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  • Roundtable: Negotiating Feminist and Gender Studies
  • Deborah Whitehead (bio)

1. Do you see yourself as pursuing studies in gender and religion or feminist studies in religion? (And why?)

I see myself as engaged in both feminist and gender studies in religion in my research and teaching. My work and life are very much informed and sustained by the feminist movement, and I understand feminist work to entail a set of theoretical and political commitments to justice and well-being for all persons everywhere without exception. To be honest, it was the field of feminist studies in religion, and in particular, my experience of stumbling across the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion as an undergraduate, that first made me want to pursue graduate work in religious studies and a career as an academic. I find specious the argument that the word feminist entails a political commitment that is out of place in academia. All intellectual work is undertaken within a political context and functions in the service of political ends, whether those ends are acknowledged or not. At the same time, we are currently in a political-intellectual climate in which words like feminist and theology carry tremendous negative weight in certain contexts, and so it behooves some of us in particular institutional locations to employ alternative verbiage. In my current institution, for example, a seminar on “Gender and Religion” is likely to attract more students and less institutional suspicion than would one entitled “Feminism and Religion.” Notwithstanding such experiences, though I am persuaded by the argument that the substitution of the term gender for feminist does indicate, for some, a depoliticization and dehistoricization of scholarship historically informed by and indeed made possible by the feminist movement, I do not mean to suggest that I find gender studies to be without substance or political commitment. Rather, I understand gender studies to be informed by both queer theory and poststructuralist theory and to entail an emphasis on the performativity and fluidity of gender in its many forms. In many respects, gender studies has made possible the asking of new and exciting questions in the fields of both religious studies and feminist studies.

2. What kinds of challenges have you faced in your course work and research?

Many of the challenges I’ve faced are not unique to me as a young female junior faculty member in my first tenure-track position: the demands of developing and implementing several new courses in one’s first years of teaching, raising three young children with my partner who is also a full-time academic, and struggling to find time to conduct my own research and write amidst all of these demands. It has been more difficult than I imagined to make the transition from specialized doctoral research to teaching large lecture courses that require one to survey entire fields. At the same time, I have been surprised [End Page 135] by how passionate I feel about my teaching, and how unexpectedly enriching teaching has been to my own research. Some of the articles I am currently working on were sparked by new material I came across while preparing lectures or ideas that were expressed and refined in discussions with students. Teaching has demanded that I stretch myself intellectually in new ways, and my students constantly challenge me to see my subject through their eyes and hence to fall in love with it again and again.

3. What sorts of challenges have you faced at your current institution?

I’m fortunate to be at an institution that emphasizes research and therefore have a lighter teaching load than many of my peers. I’m also fortunate to be a member of a department with a very dynamic group of junior and mid-career colleagues who are committed to seeing our department through a difficult transitional time. This is a difficult time for public universities as we see massive state budget cuts to higher education as a result of our national financial crisis. As we all know, smaller departments usually suffer the most in such situations. I know of several women’s, gender, and ethnic studies departments that have been eliminated because their subject matter is considered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3913
Print ISSN
8755-4178
Pages
pp. 135-137
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-13
Open Access
No
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