Video: Ethical Scholarship: Gender, Religion, & Difference—Women's Studies in Religion Panel

October 1, 2021
Video: Ethical Scholarship: Gender, Religion, & Difference—Women's Studies in Religion Panel

Presented by the Women’s Studies in Religion Program, these five new research associates for 2021-22 shared their thoughts on the ethical responsibility of scholars to be engaged in the study of gender. 


ANN BRAUDE: Good afternoon and welcome. I'm Ann Braude, the Director of the

Women's Studies in Religion Program. And I want to extend a particularly warm welcome to the new students, but also to all the friends of the program who are tuning in today and, most especially, to the five panelists that you have come to hear, the five new research associates in women's studies in religion.

These five scholars, all of whom have tread an intrepid path to be here-- even though we're on Zoom, they are physically in Cambridge. And many of them are speaking to you today from our beloved carriage house on campus at Harvard Divinity School.

And they have tread an intrepid path for many, many years to bring the work that they are conducting in their research to you here today. As you know, we bring five scholars every year who are pushing the limits of our knowledge in the study of women, gender, and religion.

And you are the first to hear of their research. They all will be giving research lectures to tell you about the progress of their research. Later in the year, each one of them is teaching a class that you can register for.

And today, they're here to introduce their work to each other and, foremost, to our students and our academic community. I just have to remind you that this program would not exist if it were not for students.

It was the result of student activism in the 1970s that gave birth to this program when women, who were starting to come to the Divinity School in large numbers for the first time, complained and imagined a response to the fact that they were absent from the curriculum, from the faculty, from the courses, from the walls of the schools, and the portraits.

And this program was the creation to address that problem. It's now at the center of our school. And you can see the repercussions of the work of our scholars in everything we do at the Divinity School and in every place you go.

So without further ado, I'm going to introduce our panelists. Actually, I'm not going to introduce them. I hope, Tracy Wall, that you are going to post their bios to the chat so that our audience can read the extended bios of the panelists.

So you'll be able to see them there. But I am going to introduce them without any further delay. And, first, it's a great pleasure to introduce Dr. Delfi Nieto-Isabel who teaches in medieval studies and also in the digital humanities as well as the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Barcelona in Spain.

So Delfi is going to be the first to tell us about her project today. And I just want to start out, Dr. Nieto-Isabel, by asking you about your use of inquisitorial records to study dissenting Christian movements using network theory.

What drew you to the study of religious dissent and what can you learn about heretical women using network theory that you could not learn through conventional historical analysis?

DELFI NIETO-ISABEL: Well, first of all, thanks, Ann, for the opportunity to be here and present my research. That's actually a very, very good question. What drew me to this whole thing was actually a woman. It all started with a woman who lived in the early 14th century.

And she was brought before the inquisitors, because she maintained quite unique and actually scandalous opinions such as, for example, one of my favorites, she said that just as the Virgin Mary had carried Jesus in her womb, she, who was also a virgin, would carry the Holy Spirit, in which she calls her body of words, which, I find, is the most beautiful expression.

And that automatically drew the eye, of course. But the thing is that she was given a lot of opportunities to recant and to save her life. But even in the face of dying a most horrible death-- death by fire-- she refused to renounce her beliefs and she maintained her opinions.

And for that, she was burned at the stake in 1328. And the centuries that followed actually mistreated her even more, if that is possible, because historians for centuries actually talked about her as if she was basically crazy.

She was a hysterical woman or either a woman who had some sort of mental disorder. And it wasn't until the 1980s, when the history of women started to look at this kind of experiences in the religious field that she was actually looked at in more depth and more generously.

And she has a very long confession that sort of discredits the idea that she was illiterate and she didn't know what she was saying. And so that was sort of the entry point for me.

Also, because I started thinking what it took for someone to stand before such a hostile tribunal and maintain such brave opinions, whatever we think about them, especially when the alternative to recanting was death and, as I said, horrible death.

Of course, this was difficult for both men and women who sort of opposed the mainstream narrative of the church, of the Catholic church and in medieval Europe.

But I thought it was especially difficult for women, because we have to remember that all of us are going to say a lot throughout the upcoming months about otherness and alterity. But in the Middle Ages, women were the fundamental other.

I mean, it was a society that was created, devised, managed by men. And to a point, women were seen as faulty men. And in such a context for a woman to be in front of a group of men who held all the power over her life and whatever may come and still say no, I don't think you have the right to judge me, it took a lot.

