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  • Introduction
  • Joan B. Landes (bio)

This forum contributes to an ongoing exploration of the body in the eighteenth-century; an area of inquiry much indebted to such scholars as Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Norbert Elias, Norman Brown, Barbara Stafford, George Mosse, Antoine de Baecque, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, and Elaine Scarry, among others. In this growing literature, the body appears in multiple guises: individual, social and political; frail and strong; naked and garbed; violated and whole; natural and mechanical. However, the articles in this forum also reveal a revived scholarly interest in the roles played by religion in the embodied lives of gendered individuals, communities, and nations. Here, too, the body's effects are manifold, having as much to do with consequences and appearances as with belongings.

The study of religion once occupied a privileged position in the study of the eighteenth century. Yet with the adoption of the methods of, initially, social history, and subsequently, cultural history, religion largely receded from prominence, delegated to other centuries, especially in medieval and pre-modern Europe, or to the beliefs and institutions of non-Europeans. Like the popular image of the Enlightenment, not only the methods but also the objects of social and cultural historians have been largely secular. However, even such settled topics as [End Page 153] the relationship between the Enlightenment and the growth of secularism or the Revolution's contribution to de-christianization have subsequently been opened to reexamination.1 Also, while an earlier generation focused on ecclesiastical structures and eschatological doctrines, the rise of toleration and the separation of church and state, recent scholars are asking how religious belief and affiliation helped to shape the emerging structures of modern subjectivity, gender and collective political identity. Each of the forum's contributors appreciates the intimate exchange between sexuality and political identification. Together the articles explore how bodily boundaries were drawn in religious and political discourse, and how the complex connections between religion, politics, and sexuality shaped political subjectivity and agency. In three different locales—France, England, and North America—they demonstrate that belief as well as church membership could serve as vehicles, rather than obstacles, to the incorporation of individual subjects into an imagined political community.

The understanding of the relationship between religion and modern nationalism has profited greatly from the contribution of Benedict Anderson, who compared the imagined community of the nation to "the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which—as well as against which—it came into being ... the religious community and the dynastic realm."2 On the basis of the three great sacral cultures of Christendom, the Islamic Ummah, and the Middle Kingdom, all of which incorporated conceptions of immense, potentially even planet-wide communities, Anderson posited a model of competition, not alliance, between nationalism and religion. In his influential formulation, the nation is imagined as a limited, sovereign community: "limited because ... [n]o nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind....[and] sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm" (7). In her study of the nineteenth-century Latin American novel, Doris Sommer expanded on one of Anderson's suggestive asides on the passion of patriotic feeling. "After he accounts for it [patriotism] through the analogy with religion," she writes, "Anderson mentioned the equal centrality of our sexual identities (almost parenthetically and without development) in an observation about how universal both nationality and discrete genders are today....[However] unlike the competitive comparison nationalism and religion, the interchangeability between nation and sex is mutually reinforcing. And it is possible, through their overlapping analogies to religion, to see sex and nation helping each other to displace earlier attachments."3 Despite their differences, then, both Anderson and Sommer conceive of religion as having been supplanted—not only in time, but also in the hearts and minds of patriots: either primarily by nationalism itself, or by nationalism and sexuality together.

Yet the articles by Mita Choudhoury, Dana Rabin, and Ann M. Little present a different picture of the relationship of religion to the rise of nationalism, one which does not require the substitution of one for the other. Still the religions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 153-156
Launched on MUSE
2005-12-06
Open Access
No
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