Catachreses? ‘Gender’, ‘Religion’, and ‘Postcoloniality’

December 17-19 2012

Hosted by the Centre for Gender and Religions Research School of Oriental &
African Studies, University of London

on behalf of the ‘Innovations in the Study of Religion and Gender Project’
funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research

The intimate bonds between colonial scholarship, European colonialism, and
the discursive production and employment of ‘religion’ have by now been
well charted as have the alternately fruitful and vexed exchanges between
feminist, gender-critical, and postcolonial bodies of theory. It is
curious, therefore, that there has been so sparse an engagement in the
field of Religion and Gender (R&G) concerning the potential intersections
between its eponymous objects of study and the constellation of concepts
marked as and by ‘postcoloniality’. Even a cursory review of literature in
the field in the last decade reveals a startling absence of sustained
reflection by R&G scholars on the implications that postcolonial theory
might have for their theorizations of gendered practices, identifications,
and discourses within religious traditions, or of the ways in which the
field itself might require reformulation and revision in light of the
compelling epistemological and ontological challenges posed to metropolitan
academia by a variety of postcolonialisms. Also worthy of note is the
parallel lack of direct attention in postcolonial literature to the
assertion of, or resistance to the imposition of ‘religious’ identities in
response to colonial valuations of culture, communal identity, and social
formations. Under the rubric of ‘postsecularism’, considerations of the
overlooked relationship between gender and religion are only now beginning
to garner attention, as postcolonial scholars have started to attend more
forcefully to the ways that religious affiliation provides rich contexts
within which women are able articulate political imaginaries that are
consciously resistant to secular-liberalist and feminist frameworks of
organising. There is as yet, however, little analysis of the possible
formulations of masculinity that are enabled, prevented, or dissimulated
via the conjunction of ‘religion’ and ‘postcoloniality’. Furthermore,
little attention has been paid to the imperative question as to how
‘postcoloniality’ challenges, criticizes and moves forward discussions
initiated by queer theory in relation to religion.

This workshop offers a timely, perhaps overdue, opportunity to (re)visit
the question of the necessary triangulation of ‘religion’, ‘gender’ and
‘postcoloniality’ or, put differently, to pose the question of the
necessity of thinking these categories together. What imperatives demand
their assemblage, what constraints might require their dispersal? To what
extent might the field of Religion and Gender need to undergo a process of
‘coming to terms’ such that the theoretical categories that underpin its
intellectual itineraries are subjected to renewed critical reflection and
reform? With these questions in mind, the workshop proposes a preliminary
framework of the ‘catachresis’, defined by Gayatri Spivak as the act of
‘reversing, displacing, and seizing the apparatus of value-coding’ , a
definition that extends with political intent the Derridean formulation of
catachresis as indicating the original and indeed originary incompleteness
that is inherent in all systems of meaning. As Derrida has put it,
catachresis ‘concerns first the violent and forced, abusive inscription of
a sign, the imposition of a sign upon a meaning which did not yet have its
own proper sign in language. So much so that there is no substitution here,
no transport of proper signs, but rather the irruptive extension of a sign
proper to an idea, a meaning, deprived of their signifier. A “secondary”
original”‘ (This ‘secondary origin’ produces ‘a new kind of proper sense,
by means of a catachresis whose intermediary status tends to escape the
opposition of the primitive [sense] and the figurative [sense], standing
between them as a “middle”‘.  Catachresis, as the ‘middle’, is here also a
‘between’, an interval that is neither purely semantic nor purely
syntactic; a spacing in other words. As such, the conceptual richness of
catachresis as a thematic focus for the triadic formulation of ‘religion’,
‘gender’ and ‘postcoloniality’ may enable some ground clearing, a space for
reflection on the variety of naming and conceptualizing mechanisms, the
forging of connections, the imposition of systems of intellectual
prescription that have been wielded, challenged and refused with the field
of Religion and Gender. It is the catachrestic nature of these three
concepts that we seek to probe and push here such that the relationship
between categorization and value coding can be disclosed, undone,
displaced, and rethought. What do the terms ‘religion’, ‘gender’ and
‘postcoloniality’ disclose about their own and their respective
incompleteness? What might the assumption of their intersection or dialogic
necessity imply about their inscription in a particular type and time of
‘worlding’? Is the neglect of their intersection by R&G scholars a sign of
their incompatibility or possible emptiness as intellectual
constructs–indeed, as lived realities–or of a troubling lacuna in the
field? What impropriety is promised by the conjunction of these three
concepts and which boundaries might their coalition begin to transgress?

We invite papers on any and all of these preliminary questions. We
particularly welcome papers that combine theoretical reflection with
empirical analysis in exploring and examining the intersections of
‘religion’, ‘gender’ and ‘postcoloniality’. Abstracts of no more than 300
words should be submitted by email to
Deadline*: 29th June 2012

The primary purpose of the workshop will be to identify strategic areas for
future research in the area, contributing to the development and enrichment
of the interdisciplinary study of religion and gender from the perspective
of postcolonial theory and to create a network for future research
collaboration and exchange. Selected papers from the workshop will be
published in the international journal Religion and Gender.

*Contacts:* Dr S�an Hawthorne ( and Dr Adriaan van Klinken (

Centre for Gender and Religions Research, Department of the Study of
Religions, School of Oriental & African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell
Square, London WC1H 0XG
Centre email:

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