Religion, Gender & Activism |Fourth Expert meeting | 15-16 december 2014 | Ghent University, Belgium

Aim: This international expert meeting aims to discuss the study of religion and gender in relation to social movements and activism. For this purpose, a one and a half day intensive meeting will bring together scholars from different fields, such as religious studies, theology, sociology, anthropology and gender and women’s studies. The topics of the keynote lectures, the roundtable discussion and the workshops will address the study of religion and gender from multiple critical postcolonial, postsecular and queer perspectives. The thematic focus is social movements and activism in contemporary multicultural societies, related to contemporary debates on multiculturalism, human rights, and social inequalities and exclusions. The meeting will discuss the complex dynamics of religion and gender in our contemporary world with regard to the perspectives of activists and at the level of autonomous movements, civil society and critique within the institutions. Activism is broadly conceived as the critique of forms of inequality experienced or articulated by autonomous groups as well as by civil society actors and social movements and actors within the institutions in order to work towards progressive change.

It further aims at:

  • Bringing together scholars from different academic disciplines who are contributing to this area of research;
  • Bringing together senior and junior scholars studying religion, gender and activism for discussion and exchange;
  • Bringing together different critical approaches to studying religion, gender and activism in contemporary multicultural societies in order to show their significance for the study of religion and gender;
  • To encourage new connections and insights on theory and methodology that will inform and stimulate the participants’ own research;
  • To generate new joint research applications, especially transnational and interdisciplinary research

Organizers: The network Interdisciplinary Innovations in the Study of Religion and Gender: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives (Utrecht University, the Netherlands). Hosted by the Centre for Intercultural Communication and Interaction (Ghent University, Belgium). Co-organizers: RHEA Centre for Gender and Diversity (University of Brussels, Belgium), Centre for Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium).

Four themes of the roundtable discussions:

1 Dynamics between (new) forms of activism and (new) religious/secular profiling in multicultural societiesFor example: What types of activism emerge in the face of changing religious and secular landscapes in various locations, as well as new forms of religious and secularist profiling, confrontation and (identity) politics in public debates? How do activists’ concerns, argumentation, and styles and forms of activism respond to new challenges in contemporary multicultural societies?
2 Religion, gender and activism in a context of globalization: postcolonial critique and international solidarityFor example: How do issues of gender and sexuality shape global religious and secular politics? What causes the growth of homo-nationalism, how is it related to constructions of religion and secularism, and how does it affect activism? What is the meaning of international solidarity? What are the conditions of possibility to reach and practice international solidarity through activism? Do religious-secular differences between movements and activists play a role in building international solidarity?
3 Emergence of new religious/secular and sexual/”sexularist” normativities and subjectivitiesFor example: Do activisms in various locations produce different kinds of religious, secular, racial, ethnic and sexual normativities? What kind of religious and gendered subjectivities do various kinds of activisms contest, produce or enable?
4 Doing feminist research on religion, gender & activism: methodological/ethical challengesFor example: How do we produce, criticize, correct, rearrange and/or renew knowledge about religion and gender when starting from activist engagements and studying social movements? What ethical issues and questions may emerge from researching religion, gender and activism?


Expert meetings

A strong network and encouraging exchanges: Expert meeting in Turku, Finland

By Kathrine van den Bogert, PhD candidate, Utrecht University

The expert meeting on post-secular perspectives to the study of religion and gender at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland was again, like the other expert meetings of the network, a great success and inspiring event. Also in Turku, the exchange between scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds proved to be very fruitful. On the first night, we enjoyed three presentations by Nordic scholars, Elina Vuola and Terhi Utriainen from Finland and Jorunn Okland from Norway, about Nordic approaches to the study of religion and gender. It was interesting to hear about the Finnish founding mothers and that in Finland gender studies always has been in close relationship with religion. As an anthropologist, I was specifically interested in the ethnographic tradition of Nordic studies in religion and gender.

After these opening lectures, we were very welcomed in the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History by director Ruth Illman. She told us passionately about the history of the Institute, the unique building, and we enjoyed delicious snacks, wines, and the beautiful library! The next day started early with two key notes by Jorunn Okland and Eva Midden, which already showed the diversity of studies in the field of religion, gender and the post-secular. This became even more clear when we continued with round table panel discussions with individual contributions from the participants, with the diverse topics of women’s vote in the 19th century, multiculturalism and online forums, women and the ‘hugging’ Mother, feminist movements and religions in the UK and in Belgium, indigenous religions, spirituality and enchantment, and public debates on religion and homosexuality. After these fruitful sessions, three observants presented their impressions and ‘conclusions’ of the day, and thereby stimulated an interactive and insightful discussion on the concept of the post secular, how to use it, and how not.