So that was profoundly appealing for me. And that links to the other part of your question. What do I do with these women and what do I think my methodology can contribute to the whole thing?

And the fact is that in recent decades, the role of women in this dissident movement, commonly referred to as heresies-- probably that's a more familiar word for a lot of people in the audience-- has been acknowledged.

But even lately, I've read some pieces that we have two options. Either they say that women were important to these movements, because-- and I'm quoting literally-- "they cooked." So they provided food and they provided clothing. And that was sort of their role.

Or, just as bad, they are sort of an afterthought. And you have this book of 200 pages and then there's a 10 page chapter saying, oh, yes, and there were women too.

And so I thought that a lot needed to be said and a more inclusive [AUDIO OUT] was needed. But how do you do that? Because the problem with us medievalists is that, as we should, we are all basically using the same sources, so sources that are 800 years old.

And mostly, we're using them in the same way, using the traditional historical approach, which is very much needed. I'm not saying you don't have to do that. You have to do that and to know that very well before starting doing other things.

But, of course, it's looking at the same things in the same way all the time. It always has the same outcome. And, of course, this methodology, this traditional methodology can provide with several interesting [INAUDIBLE].

And problem as what did women do in this movement, what was their role, what was her influence, what was her power, we could say. Another kind of approach is necessary.

And what I do is using the method developed by social scientists, social network analysis, which has been recently applied by archaeologists and lately historians to look at historical sources and, in particular, to look at religious sources and still, in particular, to inquisitorial sources.

I think that everybody who has foot in social media will understand what I'll say next. It's important to know how many, let's say, followers, friends, whatever it is you have. But that's not the only important thing.

It's also important to sort of measure your ability to influence the network. It's also important to know who your friends are, how well connected you are with the appropriate people. And that is what this methodology allows me to do.

I can look at the sources and see not just how many women were there or how many people these women know, but also where in this network were they placed. And that means were they able to influence the message? Which I believe they were.

Were they able to influence what was circulating through the network? And please think about it. It's not just money, or clothes, or food. It's books, and it's ideas, and it's [INAUDIBLE] and it's [INAUDIBLE]. And women were great at that, because women were the linchpin of the social media of the time, if you will.

And that's basically what I'm trying to do. Because women have a very strong influence in religion, because these things were learned in the household and that was the domain of women. I'm not saying anything new. We all know that.

And that's why I thought and I think it's really unfair to think that they had no role whatsoever in the leadership of this movements. And what I've been doing so far show sort of proves it [INAUDIBLE].

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you. Thank you so much, Delfi. This is absolutely fascinating. And I know, for one, I'm really going to look forward to hearing more about this project. Thank you so much, Delfi. We're going to move on now to Dr. Rahina Muazu. If we can have Rahina on screen, please.

Dr. Rahina Muazu received her BA in Islamic studies from the University of Jos in northern Nigeria where she became the first female graduate to pursue a doctorate in Islamic studies at a European university.

And she received her PhD then magna cum laude from the Free University in Berlin. Dr. Muazu, welcome to the United States. I know it's your first time here and you haven't had a chance to get any books on your shelf from the library. But I know that will fill up soon as it will for all the researchers of this year.

You're both a practitioner and a teacher of Quranic recitation as well as a scholar analyzing Quran [INAUDIBLE] on whether women can sing [INAUDIBLE]. How has your firsthand experience with Quranic recitation informed your analytic work as a scholar? And can you tell us why it's important to include the distinctive experience of Nigerians in this conversation?

RAHINA MUAZU: So thank you very much. It's an honor to be here. And so I'll say it makes sense to begin by mentioning a little bit of my background in Quran and recitation education.

So I was born and raised in a small town in northern Nigeria called Jos. And my studies of Quran began in a madrasa just opposite my home. We had a Quran school under a large tree. And in that school-- I mean, it started very early. I can remember our way. So probably when I was two or three. I can remember. Very little children and even toddlers start there at a very early age.

So I began there and using my slate, I learned how to read the Quran, how to write it, and also memorized hundreds of verses, and learned its recitation, of course.

So after a few years when I was about 10, 11, I joined the National Quran Recitation Competition. And it was a great opportunity for girls, because it doesn't only allow us to travel to different parts of the country to attend the competition, but we recited to gender mixed audience in a public competition, of course.

