Intersectionality and Religion

18 May

For the last two weeks, I have been participating in a summer workshop on intersectionality.  The idea was developed in the 1980s as a way to think the relationships between different subject positions and social identities.  Scholars like Kimberle Crenshaw had become frustrated with legal theory, which required victims to identify the source of their oppression before bringing suit.  Using several legal cases, Crenshaw argued that it was often difficult for women of color to identify the source of their oppressions because race and gender were so often interlocked with and inseparable from each other.  Their inability to separate and name their experiences as solely the result of racism or sexism meant they were unable to bring suit.  Their cases were dismissed.  Since its development in the 1980s, intersectionality has expanded to think about the ways in which dis/ability, sexuality, class, race, and gender intersect and combine to form different subject positions.   Scholars who think in this way argue that thinking in simplistic categories like black, female, white, working class, etc. ignores the ways in which each of these categories are always in play and misrepresents the experiences of various people.  The experiences white women are different form those of white men.  Likewise, the experience of middle class black men and women are different from those of working class black men and women.

One of the questions that came up for me in the workshop was how religion might play into intersectional analyses.  Much of the language that I hear about religion in academia and those who consider themselves to be liberals is deeply classed.  People who live in rural areas are portrayed as hicks, as backward, as racist, as clinging to religion, etc.  To be religious in these discourses is to be unenlightened.  This language suggests that class-bias is often articulated and expressed through discussions of religion.  To leave religion out of intersectional analysis is to misunderstand class relations.  It is also present in discussions of race and gender.

On the other hand, Christianity is such a prevalent part of American culture and Christian groups have denied access and respect to many groups of people.  Religion seems to function differently than either class, race, or gender.  Placing it within intersectional analysis seems more difficult than any of these other sectors.

I’m not quite sure how to do it.  Thoughts?

2 Responses to “Intersectionality and Religion”

  1. sar May 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Religion as an intersectional identity category has definitely been undertheorized in women’s studies. But there has been some work in this direction in looking at how this plays out in Islam (for example, in the work of Saba Mahmood of Haideh Moghissi). I would love to see more use of intersectionality in Mormon Studies, even following the Muslim model.
    Of course, as you say, religion operates differently than gender, class or race, but gender, class and race also function differently than each other. We’ve spent more collective time on those categories so we understand better how they work. The academy is only just realizing that religion’s not going away and so maybe it’s worth examining the role it does play. I’m hoping a less reductive and more nuanced analysis of that role is coming.

  2. Kemi December 28, 2015 at 7:56 am #

    To clarify, the term intersectionality was coined in the 80s but the concept had been around for quite sometime, in response to the feminist.

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