“At the Intersection of Queer Studies and Religion”: A Summary

As part of a larger research project hosted by Utrecht University, the BCRW and Barnard’s Religion Department held a roundtable discussion in November on the intersections of queer studies and religion. Grappling with definitions of ‘queer’ and the thorns of importing contemporary Western terminology to ancient religious/transnational contexts, 10 scholars, theologians, and activists furthered the interdisciplinary study of religion and gender. Here’s what they had to say:

What does ‘queer’ mean?

  • Identity without an essence; impossible possibility; a remainder that cannot be accounted for
  • Verb, not a noun
  • Perspective; a body of theory
  • Political intervention in the normalization of heterosexuality
  • Multiplicity; movement; flow; yes & no

The panelists’ (dis)locations of ‘queer’ placed the term not only in identity politics, but in the divergences of practice and knowledge. One scholar pointed out race issues involved with using ‘queer’—to them, queer studies is often associated with whiteness, and as pointed out by another panelist, with Western discourses. Nothing flows entirely in one direction, but the flow is driven by political power: such is the case with the colonial exportation of terms (e.g., gay, lesbian). We cannot examine queer studies and religion without incorporating postcolonialism as a major component. There must be a stronger queer body of color critique, as well as space for critical studies of whiteness. After all, queer theory originates from queer women of color feminism.

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S&F: Digital Engagemet Panel

This Saturday at the annual Scholar and Feminist Conference, Locations of Learning: Transnational Feminist Practices, speakers will discuss the ways feminist activists, writers, and thinkers around the world engage with issues of globalization, nationalism, gender, sexuality, identity, and power. One prominent type of engagement is through online communities. For the lunchtime Digital Engagement session, we will be asking participants to share with us their experiences, suggestions, and challenges around engaging with these communities.In preparation for the conversation we’d like to have around this issue, we’ll highlight some of the work being done by our conference speakers, including Tamura Lomax from The Feminist Wire, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh from Zanan TV, photographer and activist Zanele Muholi, Maria-Belen Ordonez from FemTechNet, and Laura Hale from the WikiWomen’s Collaborative.

The Feminist Wire (TFW) seeks to critique “anti-feminist, racist, and imperialist politics pervasive in all forms and spaces of private and public lives of individuals globally,” especially those that perpetuate structural violence. TFW creates an alternative blogging space online for intersectional and international perspectives on politics, culture, sports, religion, health, and many other interconnected topics. They have a diverse group of managing, associate, and contributing editors, and accept submissions from the public. TFW also uses social media to circulate their articles and call for submissions, which increases their audience and contributor pool and may help reach those outside of purely academic or activist circles. The Feminist Wire is published completely in English and is U.S.-based which may create challenges for organizing transnationally, but these challenges no doubt inspire creative solutions. Some of their pieces in transnational feminism include celebrating the work of feminists such as Farah Tanis and Chandra Mohanty, and discussing the geopolitics of Beyoncé’s Black feminism. Tamura Lomax is the co-founder of The Feminist Wire as well as a professor and author.

In a metaphorically apt turn of events, Zanan TV was launched at Zuccotti Park in the space created by Occupy Wall Street, with the intention of creating a similar alternative space online, one that would be, as Director Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh put it, “the vanguard of the women’s movement in Iran.” It is part of a history of online spaces created by the Iranian women’s movement, and seeks to provide an online space for feminist discourse and alliance formation between activists organizing around seemingly different goals. Zanan TV accomplishes these objectives through the use of video journalism with on-air and on-demand programs including documentaries, analysis, and news coverage. Zanan TV journalists are activists in various social movements, including the women’s movement. They offer websites in both English and Farsi, and have covered topics such as grassroots activism in Nepal, Iranian female musicians, and women in film internationally.

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Guidelines to Prevent Abuse of Children with Disabilities: Report from New Delhi

While pursuing a major in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies I have studied the concept of intersectionality, an idea that states that different identities interact with one another to contribute to the person’s place in society with respect to systems of privilege and, conversely, oppression. The idea that oppression is never just based on race, class, gender, or ability but an interlocking of all these identities is an idea that I find extremely important. I am also interested in how these systems operate within a culture that marginalizes and stigmatizes disability, especially amongst women and girls.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern with the National Trust, which is an organization under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in New Delhi, India. Its primary function is to ensure the legal protection of rights of people with disabilities. The Center was working on a legal guideline to help protect children with disabilities from exploitation, violence, and sexual abuse. The guideline is intended to bridge the gap between existing laws regarding children and people with disabilities to ensure that the Indian legal framework was equipped to deal with violations, especially those involving sexual abuse, in a stringent manner.