And at the end, we also received prizes and awards. So at the peak of this competition in 1997, a Muslim group called Jama'atu Izalatil Bid'ah Wa Iqamatus Sunnah, a very influential group with millions of followers, not only in Nigeria, but in Niger and other neighboring West African countries, they banned the female reciters from public recitation.

And one of the reason they gave was that the female voice is part of the awrah. So awrah is an Arabic word which means-- easily translated into nudity. So they said the female voice is part of her nudity. And women and girls should not be allowed to recite the Quran publicly.

So the argument is that the voice is part of the nudity and should be covered. And covering the voice, in this sense, means taking the voice out of the public space.

So at that time, I was a teenager. And so many things were going on in my life. But then I would say it was the exact moment that my research began.

So I started thinking about the implication of Izala's action about its effect on the lives of girls and how it will affect not only public recitation, but also all of the public aspects that women should or should not be allowed to do in the public space.

So later, I went on to do a PhD on it looking at the formation of capital. But in this project, what I saw in this particular result, what I want to do is to do sort of a reading of the Quranic verse that talks about the female voice.

So it's very important to mention that the Quran does not explicitly say that the female voice is part of her awrah. So what it says is that there is a verse in chapter 33 addressing the wives of prophet Muhammad himself, which tells them [NON-ENGLISH].

So it basically says to them addressing the wives of the prophet, not all Muslim women, but it's usually understood to cover all believing women. So it says to them, when you talk, do not be very soft in your speech, but talk in an honorable manner.

So this verse is very interesting, because it is used for both scholars, both the theologians that have two opposing views. So those that say that the female voice is part of her nudity and she'll be taken out of the public space refer to this verse.

And those that say, no, it is not, they refer to it saying that. But look, at the end of the verse, it says women will actually speak. But they should speak in a good way, in an honorable manner.

So what I want to do is to read this verse in a gender perspective. Because usually what is done, especially by male scholars, is to only talk about this verse. But it is in the middle of seven verses that are together.

So what I want to do is to study the verse again in the light of this seven verses, and also in the light of other Quranic verses that I believe will help towards a more understanding of the position of the female voice, and then also compare it with the different interpretations of the past and the different positions on the female voice that we have in northern Nigeria.

Usually, given in forms of [INAUDIBLE] by male scholars. So this is basically what I'll be doing. And it's also going to build on the work of some scholars, especially Amina Wadud's approach under Tawhid approach on the hermeneutics of the Quran by looking at Quran interpretation not as a Quran exegesis, not like-- how do I say-- like in a separate way, but looking at the Quran itself as a whole, as a unit.

And I believe this will add a lot to scholarship. Because, even though, there are gender studies on women, on Muslim women usually in the field known as Islamic feminism, most of it has concentrated on Arab Muslim women.

So despite the huge population of Muslims in West Africa, usually all the studies have concentrated on other regions. So I believe this is going to be a very important contribution, also with regards to the position of Nigeria in West Africa. So I'll keep it here, because I don't want to make it so long.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you so much. I think there's going to be a lot of questions about this. And it's really thrilling to hear you refer to the work of Amina Wadud, who was also a WSRP research associate, and to see how the generations of scholars draw on each other's work.

And to think about our students who are in the audience today who will be learning from you and the other scholars in their classes, and will be writing the next generation of work, drawing on the book that you're going to produce and that [INAUDIBLE] will come from all these scholars. Thank you so much. We're going to move on to Professor Heather White. Hello, Heather. Welcome.


ANN BRAUDE: It's great to have you here. Heather White comes to us from the University of Puget Sound where she is visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Queer Studies as Interim Director of Gender and Queer Studies.

Professor White, your [INAUDIBLE] book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, has been lauded for overturning the view that gay rights movements represent a triumph of secularism. Thank you for that. [INAUDIBLE] hounding of so many critical--

HEATHER WHITE: Your audio is coming in and out. But I know the question you asked, because you sent it to me in advance. So if you can hear me, then we're good. Excellent. Excellent.

So thank you, first of all, for bringing in Reforming Sodom. My work in that book, as you know, was to really dismantle the idea that religion is the origin or the source for bias against LGBTQ folks.

And I was really interested in that book, in particular, by the invented ideas in the past and invented ideas in the past, both in constructed ideas about what religious tradition has been over time and also what the formation of LGBT activism, where that formation has come from and what has shaped and influenced it.

