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Keynote speakers - International Association for the Study of Religion and Gender

Keynote speakers

The academic program consists of three keynote lectures, the IARG (International Association for the Study of Religion and Gender) workshop, and paper sessions.

Dr. Dawn Llewellyn

Llewellyn is Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies, in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, at the University of Chester. She completed her MA in Women’s Studies and her PhD in Religious Studies at Lancaster. Her research is grounded in qualitative approaches to gender and contemporary Christianity, and focuses on women’s religious reading practices, the relationship between feminism and religion, research methodologies, and motherhood, childlessness and Christianity.

She is the author of Reading, Feminism, and Spirituality: Troubling the Waves (Palgrave, 2015); she has co-edited Religion, Equalities and Inequalities (with Sonya Sharma, Routledge 2016), and Reading Spiritualities (Ashgate 2008, with Deborah F. Sawyer); and her new book, Motherhood, Voluntary Childlessness and Christianity: Narratives of Choice, explores women’s reproductive agency in Christian contexts (forthcoming, Bloomsbury). Dawn is also an editor for Bloomsbury’s series Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, with Sian Hawthorne and Sonya Sharma.

Keynote abstract: Motherhood and Voluntary Childlessness in Christianity: Narrating Religious Reproductive Agency

Drawing on qualitative interviews with self-identifying Christian women, discussing their decisions to have or not to have children, this paper explores the meanings of reproductive agency narrated by participants, and suggests that motherhood and childlessness are framed as a vocational choice. I outline how the women understand their motherhood and childlessness decisions as an interpretation of God’s call and as an outworking of their faith identity – an understanding of agency emerging from recent feminist, religious studies scholarship that attempts to avoid relying on agency as resistance, empowerment, as instrumental, or compliant (Avishai, Bracke, Burke, Mahmood, for example). Although exposed to the sacredly inscribed pronatalism of the Christian tradition, the women are critical of the maternal expectation and duty to have children. Rather than accepting the Christian family-affirming rhetoric, they claim a reproductive agency not usually assigned to them by naming motherhood and childlessness as motivated by religious choices.

This paper first outlines the methodology and methods underpinning this project, before locating the meanings of ‘choice’ in studies of motherhood and childlessness, and discussing the dilemma of agency in feminist studies of religion (Avishai, Burke, Bracke, Mahmood, for example). I then unpack the different modes of agency at work in participants’ decision making, before reflecting on how Christian women’s vocational choices as mothers and childfree women also speak back and extent meanings and expressions of religious reproductive agency.

Workshop: Recognizing our own ‘Gaze’:
A Workshop on Writing Reflexively

In addition to the keynote lecture, Dr. Llewellyn will host the IARG workshop:

What does it mean to ‘write reflexively’ in your research? How does your personal experience and history shape the knowledge you generate? How does your identity – across gender, race, class, age – change your understanding? What are your political, cultural, and social commitments and how do they influence the questions you ask, the way you ask them, and your interpretation and presentation of your answers? In this workshop, we will explore the theoretical impetus in the study of religion, gender, and sexuality to acknowledge that ‘research is … a social process … that will have our thumbprints all over it‘ (Ribbens, 1999, 591), discuss the potential limits of reflexivity, and consider the practical ways of “writing ourselves in” to our research.

Dr. Petri Merenlahti

Petri Merenlahti currently works as Special Advisor to the Archbishop of Turku and Finland. He received his doctorate in New Testament Studies from the University of Helsinki in 2002. He was a long-time member of The Research Unit on the Formation of Early Jewish and Christian Ideology, a two-time Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence directed by Prof Heikki Räisänen.

Merenlahti is the author of Poetics for the Gospels? Rethinking Narrative Criticism (Continuum, 2002; paperback 2005) and A Smaller God: On the Divinely Human Nature of Biblical Literature (Cascade Books, 2014). Ihmisen näköinen Jumala (Otava, 2007), a popular book on biblical interpretation, won him a nomination for the Christian Book of the Year Award. In 2008, he received the Finnish Journal of Theology Mikael Prize for publishing theological scholarship “in lucid and beautiful Finnish.”

