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  • Roundtable: Negotiating Feminist and Gender Studies
  • Molly Farneth (bio)

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

I’m interested in religious pluralism and democratic ethics, and my work has been deeply influenced by the methodologies and insights of both feminist scholarship and gender studies. Feminist studies in both religion and political theory have shaped my work on pluralist ethical discourses. The work of feminist scholars like Maria Pia Lara and Iris Marion Young, for instance, suggests ways of shifting and expanding conversations about justice and ethics far beyond liberal reason-giving. And work in gender and religion has deeply affected the ways in which I think about bodily practices, self-cultivation, and agency. Both feminist and gender studies in religion ask tough questions about the assumptions implicit in the field of religious studies, and comprise an important part of my methodological toolbox. [End Page 137]

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

As a graduate student still taking courses, my main challenge has been figuring out where to focus my attention as I prepare for exams and beyond. This relates to Larisa’s observation that scholars who work on gender, race, sexuality, and class are often expected to do double duty, learning the canon as well as the scholarship on gender, race, and so forth. Too often, the latter is approached as tangential or extracurricular.

It seems that thoughtful graduate programs are still struggling to figure out how to help graduate students develop a course of study in a postcanonical way, taking philosophical and theological traditions seriously while providing students with tools for questioning the religious, racial, and gendered biases of those traditions. Practically, I’m still not sure what this should look like at the curricular level, but we all have much to gain from sharing information and insights about what has worked well for us and what hasn’t.

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

At Princeton, the fields that I work in—ethics, philosophy of religion, and political theory—are largely populated by male faculty and graduate students. I am often the only woman in the room, and at times, one of only a few students who are thinking about feminist and gender studies in religion. As a result, classroom dynamics can be gendered in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that privilege certain forms of speaking and commanding authority. These aren’t forms of interaction that I find productive, and confronting them can be frustrating.

That said, the faculty and students in my subfield work hard to create and maintain a vibrant intellectual community with enough trust and respect that these kinds of concerns can be discussed together. I’m grateful to be a part of this community.

4. What do you see as some of the theoretical limitations in the field of gender and religion or feminist studies in religion?

5. What do you see as some of the political dilemmas of the field?

Again, I think the field is still struggling to figure out its relationship to the canon, particularly in the training of young scholars. Ideally, the solution won’t be to simply add to the set of texts that we consider canonical. Instead, we need to find ways to make questions about gender, sexuality, race, and class integral to the curriculum. It’s not just, “Are we reading Judith Butler?” but “Are students learning how to ask Butlerian questions when they’re reading, say, Hegel?” How would this change the way that courses like Religion 101 are taught? How would it influence the structure of doctoral exams, or the way that students are expected to prepare for them? [End Page 138]

6. Where do you see the field headed in the future?

In the past few years, I have seen a proliferation of academic and political conversations about the relationship between religion and politics. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many of these conversations proceed with a pretty thin—and often tokenizing—notion of religion. But if we are to understand the relationship between religion and politics, for...


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pp. 137-139
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