Darlene Juschka is a cross-appointed Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Religious Studies at the University of Regina. Juschka is well-published in both fields; her works include Feminism in the Study of Religion: A Reader, (ed. 2001) and Political Bodies/Body Politic: The Semiotics of Gender (2009), along with many articles and chapters for books.
In this second instalment of the Critical Questions Series, we ask scholars of religion how they negotiate the difficult line between “politics” and scholarship. The previous responses can be found here, here, here and here.
The line between scholarship and politics or, if you like, between theory building and political commitments, is a notoriously difficult one to negotiate. For some, scholarship should only be about describing and explaining, while for others advocacy (i.e., changing the world for the better) is also an important part of what we do in the academy. While making explicit one’s historical and institutional circumstances, along with the logic and process behind one’s methods and theories is an important step in addressing this issue, it still does not answer the question of advocacy—whether or not it should be done or what counts for it in the first place. With reference to your own experience, institutional affiliation and scholarly identity, what are your thoughts on this matter?
In some way this question mirrors a primary modern/postmodern disagreement with regard to objectivity, and value-neutral theorizing versus situated and value-laden theorizing. What I mean is the view that the knower, knowing, and the known are all unencumbered by social and historical contingencies and produce certain and universal knowledge. This understanding of epistemology has been challenged by feminists, postmodernists, poststructuralists and postcolonialists who argue that all knowledge is contingent since those who produce it are themselves constructed and constrained by the very knowledge they produce. It terms of knowing – reason – this too has been shown to be problematic insofar as reason is not a thing, rather it is part of a binary set emotion/reason that ensured the exclusion of those marked as emotional beings such as the female/feminine, or the racialized and conlonized subject and therefore unable to reason. If we stand here to think about knowledge and its production, we can see then, that constructed and constrained evoke power insofar as to be in the position to construct, and to be free of constraint, is a position of power. As Michel Foucault convincingly argued many years ago now, power and knowledge are intimate bedfellows.
So if in my work, both written and in the classroom, I take the position of critically engaging received knowledge to ask how we come to this understanding, and to look at the deployment of social power – whatever form that social power takes – I am being political. I don’t write/say to readers or students you need to be this or that, or it should be read this way; rather you might look at what the idea of being entails, for example, and note the narratives, ponder on their provision (or not) to conceptualization and representation of being, and note also those that have been excluded and wonder why.
From here I move to the position of continued advocacy, and situating myself as a knower and therefore constructed and constrained, I approach all discourse as invested in power. As they are invested in power I know I cannot be neutral, so I challenge taken for granted knowledge that brings about a state of injustice for peoples, non-human animals, the planet and so forth, past and present. As a poststructural and intersectional feminist I write/speak to power relations and social arrangements that advocate oppressive practices seeking to show their mechanisms in order that we might not continue reproducing relations of oppression.