Keynote abstract: ‘Is Christianity a Manly Man’s Religion?”

Since Barbara Welter’s study of 1974, The Feminization of American Religion: 1800–1860, many scholars have said that modern religion is becoming increasingly feminine. In the Christian West, women populate the pulpit and the pew, and religious language and imagery are said to bear a feminine tint. Various Christian men’s movements have emerged to counter the perceived loss of virility, harking back to the days when Christian men, too, were real men.

But was there ever such a time? An uneasy link between Christian faith and failed, deviant, unstable, queer, or liquid masculinity seems to emerge even in New Testament times, only repeatedly to make its return in the history of the Christian religion. Does this play a role in so many conservative Christians today wishing to rescue their religion from female leadership, gay and lesbian couples, indistinct gender identities—everything that threatens to make being a regular Christian male an even more complicated business than it already is?

How do you negotiate between conflicting ideas of what it takes to be a traditionalist Christian, reasonably modern, and a real man? Ethnographic research into men’s Bible study groups seemed to present itself as a way to observe this in real time, at close range. I wanted to learn how contemporary Finnish evangelical men conceived of their Christian masculinity in the light of what they took from their reading of biblical texts. What issues arose, and how were they addressed? I’d like to use this opportunity to tell you what I learned.

Professor
Melissa M. Wilcox
(UC Riverside, USA)

Melissa M. Wilcox received her doctorate in Religious Studies from U.C. Santa Barbara in 2000. Her transdisciplinary research program focuses on queer and transgender studies in religion, with particular emphasis on the U.S. in the context of transnational queer and religious politics.

Her books include Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community (Indiana University Press, 2003); Sexuality and the World’s Religions (co-edited with David W. Machacek; ABC-CLIO, 2003); Queer Women and Religious Individualism (Indiana University Press, 2009); Religion in Today’s World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives (Routledge, 2013), and Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody (NYU Press, Sexual Cultures series, 2018).

Her 2009 book received the annual book award from the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association. She is currently finalizing two textbooks focused on sexuality and queer studies in religion, and beginning work on two new projects: one, tentatively entitled Queering/Religioning, will be an exploration of theory at the intersection of queer studies, trans studies, and religious studies; and one, tentatively entitled Ecstasies, will focus on leather spiritualities.

Keynote abstract: Theory in the Interstices: Queering and Transing Religious Studies, Religioning Trans and Queer Studies

The keynote lecture by professor Melissa M. Wilcox is the annual Temenos-lecture on September 19th provided by the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion.

Religious studies, queer studies, and transgender studies have long kept their distance from each other for reasons ranging from benign neglect and ignorance to active hostility. Yet scholars working in the interstices between these fields have spent decades developing gay and lesbian studies in religion and queer studies in religion. Strassfeld (2018) has argued for transing the study of religion, and transgender studies in religion is experiencing marked growth partly in response to his call. Nevertheless, although queer and transgender studies in religion are gaining increasing acceptance in religious studies, scholars outside of these subfields still generally consider them inessential to the field as a whole, and many continue either to ignore queer and trans topics and perspectives or to address them solely in the most limited of terms.

Queer and trans studies, for their part, largely still ignore or actively dismiss religion, addressing the topic only in simplistic ways that would make any religionist cringe. How, then, are those of us who live in these interstitial spaces, cringing at the infelicities of all three fields, to demonstrate the richness of the intellectual soil in this space not just for ourselves but for the larger fields? This talk will argue for the critical necessity of developing theory from the interstices between religious studies, queer studies, and trans studies – a task already begun by such scholars as Janet Jakobsen, Ann Pellegrini, Jasbir Puar, Ashon Crawley, Max Strassfeld, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, and Yannik Thiem – and will suggest specific areas in which such theoretical work has especial potential to alter queer theory, trans and gender theory, and religious studies theory as a whole.