"Between Sovereignties: Women between Church and State in Ukraine"
The description of this conference addresses a tension between the myopic individualism of identity politics and the essentialism of the liberalist secularism narrative in regards to contemporary feminisms. ‘Identity’ discourse feels like the de-politicization of women’s experiences after a hard-earned struggle to bring the revolutionary understanding that “the personal is political” into mainstream consideration. Secularization Theory feels like a colonial, ‘civilizing’ tone argument that is both blind and blinding.
Recent studies on religion in Ukraine demonstrate a decline in Orthodox Christian following and a growing interest in the return to pre-Christian Slavic deity worship. The identity-politics methodology could make sense of this by arguing that Ukrainian people are rediscovering a more authentic identity as polytheistic Slavic people. This method is a perfect marriage to the notion of ‘the postsecular’, an era of shifting rather than diminishing ‘religiousness’.
The conference description provides a familiar line of questioning: Will this search for new gods in the faces of the old ones help or hinder the project of women’s liberation? Christianity advances exclusively male gods and no empowered female role models, and the Slavic pantheon offers a rich assortment of strong women, like Berehinia the bird goddess of spring, the female Tree of Life, and Mokosh the dark horned lady of the fertile earth. However, as the liberal feminist with a secular humanist education knows, the liberal patriarchal category of ‘religion’ constantly supports male power and must be treated with a hermeneutics of suspicion. These Slavic women may or may not have agency in their new (old) ways of worship.
Working-class atheist-feminist groups like Femen are also on the rise in Eastern Europe. Western secular humanism could take credit for this, explaining that it demonstrates the continued secularization of the East.
Both of these frameworks reproduce modernist narratives of freedom and individuality, and neither advances feminist theory. Neopagan women and feminist atheist activists in Ukraine are both using pagan/rural symbolism in their work. Both seek to undermine and critique the close relationship between male heads of state and the Orthodox Patriarchate. Both categories are tied in particular ways to Ukrainian nationalist movements, European Union solidarity movements, EU rejection movements, and anti-Russian colonialism. Understanding the relationships between these ideologies is far more crucial to understanding the feminism of the women in these groups in rich and fruitful ways than modelling our analytical lens on the tiny perspective of individual identity or the sweeping essentialism of church-state dichotomizing.
This paper will argue that while identity politics are depoliticizing, studying these contemporary movements under a secular/religious umbrella also relegates political concerns to the realm of the ‘personal’. I will re-evaluate Ukrainian Neopaganism and Femen using Naomi Goldenberg’s Theory of Vestigial States with the goal of moving contemporary feminist movements into “frameworks of visibility” (Birnbaum 2015).
Cameron is a part-time professor in the department of Health and Community Studies at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada. She is the Editor of the Ottawa Journal of Religion and a Director on the board of Under the Reading Tree. She is also engaged in the Refugees Welcome community. Cameron defends her doctoral dissertation this summer.