisation of the actual voices of people of colour. They are a minority among the participants in these settings and even more rare as authorities sharing their own views and perspectives. Moreover, the notion of sisterhood is repeatedly used in a way that imagines a self-evident female solidarity but does not actually engage with the different challenges women face and does not question the category of “women” as such. Hence, it is in danger of downplaying the impact of diverse positionalities and of ignoring non-binary identifications. A second aim of this symposium is to center these voices and perspectives that remain sidelined and to reflect on the use of the decolonial concept of pluriversality to rethink ideas of equal participation and solidarity.
A third and last aim of the symposium is to investigate the link between contemporary women’s spirituality and feminist theory and practice. Goddess spirituality and feminist Wicca emerged in the context of second-wave feminism and have clear affinities with cultural and radical feminism. How has this evolved? Can certain forms of women’s spirituality today be situated within third-wave feminism? What about the link with postcolonial, black or queer feminisms? This also prompts a reconsideration of the dominant white- and Western-centred understanding of the category of “contemporary women’s spirituality” itself.