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  • "Reparative Reading" as Queer Pedagogy
  • Sîan Melvill Hawthorne (bio)

affect, paranoid reading, queer pedagogy, reparative reading

In the current climate, it is rare to reflect critically on one's teaching practice. Most thinking about teaching in academic institutions too often takes the form of bureaucratic compliance with "quality assurance" agendas that seem more concerned with the form rather than the content of pedagogical excellence. My own teaching is in that broad terrain called "theory and method in the study of religions." I offer courses that examine a broad spectrum of critical theory—feminist, queer, postcolonial, disability, and critical race theories—that might be put to work to critique, reform, and remake our complex and variegated discipline(s) in the light of some serious critiques about its grounds and practices. My teaching is overtly political, and I teach in an institution that is well-known for its leftist political leanings and activism. To a degree, such an environment makes taking a political stance toward my teaching and research relatively easy, although not without its dangers pedagogically speaking—how do we convey the urgency, and necessity of thinking through questions of justice, injustice, and the power of intellectual work in enabling inequitable power relations that underwrite our disciplines, without imposing a single point of view legitimated by the scholar's position of authority as the "subject who knows"? What I hope, however, is to enable students to understand a set of core problematics, to engage with the various proposals for their resolution or complication, and to help them emerge better equipped to negotiate the political stakes that require both thinking and action, knowing and doing.

What such a pedagogical philosophy hinges on is drawing out, in any given instance or context under consideration, the core problematic of the informing and normativizing structures and premises that operate according to a logic of sameness and difference. This is necessary in order to make a case for the [End Page 155] obligation to engage with difference as irreducible to the kinds of dualistic thinking that underwrite the field of the study of religions, where difference operates merely as a point of contrast to that which is normativized as the "same." And critical theory is very good at not only showing the problematic structurations of binary thought and the politics and exclusions they enable but also making the case for subjectivity as itself infinitely variegated rather than monolithic, and from this stance, to enable a mapping of difference concretely and contextually. So, my work as a teacher is not only to facilitate intellectual reflection on and labor against the oppressive structures at work in our field and those they connect to but also to foster individual investment in the (re) making of our selves that may begin to resist—as an ethical but also intellectual/political project—the violent forms of subjectivity that binary structures demand of us, which place us in problematic relation to others and which impoverish our thinking.

Turning to the concerns that are the focus of this special section, my own interests lie less in the various "religious" orientations to queer subjectivities and questions, or even their potential for destabilizing heteropatriarchy and so on, than in the fundamental assumptions, working practices, and intellectual frameworks that ground what scholars in the field think their task is and what principles might inform the practice and ethos of "queering." For Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "queer" is "the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically."1 Queering's intentionality, its performative instantiations, are constitutionally, self-avowedly resistant to monolithic modes of articulation and being. Because of its determined connection to everyday politics and intimate life and pleasures, queering lends itself well to the pedagogical task of complicating and deepening encounters with difference. It aids the work of dismantling violent structures and intellectual frameworks that dictate how and what we know without then inevitably reinscribing the violence.

Sedgwick tackles many of these issues in her 2003 book Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, in which she takes...


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