Unsettling Science and Religion: Contributions & Questions from Queer Studies

Saturday, August 8, 2015 - 08:30 to Saturday, August 15, 2015 - 12:30

Unsettling Science and Religion: Contributions & Questions from Queer Studies
August 8-15, 2015, Star Island, NH
Co-Chairs: Whitney Bauman and Lisa Stenmark


In Thailand, Indonesia, and India, children might be male, female or not yet decided. Many Native American tribes recognize that some people are “two spirits,” men with a woman’s spirit or woman with a man’s spirit. We know that a certain percentage of children are born with male and female genitalia. Research in biology demonstrates the many different ways sex is expressed in the natural world, while Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and others continue to demonstrate that the categories of heterosexual and homosexual are too narrow to capture the diversity and fluidity of sexual expression. All of these observations and discoveries raise questions about what we consider “natural” or “normal.” What has become known as queer theory extends these questions far beyond sexuality and gender, essentially “queering” anything and everything that we might want to accept as a given. The goal of the 2015 IRAS conference is to borrow some of the techniques and challenges within queer theory and apply them to our own discipline(s), seeking to unsettle or “queer”religion and science. In addition to asking, “What is Queer Theory?” we will explore such issues and questions as: How queer is the natural world? How might we blur the boundaries between and within the academy? What are the boundaries of the sacred and secular, of reason and faith? Is God queer? Ultimately, we want to ask how queer religion, science and philosophy, can and/or should be.

This conference draws its intellectual and social cues from the work of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, and begins with the idea that assumptions of heterosexuality, monogamy, gender and sexual dimorphism, among other norms, are not in any way natural but cultural, created through time, traditions, politics, and power dynamics. Extending this idea to all ideas that purport to be natural, universal, and given ultimately suggests that reality is more complex and far stranger than any thought, idea, system, or belief can capture. It is at heart about continuing the conversations and explorations of the world in which we live, rather than arriving at any final conclusions. The scientific method of exploration and deconstructive strands of religious thought both have mechanisms that unsettle and challenge truth claims, and in this sense are much “queerer” than popularly imagined. However, such iconoclastic streams of religious and scientific thought often give way to the institutionalization of more solid ways of understanding reality. Queer theory, again, helps to keep these conversations flowing and open in an ever-changing world. Though the speakers may not fully agree with the topics addressed, there are three common features of queer theory on which the conference will focus. First, it challenges givens that on occasion still undergird religiously and scientifically informed ways of thinking. Second, it takes embodiment seriously. As such, it hoists the academy—with its dis-embodied way of separating imagination, thought and action—on its own petard. In this regard, we have much to learn from this theory’s adventures into the politics of gender and sexuality. Third, this engagement will inevitably generate insights into both the paradigmatic ways the S/R dialogue has been framed and carried out, and provide new pathways we might explore in the future.

Confirmed keynote speakers include: Carol Wayne White, Karen Barad, Fern Feldman, Catherine Keller, Laurel Schneider, Emilie Townes, Claudia Schippert, Whitney Bauman, Lisa Stenmark, William Grassie, and Chapel Speaker, Donna Schaper.

NOTE: During our week on Star Island, IRAS and SG II will be sharing the island. While we welcome participants of both to attend each others events, we ask that if you are primarily an IRAS-ian that you register for IRAS, and if you are primarily an
SG II-er, that you register for SG II. Both organizations have limited space for registrants and we both depend upon registration money to help keep the annual meetings going. If we find that you have accidentally or knowingly registered for the wrong conference, we will contact you and ask you to register for the appropriate conference.





The conference format will feature a single, daily plenary lecture in the morning (except for two lectures on Monday), followed by small discussion groups and further discussion groups in the afternoon, as well as workshops and other activities. We will return to the evening plenary session to engage the plenary lecturers with questions and comments that will carry our thinking forward in a collaborative-constructive way.

All conference attendees will be invited to propose workshops on the themes of the conference, as well as workshops that examine the future roles of IRAS in relation to its founding ideas and the wider context of science, religions, and society in which we now live.

In our work and play together, we will be joined by members of another conference called Star Gathering II and the Star Gathering II Youth conference. They will be welcome to attend IRAS sessions. Likewise, IRAS attendees will be welcome to attend the variety of offerings of Star Gathering II.


Portsmouth, NH
United States

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