So the invented way that story is told or the way that story is told reinforces almost a sense that is baked into what feels like or is perceived as authentic identities, that authentic religion is conservative and sort of authentic queer identities are therefore anti-religious or secular.

So that book traced out a chronology. It is very much a work of academic history. Traces out a chronology and set of developments that challenges and recharts the history of LGBT emergence and, emphatically, makes the point that this is not a secularization narrative, that religion has been important to this project all the way around, and that the formation of conservative religious narratives about homosexuality and, to some extent, gender identity-- I don't look as much about gender identity in that book-- but the formation of religious narratives about queer lives are recent and are themselves a form of modern invention.

So that book sort of lays out the history, and traces the chronology, and does so in a way that is, again, very much an academic history. One of the things that I'm doing in this new project is to approach some of this as similar terrain.

But in some ways, this new project is a project that would only be possible with that other book that charts the terrain first.

And what happened in the process of researching Reforming Sodom is I felt like I, at various points, got dropped into these rabbit holes that would bring me into totally different worlds and different ways of seeing the way that local queer movements had been shaped by religious groups and in ways that were so specific to the place that it was hard to figure out even how to tell those local, material, particular stories in connection to a larger history that is forced by way of this big narrative to contend with a kind of universalized and almost unlocated way of understanding the history and the emergence of LGBT movements.

So this new project is focused so very specifically on a particular site. And that is the church, the Episcopal congregation. There may be folks here who even know of it.

It is the Church of the Holy Apostles. And it's located in North Chelsea in New York City. And in the months just around the Stonewall riots and the years to follow, Holy Apostles provided a kind of community center, a space where nearly every single one of the largest gay organizations that were just getting started in New York met in this space, called it the community center, and understood it as a place that provided a kind of welcome and a haven.

And that part of the history of the Stonewall riots has not been told before. It is not part of the conventional way of telling that story of LGBT movement emergence.

And my research goes into the details and into the real crevices of the story that we get when we pay attention to the walls, when we look at the debates among vestry members about whether or not a homosexual group can dance in the church, whether or not two women can hold a union ceremony in the church sanctuary, and even more important, whether they can invite the press, which turns out to be a harder question, a more controversial question than even whether they can hold that service or that ceremony to begin with.

Because the press being present means who else will know? Everyone else will potentially know that this thing happened. So this project very intensively focuses on space, why it matters, where it matters, and whose view about what you can do where in what space shapes the whole set of network of relationships around that.

So I'm looking at interviews and archives that come from the congregation, that come from the diocesan leadership in New York City, that come from other Episcopalians in New York, as well as movement activists, some of them founders of important LGBT religious groups.

Three of New York's four first LGBT religious groups met at Holy Apostles. So telling the story of LGBT religion is also a part of the fabric and the site of this church as well.

But the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activist Alliance, so many of the other non-religious or not specifically religious activist organizations met in this space as well.

So I am interested in this site as a way of refocusing and retelling a larger story about religion and LGBT identity. How does that story change when you kind of literally tell it from the ground up and, again, with attention to the walls and to the space in which it happened?

And then how does that specifically cited, located history challenge abstract and generalized narratives that seem to convey the history for everyone, but from nowhere?

So I'm really looking at space as not just a metaphor, but as a material way of reframing and retelling those stories. And I'll say one other thing and that is another thing that I'm working on and thinking about in this project is very specifically how to tell the story.

So that is not only using the tools of academic history, but also thinking about, and using, and, for me, practicing the questions of genre, and style, and voice that have been so important to storytelling in other disciplines and in other kind of cultural ways of telling stories.

So that is also part of the questions that I'm bringing into this project as well. And I am so excited to be here. And thank you so much to this project for bringing me here. And I am so inspired by the colleagues that I have the opportunity to engage with over this year. Thank you so much.

ANN BRAUDE: Well, thank you for joining us and adding to the conversation. I think we're going to have a great year ahead. I have been told that my connection is poor. So I hope somebody will signal me if I can't be heard. I apologize.

And I'll pass the mic to somebody else if my connection isn't good enough to make myself heard. But I'm now going to introduce our next panelist.

I'm very happy to introduce Nurhaizatul Jamil who completed her Doctorate in Anthropology at Northwestern University before becoming Assistant Professor of Global Studies and co-Director of the Global South Studies Program at the Pratt Institute in New York.