Furthermore, what made the guideline urgent was the fact that the government and private institutions that looked after these children were currently operating without a system in place to correct violations including exploitation, violence, neglect, and sexual abuse. The protection and well-being of children admitted to homes supported by government and non-governmental agencies are pivotal. Some of the key features of the guidelines were:

1. Proper registration of institutions under the government, whether private or public entities, to make sure these institutions were complying under the existing laws of the country. The drafting committee found that because of the structure of facilities that dealt with children with disabilities, they were registered with the government under laws related to either child protection or disability. The committee was keen to consolidate this data and ensure that every facility was accounted for by both laws.

2. Mandatory sensitivity training for all people involved in the administrative structure of these institutions. The guideline emphasized the use of language and gestures while interacting with children with disability. It is crucial that all administration including support staff and cleaning staff should interact with the children according to their training. Hurtful language and gestures not only affect the child, but also make the facility an unsafe and inhospitable place.

3. Developing a sex education program targeting adolescents with disabilities. While protecting children with disabilities from sexual abuse was obviously an important goal of the policy, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there was a clause on sex education for adolescents with disabilities. Sex education is not a component in the education curriculum in India, and so to have it included in this sphere is progressive, even groundbreaking. This gave adolescents with disabilities an opportunity to own their desire, an idea that is often ignored even today. While efficient implementation of this guideline remains to be seen, it is certainly a first and most important step towards the protection and prevention of violence and sexual abuse amongst children with disabilities.

Damini Mohan is a junior at Barnard College majoring in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and South Asian Studies. She is a Student Research Assistant at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.


On DJing: A Workshop with DJ Reborn

This blog post is part of a series of student reflections on the Gender Amplified Music Festival from September 2013. 

Titled “Turtablism 101” the Gender Amplified program, this workshop at last month’s day-long music festival filled quickly. DJ Reborn, a versatile artist who has spun for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common, and The Roots, used her equally impressive background as an educator to engage nearly every participant in the session. Introducing herself, she explained that as a child, music represented for her a means of escape, and she soon became drawn to its powerful capacity to change the energy among a crowd of people. “I’m like a sonic practitioner,” she stated in a tone serious enough to reveal the dedication with which she approaches her work. The fact of being a woman in the male-dominated field of DJing only motivated DJ Reborn to pursue her craft more strictly; when she moved to New York, she explained, she began to work at DJing with the same systematic rigor as a worker in a nine-to-five job.


Before asking participants to introduce themselves, DJ Reborn concluded, “I was a really shy person, and DJing is a way for me to communicate without saying anything.” As a black woman, she said, she feels her music selections are doubly significant. Making conscious choices about which songs to include in a set and which to leave out, she remains creative throughout this process. She offered an example: if the lyrics of a song are misogynistic but the track is otherwise appealing, DJ Reborn will use the instrumental version.

This aspect of the discussion seemed to resonate well with the participants in the room, many of whom were young women of color. Some individuals who hailed from Black Girls Rock had already learned the basics of DJing and others sought to connect with more female DJs. DJ Reborn facilitated that process in a hands-on manner by inviting everyone to take turns DJing behind the booth at the front of the room. After a group-wide pledge in which everyone raised their dominant hand and repeated in unison, “I do solemnly swear to be the best DJ that I can be…until 1 o’clock or however long this session is,” participants filed to the front. One after another, they stated their DJ name–if they had chosen one–and, after selecting a song, tentatively scratched the standard four beats per measure before releasing the vinyl record with the help of DJ Reborn.

Speaking to the larger theme of the music festival, Reborn addressed some of the gender dynamics at play in the music industry. She also shared her belief that unlike men, who tend to spin for their own enjoyment, women DJs can better intuitively read a crowd. Succinctly, she imparted sound advice to the workshop attendees: “Don’t just play the hits.”

Here is a recap of the Gender Amplified Music Festival:

Emilie Segura is a senior at Barnard majoring in sociology and is a BCRW Research Assistant.