"The Body of a Nation: How the Category of Religion Conflates Nationalist and Gendered Ideologies"
This paper will interrogate how women’s bodies are mobilized in discourses of ‘religion’ and the ‘secular’. Informed by the sub-field of “critical religion”, which understands ‘religion’ as a modern Christian concept spread across the world through western colonialism, I will argue that using the language of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ in reference to the ways women perform their identities in a variety of contexts obscures the political implications of their actions. In fact, women’s bodies act as microcosms of the state: the nation is a construction that acts through women’s bodies and identities. With reference to Timothy Fitzgerald, Naomi Goldenberg’s vestigial state theory, William Cavanaugh’s work on the myth of religious violence, and Michel Foucault, my paper will suggest that women’s bodies are monitored as litmus tests for the state. My case study, as seen in 2012 documentary The World Before Her, compares the ‘religious’ Hindutva movement and the contrasting ‘secular’ Miss India competition to argue that what is at stake here does not involve ‘religion’ but the nation: both the beauty pageant and the Hindutva movement are better understood as nationalist movements. I will suggest that conceptualizing such discourses as nationalistic and gendered rather than ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ will enable greater clarity and protect women’s rights.
Rachel Everett-Fry began her studies at the University of Ottawa in 2013. She is currently working on her Undergraduate Degree in Anthropology and Women's studies, with particular interest in critical theory and queer theory, and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the future.