Are religions 'remnant states' within the contemporary nation?

By staff writers
21 Apr 2012

A radical religion scholar from Canada is coming to Britain this week, to contribute to developing debates about the place of religion in public life.

Professor Naomi Goldenberg, from the Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa, will give public and university addresses in Stirling, Aberdeen and London.

Professor Goldenberg will argue that religions function effectively as ‘vestigial states’ (or remnants of states) – institutions and practices that originated in the past, and in reference to former sovereignties, but which still operate within contemporary nation states.

This creates tensions between present and past authorities, between sacred and secular power, and between patriarchal and more progressively feminist structures, she suggests.

Her work has considerable relevance to sometimes heated debates about religion in public life in Britain and in North America.

Professor Goldenberg offers a feminist critique of patriarchal religion. Her related interests include psychoanalytic theory, body politics, gender and popular culture.

The author of Changing of the gods: Feminism and the end of traditional religions (1979), she is, amongst many other interests, on the editorial board of the journal Goddess Thealogy: An International Journal for the study of the Divine Feminine.

Her visit is being sponsored by the University of Stirling’s Critical Religion Research Group, which is pioneering intellectual engagement with questions of religion at the interface between the academy and public debate.

On Thursday 26 April she will give a major public lecture at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London, entitled ‘What’s God Got to Do With It? Feminism, Religion and the State’. This event is being co-sponsored by the cutting edge religion and society thinktank Ekklesia.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "Whether you agree with her or not, Professor Goldenberg is sure to liven and sharpen up the debate about religion and society, introducing fresh ideas and critiques into what can be a tired discussion laden with half-thought out slogans."

He continued: "Ekklesia has long argued that the 'Christendom' model, of church and religion aligning with governing authority and the powers-that-be, needs challenging. We do so from within the Christian tradition, highlighting subversive, anti-imperial and anti-patriarchal streams of Christian thought and action, reflected in dissenters going right back to the Jesus movement.

"Professor Goldenberg approaches the issues somewhat differently, and perhaps with more scepticism, but her voice ought to be welcomed by anyone dissatisfied with domineering religion and open to new configurations and possibilities beyond a simplistic religious-secular divide," he added.

On Monday 23 April Professor Naomi Goldenberg speaks on ‘Contemporary Statecraft, Gender and the Category of Religion’ at the University of Stirling.

On Tuesday 24 April she is presenting at a day workshop entitled Modernity and the Category of Religion, organised by Dr Trevor Stack of Aberdeen University’s Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law. Other speakers include Dr Stack, Dr Tamas Gyorfi, the University of Stirling’s Dr Timothy Fitzgerald, Dr Suzanne Owen and Dr Brian Bock. Stirling’s Dr Alison Jasper is a discussant.

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* All media enquiries should be directed in the first instance to Dr Michael Marten on 01786 467532 (in and out of office hours) and michael.martenATstir.ac.uk.

* Critical Religion articles: a partnership between the University of Stirling and Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/criticalreligion

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