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Conference | Body Trouble: The Ambivalence of Sex, Gender, and Desire in Religious Discourse



This conference will address the inherent ambiguity of religious approaches concerning the body in its multiform expressions that render them as 'myriad bodies,' which constitute the domain of religious subjects, instruments or mediums for doctrinal exegesis, interpretive and regulatory practices, disciplinary measures, and constructions in terms of sexuality and gender, while equally serving as markers of differentiation between different religious traditions, within the same tradition and between the religious and non-religious spheres.

The body as a site of religious colonization has been constructed and deconstructed from within a binary frame that invents and reinforces divisions and hierarchies between the 'male and female,' 'natural and unnatural,' 'eternal' and 'temporal,' 'physical and spiritual,' 'outer and inner,' 'pure and impure,' etc.; while as Foucault has pointed out, systems of power, like religions, define and reproduce the subjects they subsequently came to represent.

The stability and instability between these binary terms give rise to a number of challenges that may take the form of exploration, question and problematic: when and how does the body becomes a topic of doctrinal discourse, scriptural exegesis and institutional regimentation (i.e. monasticism, clerical hierarchies, public rituals, taboos, dressing codes, food abstention, and consumption, etc)? Can there be salvation, or even religion, with and without the body? How does religious language construct the categories of the body and its conflation in terms of sexual appetites, its gender (dis)continuities and the alleged relations between these? How does the differentiation between body and soul operate in the formation of religious discourse and institutional practice? Is there a recurring tension between Eastern and Western conceptions of body and religion even during a recent acceptance of Eastern prayer and concentration techniques? What is the agency of sexuality and gender in spiritual transformation? On the other hand, how is religion embodied and why do we feel the need to situate intellectual and gender excellence in the body?

If a stable notion of 'body' no longer proves to be a foundational premise of religious discourse, perhaps a new sort of religious exegesis is desirable to contest the very reification of gender and desire, one that would take the variable construction of corporeal identity as a normative prerequisite and an embodied soteriological goal.

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