American Lectures in the History of Religions (ALHR):
2009 Annual Meeting in Montréal: Centennial Scholars Panel
Saturday, November 7, 2009
“Our Home and Native Land”: Colonial Encounters and the History of Religion, Spirituality and the Secular
Do colonial powers depend on the force of religion to subjugate peoples and occupy land? Do colonized peoples, by contrast, resist their colonizers by means of a spiritual encounter with the land they inhabit? Both concepts, religion and spirituality, emerge in the academy alongside the concept of the secular. With these terms in mind, we ask, how does the study of religion focus or obscure the workings of colonialism and the hybrid traditions that live in its wake, especially in the Americas?
Seeking both to recognize and interrogate the history of our discipline, the History of Religions Jury, under the auspices of the American Lectures in the History of Religions, has convened the Centennial Scholars Panel. Four distinguished scholars and artists will discuss how their work explores some of the ways that colonialism has shaped categories of religion, spirituality, and the secular, especially within the Americas. With increasing awareness of the legacies of colonialism for the study of religion, scholars have gained perspective on the discipline's contributions both to naturalizing colonialism and to confronting colonial and postcolonial uses of religion for identity creation and domination. The title, taken from the Canadian anthem, points to the unavoidable ambivalence of being “at home” in postcolonial worlds. Gathering together such creative and interdisciplinary conversation partners, the panel offers an extraordinary chance to rethink what it is to be at home in the study of religion.
2009 Centennial Scholars Panelists:
Alanis Obomsawin, filmmaker
Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, is one of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers. Her body of work speaks profoundly to the continued legacies of colonial power for the religious and political contexts of First Nations peoples in North America. For almost 40 years, Obomsawin has directed documentaries at the National Film Board of Canada, including Kanehsatake, 270 Years of Resistance. In 1983, she was made a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of her dedication to the well-being of her people and the preservation of the First Nations’ heritage through her filmmaking and activism. In 2009, she was honored with the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Toronto Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival, which cited her as a “master storyteller” with a profound ability to clarify the complicated histories of First Nations living within colonialism.
For more information: http://films.nfb.ca/alanis-obomsawin/.
George Elliott Clarke, poet and playwright
George Elliott Clarke is one of Canada's leading poets, playwrights, and literary critics. He has long taken religion as a critical and creative entry point for his scholarly and artistic explorations of many dimensions of African-Canadian history and experience. His essays in Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature (2002), especially "Must All Blackness Be American?: Locating Canada in Borden's 'Tightrope Time', or Nationalizing Gilroy's The Black Atlantic" and "Treason of the Black Intellectuals," adeptly navigate the complex relationships among nation, community, language, and race, and confront directly the question of what it is for intellectuals to be "at home" in postcolonial contexts. His Execution Poems (2001) won the Governor General's Award for Poetry. In 2005, he was named a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellow. In addition to being a poet, playwright, librettist, and literary critic, Clarke is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto.
To read from a selection Professor Clarke will discuss during the panel, click here (requires PDF).
Nelson Maldonado-Torres, scholar and professor
Nelson Maldonado-Torres is Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Berkeley, and the author of Against War: Views from the Underside of Modernity (Duke University, 2008). Professor Maldonado-Torres has thought critically and compassionately about how a variety of colonial and postcolonial encounters have shaped our understanding of religion. Religion, in his view, has informed and manufactured civilizational boundaries as well as shaped constructions of the modern versus the non-modern with all its withering negative stereotypes. He also examines how the process of "othering" has informed our notions of religion and spirituality. Not only does he look at the way human beings were treated as colonial and racial subjects in the Americas, but he also examines how the "black" person, the Jew and the Muslim are treated in religio-political as well as philosophical discourses. His on-going work is on the construction of the idea of religion, namely the genealogy of religion in imperial and colonial contexts.
Inés Talamantez, scholar and professor
Inés Talamantez, a long-time AAR member, is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she displays a wide range of pedagogical and research interests ranging from Gender and Religion, to Ritual Studies, to Religion and Ecology. Professor Talamantez’s defining contributions have been to the burgeoning fields of Native American Religion and Indigenous Studies. Both through impassioned and inspired teaching, as well as creative and lyrical scholarship, Professor Talamantez’s work offers new ways to imagine the colonial encounter. Her research on Mescalero Apache cosmology and ceremonialism, with a specific focus on the initiation rituals of Apache girls, has forwarded critical scholarship in religion in many ways: from challenging assumptions about the measure of time, to rethinking the relations among human embodiment and natural environments.