Friday, March 28, 2008

Writing and eating God

Another post on the regional AAR/SBL conference. I followed the Women and Religion panels, and I was especially struck by one session, entitled Women, Writing, Theology.

Min-Ah Cho from Emory started by presenting her paper "The body, ever hungered and ever desired," in which she drew a picture of Hadewijch of Antwerp's explorations of the Eucharist - eating it, sensing the body of God intimately melded with her own, writing it. Meghan Sweeney from Boston College then spoke about the connections between self-authoring and self-authorizing. She used the example of presenting a conference paper to draw out how performance exposes us - but also legitimates. Wesley Barker, also from Emory, reflected on some of her own experiences in finding her voice as a female author and female theologian - particularly in her ongoing conversation with others. Her paper, "From othered to otherwise," drew on Luce Irigaray to pose the question of what it means to identify as a woman when writing within the space of (scholarly) language.

At the end, Prof Wendy Farley from Emory responded to all three papers. Many people commented afterwards how her response had been akin to a final prayer, in which all the preceding concerns were swept up and woven together. She spoke of the different ways in which we police ourselves internally, as we write, and as we attempt to fit in with academic traditions and gendered expectations. Then she turned to the other face of writing, and spoke of the connection between writing and eating - being nourished as one finds one's voice - and of what it might mean to be called to write and eat God.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Soundscapes: the female voice in ritual

Two weeks ago I was at the regional AAR/SBL religion conference in Atlanta, and sat in on several enjoyable sessions. One of the papers that has continued to intrigue me since then was read by Jessica Starling, University of Virginia, who has done research on female priests in Japanese Temple Buddhism. Her paper touched on the question of how sounds impact our experience of religious rituals. Specifically, she raised the issue of how a female voice fills a ritual space, as compared to a male voice, and what this different soundscape means.

She described how she had once heard another woman softly wonder out loud, following a ritual led by a female priest in a Japanese temple, whether this ritual was indeed effective. The ritual, usually led by a man, is typically associated with the speaking and chanting of a male voice - a deeper voice, which carries further. The experience of listening to a woman's voice is different. It evokes different associations and, at least in this particular case, it confounded expectations and led to doubts about the authority of the ritual. I find it intriguing how rituals can jar and mesh with our senses like that.