Moreover, it was great to see many people again after the expert meetings in London, New York and the start meeting in Utrecht. I really feel ‘connected’ and part of a stable network, and I think this is true for more members. A network furthermore that is inspiring and positive, and especially encouraging. What I really enjoyed was the fact that everyone’s contribution, small or big, from students or professors, was appreciated and valued very much. For me, besides the new insights I gained from the expert meeting on the post-secular, this inspired and encouraged me very much for my own PhD research.

I would like to thank the organizers in Finland for inviting us to Åbo Akademi University in Turku, it was a great location for the expert meeting and for visiting the medieval Turku castle, the cathedral with the (fe)male Johannes at the last supper painting, and the islands of the archipelago. Thanks also for the healthy fruits, lunches and dinners during the conference, and your enthusiasm!

Paper pannel during the Expert Meeting

Research Students

An Ambitious and Inspiring Network

Impression of the Start Meeting of the Religion and Gender Project

By Nella van den Brandt, PhD Candidate at Ghent University, Belgium

On the 29th and 30th of August 2012 the start meeting of the international Religion and Gender project took place in Utrecht, the Netherlands. In her opening speech Professor Anne-Marie Korte highlighted the many ambitions of this project: strengthening a network of researchers working in the area of religion and gender; setting up new research projects on the basis of national or European-based grants; organizing future expert meetings; strengthening the network of the new academic journal Religion and Gender; and the establishment of an international association for the study of religion and gender. The first day of the meeting was about getting to know each other as individual researchers and representatives of departments and institutions. The project appeared to be highly interdisciplinary – the key participants have backgrounds in disciplines ranging from theology, cultural studies, biblical studies, religious studies, anthropology. I found it a wonderful group of scholars, but started wondering at the end of the day what would be the issues, questions and concerns that could bind a group of researchers as diverse as this?

The second day of the meeting proved to be very constructive and inspiring. Through a presentation and discussions about opportunities for European research funding and the establishment of an international association for the study of religion and gender I was offered a view into a world of expertise and opportunities that PhD students are often not (yet) aware of. The brainstorm about themes for joint research applications showed that the highly diverse group of scholars could in fact quite soon get to a consensus about what should be the main topics and concepts to focus upon. This was certainly an inspiring moment for me!

The international association that is planned to be established during this project would set itself high ambitions. Its goals include the organization of expert meetings, conferences and PhD summer schools, the setting up of panels at large conferences such as the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. It would moreover become the institution behind the journal Religion and Gender. The first expert meeting is already on its way and will take place in December 2012 at SOAS, University of London under the title ‘Catachreses? Gender, Religion and Postcoloniality’.

As a PhD student, I felt I learned much from attending the first meeting of this international project and from the ambitious scholars that make up this inspiring network. Especially the first day I wasn’t sure if and how I could fit in this project. But at the end of the second day I felt I could in fact become part of it. The brainstorm showed that also my research interests connect with those of others, notably when it comes to researching the women’s movement and its (dis)connections to religion and secularity. The question of how to explain the West-European women’s movement’s clinging to forms of secularity that are intolerant to religion at large and women’s religiosity in particular is what concerns me at the moment most. I sincerely hope to be able to contribute to the workings of this project in the future, and to continue being inspired for my own research by the critical perspectives of the participants in this network.

Research Students Start Meeting 2012

Constructive Discussions in a Convivial Setting

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.

Research Students Start Meeting 2012

A Renewed Enthusiasm

Impressions from the Startup of the Religion and Gender Project

By Samantha Langsdale, PhD Candidate, SOAS, London

Being a research student can be lonely; this observation is often repeated through out a PhD student’s career. And indeed it can be. Very few people will share as intense an interest in your research area, and even fewer still will share the same level of familiarity with your material. After so many years, it can be difficult to imagine academic contexts in which you are one of many, rather than simply one. Attending the startup meeting, ‘Interdisciplinary Innovations in the Study of Religion and Gender: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives’, in Utrecht not only helped to dislodge me from the solitude of doctoral research, it also demonstrated the importance, the promise, and the excitement inherent in collaborative thinking.

