“Unsettling Science and Religion:
Contributions and Questions from Queer Studies”
August 8-15, 2015 – Star Island, New Hampshire
Co-Directors: Whitney Bauman and Lisa Stenmark
May 11, 2015
Greetings! We are writing to you today to encourage you to register for this year’s annual IRAS meeting. We have a unique lineup of Plenary Speakers, paper presenters, workshops and other events that we think will make this year’s conference one to remember. In addition to all of our wonderful speakers who will deal with topics such as race, queer theory, sacred texts, physics, philosophy of science, religion and theology, we also have evening plans for a music concert, a fiddle band, and the showing of a recent Mahler documentary which was produced and directed by one of this year’s attendees. The usual Star Island excursions and events will also be available.
In order to get a taste of the quality of speakers we have for this year, I encourage you to visit our website and thumb through the speaker bios: http://www.iras.org/2015-speakers.html. In a few weeks we will be sending out a suggested reading list, and we will be finalizing the schedule for the week. We hope that you will register for the conference and encourage those you know might be interested to attend. We strongly encourage folks to register by June 1, 2015 in order to ensure a spot on the Island. Registration information is below, as well as more information about this year’s topic.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate in contacting us.
Whitney A. Bauman and Lisa Stenmark
2015 Conference Co-Chairs
In Thailand, Indonesia, and India, children might be male, female or not yet decided. Many Native American tribes recognize that some people are “two spirits,” men with a woman’s spirit or woman with a man’s spirit. We know that a certain percentage of children are born with male and female genitalia. Research in biology demonstrates the many different ways sex is expressed in the natural world, while Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and others continue to demonstrate that the categories of heterosexual and homosexual are too narrow to capture the diversity and fluidity of sexual expression. All of these observations and discoveries raise questions about what we consider “natural” or “normal.” What has become known as queer theory extends these questions far beyond sexuality and gender, essentially “queering” anything and everything that we might want to accept as a given. The goal of the 2015 IRAS conference is to borrow some of the techniques and challenges within queer theory and apply them to our own discipline(s), seeking to unsettle or “queer” religion and science. In addition to asking, “What is Queer Theory?” we will explore such issues and questions as: How queer is the natural world? How might we blur the boundaries between and within the academy? What are the boundaries of the sacred and secular, of reason and faith? Is God queer? Ultimately, we want to ask how queer religion, science and philosophy, can and/or should be.
This conference draws its intellectual and social cues from the work of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, and begins with the idea that assumptions of heterosexuality, monogamy, gender and sexual dimorphism, among other norms, are not in any way natural but cultural, created through time, traditions, politics, and power dynamics. Extending this idea to all ideas that purport to be natural, universal, and given ultimately suggests that reality is more complex and far stranger than any thought, idea, system, or belief can capture. It is at heart about continuing the conversations and explorations of the world in which we live, rather than arriving at any final conclusions. The scientific method of exploration and deconstructive strands of religious thought both have mechanisms that unsettle and challenge truth claims, and in this since are much “queerer” than popularly imagined. However, such iconoclastic streams of religious and scientific thought often give way to the institutionalization of more solid ways of understanding reality. Queer theory, again, helps to keep these conversations flowing and open in an ever-changing world.
Though the speakers may not fully agree with the topics addressed, there are three common features of queer theory on which the conference will focus. First, it challenges givens that on occasion still undergird religiously and scientifically informed ways of thinking. Second, it takes embodiment seriously. As such, it hoists the academy—with its dis-embodied way of separating imagination, thought and action—on its own petard. In this regard, we have much to learn from this theory’s adventures into the politics of gender and sexuality. Third, this engagement will inevitably generate insights into both the paradigmatic ways the S/R dialogue has been framed and carried out, and provide new pathways we might explore in the future.