from data to scholarship
history, religion, computers
Reflections for “Theory Week”
The idea behind theory week was to pull together a plethora of resources for thinking systematically about both religion and gender, resources that will be used in the upcoming weeks to analyze the historical accounts and will be harnessed for reading texts that do not directly address questions of gender in a gender-focused way.
Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment – An American Perspective”
Kerber investigates the place of women within the rhetoric and ideology of the Enlightenment. She notes that Enlightenment thinker rarely considered women with theorizing about civic culture and, with a few notable exceptions including Adam Smith, when they did, tended to do so negatively. She argues that women were only considered as wives and mothers, with no mechanism for influencing government. The concept of the “Republican Mother” arose in the American environment as a way to integrate domesticity and politics. In this role, women were “deferential” citizens (59) with limited influence but not strictly excluded. Instead, women remained in a deferential phase of politicization where men in the early republic moved away from deference.
Linda Kerber, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History”
Kerber’s pieces is an historiographical essay on the concept of “separate sphere” in the telling of women’s history. She identifies 3 stages of the understanding of separate spheres, from the early work of Barbara Welter, Gerda Lerner, and Aileen S. Kraditor that focused on identifying separate spheres as a central theme of women’s experience, through the work of Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Nancy Cott that focused introduced complexities and the possibilities of women’s culture, to what Kerber identifies as the current 3rd stage that focuses both on how the women’s sphere was “socially constructed both for and by women” and how women’s sphere affected and shaped men’s activities (169-171).
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble [Prefaces, Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire, Conclusion]
Gender Trouble is a theoretical inquiry into gender that seeks to open possibilities for the ways gender manifests, or in her terms, is performed, rather than to prescribe a definitive account of what constitutes “gender.” Her work is drawing on the tradition of French philosophy, largely of an anti-structuralist vein, and challenges all foundationalist approaches to questions of gender and persons by arguing that gender is both performed and performative – that gender is something individuals perform and that gender, in the performance, constitutes “the identity it is purported to be” (33). She also challenges the idea that, while gender may be a culturally constructed interpretation, sex is natural and naturally binary. Instead, she argues that sex is also constructed, and constructed through the “apparatus” of gender (11).
Evelyn Brook Higginbotham, “African-American Women and the Metalanguage of Race.”
Higginbotham’s essay discusses the silence about race and class that has marked much of the theoretical work about gender and the work of feminist scholars. She argues for bringing race into the analysis of power by 1) defining the “construction and ‘technologies’ of race,” 2) exposing race as a metalanguage and 3) revealing race as a site of dialogic exchange and contestation (252). She argues that race is central to the construction of gender, particularly in societies were racial demarcation is basic to social structure (254). Her essay works to explore the concept of race, to unpack the centrality of race in the construction of gender, class and sexuality, and ends by discussing race as “double-voiced discourse,” as both the voice of oppression and of liberation. Her work argues that there is no singular or homogenous experience of women but that race and class both shape and are shaped by conceptions of gender.
Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life [Selections]
Durkheim sets out in Elementary Forms to uncover the truth or reality behind “the religious nature of man”(1). (And in this case, man may be appropriately gendered – it is unclear from the selections I read how women are religious if they are identified with the profane.) His method for addressing this question is to begin with the “simplest and most primitive religion” and to uncover from there the universal structures of religious experience(1). He chooses totemism as his primitive religion and works from the particular practices of Australian Aborigines to the idea of Mana, which is the physical force and moral power undergirding totemic life and, he claims, all religions (201). Mana then is explained as society itself — the social experience is the source for the experience of moral power and collective emotion. That experience is then associated with particular items, and those items become “sacred.”
Joan Wallach Scott, “Gender: a Useful Category of Historical Analysis.”
In this essay, Joan Scott traces the uses of “gender” as a category of historical analysis, offering both critiques and positive suggestions about the possibilities for further study. She describes two categories of approaches to gender by historians: the first being descriptive, the second causal. Where descriptive approaches tend to focus on relations between the sexes and largely those outside of the world of politics, causal approaches focus on the creation of gender identifies. These fall into three general trends, each with its own weaknesses:
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Cross and the Pedestal”
In this essay, Smith-Rosenberg investigates the structure of radical religious movements, movements that challenge the prevailing social order. Her primary example is the religious revivals of the 19th century and her main focus is on explaining why these movements seem to be especially appealing to women.
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Female World of Love and Ritual”
Smith-Rosenberg investigates the ways sexuality was constructed in the 19th century and particularly at the relationships between women. She describes a world that is largely homosocial, where the primary relationships for each gender was located among others of the same gender. These relationships were both intimate and socially acceptable, fitting with no apparent contradiction with the societal push for women to assume roles as wives and mothers.