Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Amy Hollywood and Michael Warner -- Who's Afraid of Religious Passion?

Friday, March 8, 2013

2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Pembroke Hall 202

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"Who's Afraid of Religious Passion?" 

Speakers are Amy Hollywood, Harvard Divinity School, and Michael Warner, English and American Studies, Yale University.

A number of scholars in recent years have critiqued and attempted to unsettle the conventional association of religion with unreason and secularity with reason, which remains so widespread in popular and academic discourse. There are several different ways in which such associations have been recast. One way has been to explore the ways in which transgressive and ecstatic experience, formerly associated with “religion,” has been valorized by a range of “secular” creative forms. This way, with a longstanding genealogy in European romanticism, is associated with the historical avant-garde and has been elaborately theorized by key post-structuralist thinkers. More recently, the idea of “sensible ecstasy” (Amy Hollywood) has highlighted the multiple meanings of the “sensible,” the gender dimension of which has further subtended the received dichotomies, as well as the appeal of mysticism in a post-dogmatic age. A very different way has focused on the power/knowledge, even power-mad dimension of secular “reason,” and highlighted the sober, ethical subjectivity-constituting dimension of religious practice. A title like “Religious Reason and Secular Affect” (Saba Mahmood) indicates the direction in which this line of thinking moves – particularly its re-shuffling of familiar associations inherited from the Enlightenment and Reformation. Finally, radically reframing the traditional opposition, Michael Warner has sought to sharpen the “the agony of the choice between orgasm and religion,” while foregrounding the way that “ecstatic religions can legitimate self-transgression.” Despite many overlapping intents of these different stances – above all, the focus on the constitutive dimension of gender and sexuality – they valorize quite different paths to resisting modern constructions of both “secularity” and “religion.” These differences are not only academic-theoretical. Rather, they deeply affect the evaluation of many of today’s key political/cultural/social/class struggles around the globe. In short: how might we engage the interplay of reason and affect in today’s secularizing-and-anti-secularizing world?

Location: Pembroke Hall 202.