Far from simply being spectators, the student attendants of ‘Interdisciplinary Innovations’ were encouraged to actively participate and to make contributions to all critical discussions. The meetings were open and relaxed whilst also producing bold possibilities for the future of research in the interdisciplinary fields of Study of Religions and Gender studies. Although all junior researchers–like our senior research counterparts–were involved in very different projects, the opportunities to bring one’s own perspective to the table were numerous. The proposals that were made, and the discussions which took place, both inside the meeting space as well as in more social contexts, were truly varied in method and content.

Not only did I enjoy the beautiful host city of Utrecht, I was also thoroughly grateful to feel new waves of enthusiasm for research. The scholars present at ‘Interdisciplinary Innovations’ showed me the fantastic potential in collaboration and filled me with renewed excitement for the study of gender and religions. My time in Utrecht was so enriching and I look forward to working amongst these scholars for many years to come.

Research Students Start Meeting 2012

An Exciting Opportunity

Impression of the project’s Start Meeting in Utrecht, August 29-30, 2012

By Jenny Loh

PhD Student at SOAS, University of London (UK)

It was a pleasure to be invited to participate in the first Research and Networking Project for ‘Interdisciplinary Innovations in the Study of Religion and Gender: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives’.  Held in the beautiful and historical city of Utrecht, this event gave an opportunity for those belonging to the participating research institutions—both senior scholars and junior researchers alike—to meet one another, learn about one another’s work and interests, and take part in informative and important discussions about the future plans for this three-year project.

It was wonderful to meet academics from numerous disciplines and with such diverse interests.  It was even better that everyone was part of this same project, trying to find innovative ways of informing the intersecting fields of religion and gender while bringing different strengths to the project.  On the first day, we had an informal lunch, followed by networking sessions in order to get an idea of individual participants and an overview of the participating institutions.  It was fascinating to learn about individuals’ research interests, and also important to find out what each institutions’ aspirations and expectations were for the project.  The day was wrapped up with a historical walk regarding ‘Traces of Slavery’ in Utrecht: this presented an enjoyable way to see the city, as well as discuss with participants more about themselves and the day’s events.

The second day was themed towards funding and future collaboration.  We had a specific talk on European funding opportunities, followed by a group discussion on ways in which to apply and work towards grant applications for this project.  I enjoyed this discussion particularly; it was great to see scholars from a variety of disciplines and interests finding ways in which to collaborate and conceive of exciting innovations for the field of religion and gender.  What was welcoming about the meeting was the presence of junior researchers, as well as an insistence of their participation.  As a junior researcher, it is often daunting to be in such situations, but I found that the senior scholars were interested in this aspect of collaboration, and as such it was a unique opportunity to participate in this meeting.  After a delicious lunch in an old Gentlemen’s club ballroom converted into a beautiful restaurant, we wrapped up the event by discussing some of the more practical aspects of the project, including future workshops, conferences, and publications, and how to proceed with grant applications.  It is exciting that we are holding the first workshop on ‘Postcolonial Intersections’ in December at SOAS, the institution I am based at, and I am greatly looking forward to the future workshops located in other institutions.

It was a wonderful experience to be included in this initial event, and I am most grateful to the event organisers for giving us ‘junior researchers’ this exciting opportunity and a chance to be part of this network of scholars. I am excited for the December workshop and look forward to seeing many familiar faces from our event in Utrecht!

Research Students Start Meeting 2012

Inspired and Grateful

Impression of the project’s Start Meeting in Utrecht, August 29-30, 2012

By Rahil Roodsaz

PhD Student at the Institute for Gender Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)

These two days were very interesting and inspiring to me. It was amazing to see how despite differences in disciplinary background and not knowing each other (very well), participants connected so quickly. I think that intellectually this had to do with a shared concern to bring in a more gender-sensitive and a historically and contextually better informed perspective on the role of religion in the modern world. The urgency to do something about this seemed to result in the willingness to find a mutual ground upon which interesting and relevant projects can be build. Also the practical difficulties of finding the financial sources in these not-so-favorable economic circumstances were perceived as yet another reason to be creative. More than anything I felt grateful to be part of such great initiative represented by a wonderful group of people. I very much look forward to future developments of this promising network and hope to be able to somehow contribute to that.

Research Students Start Meeting 2012