Professor Jamil, like Rahina, you focus on a less often studied group of Muslim women. But unlike the population of northern Nigeria that she studies, the Malay women you study are a racialized minority in Singapore, the site of your ethnographic research.

Can you help us understand how racial and class dynamics intersect with Muslim piety for the women you studied? How did the use of social media affect these dynamics?

NURHAIZATUL JAMIL: Thank you, Ann, for this really thoughtful question. And I want to begin by thanking Ann and the selection committee for this invitation for me to participate in the WSRP this year.

It is really meaningful for me and also sort of a homecoming for me, because I mostly worked with undergrads at my institution. And I really am looking forward to building community with grad students.

I also really want to extend my deepest gratitude to Tracy Wall who has made this transition really seamless for all of us incoming fellows. And thank you so much for doing all this work behind the scenes.

So some of you might know, as Ann mentioned, my work addresses the cultivation of gendered piety in Singapore through Islamic self-help classes. And these classes encouraged race and class disidentifications.

So they are encouraging women to sort of disidentify from the broader racial and class dynamics of the ethnic group. And specifically, I conducted ethnographic research in these classes that were taught by Singaporean graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University.

So they've gone to Egypt and they're coming back to teach these classes that reference the Quran and hadith, the theological sources, as well as popular psychology, self-help rhetoric, and pop culture.

So university-educated, really fashionable Malay Muslim women mostly attended these classes. And they were aiming to learn new ways of understanding and applying Islam to their everyday lives.

These women were the socioeconomically mobile members of their ethnic community and had achieved some form of mobility through education. And this sort of sets them apart from the predominantly working class members of the Malay community that comprises approximately 15% of the overall population in Singapore.

So my work complicates self-help by situating it within a context of racial capitalism. And this is really key to understand, because, in my work, I want us to grapple with the provocation or the contention that self-help or self-care discourses that could be empowering could also enact exclusionary consequences. So to understand this, we need to be able to historicize the emergence and the proliferation of these classes.

Now within a frame where you have the Singapore state, which is racialized ethnic Malays as a minoritized group that is burdened with incarceration, with unemployment, with addiction, with hyper sexuality, and with a general lack of will to improve, we can begin to understand the appeal of these classes that encouraged minoritized Muslims to embrace this form of aspirational becoming through neoliberal self-transformation or what the Marxist geographer David Harvey has referred to as the habits of the heart.

So within these classes, then the teachers promoted the idea that Malay Muslims could also become exemplary subjects by working on themselves, by not giving up, by striving for excellence, by not being lazy, by embodying this neoliberal values that would enhance their quality of life.

And, of course, missing in this class are references to structural inequities, references to state governmentalities that have continued to multiply minoritize million Muslims.

So my work then is an invitation for us to grapple with multiple possibilities. First, the possibility that discourses of self-help enable minoritized women to mitigate the anxieties of living in a neoliberal racialized state by fostering self-empowerment.

And this facilitated Muslim women's imagination of themselves as embodying something else other than authority. And I don't want to ever dismiss that. And then second, the possibility that these classes teaching women mindfulness practices inculcated a deep sense of safety in their bodies.

And this is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, both in a scholarly way and also in a very personal way amidst the pandemic. What does it mean for minority subjects to feel safe in our bodies? How do we cultivate that?

But also, third, the possibility that these projects of personal empowerment and transformation could also be deeply disempowering in terms of setting up status distinctions within the broader community between those who are able to embody the ideal affects or the ideal subjectivity versus those who are not.

And the latter then ends up individualizing responsibility in mitigating structural socioeconomic dispossession. So in this way, my work examines the ways in which race, class, and gender intersect in the cultivation of piety and the ways that even personal projects of pious transformation could actually end up ending the state's project of legibility.

And so I've been deeply moved by abolitionist activist Mariame Kaba's reminder that hope is a discipline. And so as I write this book, I'm constantly asking myself, what were my interlocutors hopeful for? What would a decolonial framing of pious cultivation or pious autonomy through disciplined self-help look like?

And social media is, therefore, central to my work given that the teachers and students use social media extensively, both within the classroom as pedagogical tools, but also as platforms to discuss and disseminate information, and to build communities, and to consolidate or to challenge masculine authority.

So in this regard, my work engages extensively in social media ethnography to examine online practices by Muslim women. So I've actually recently published an article on Singaporean Muslim women's navigations of mental health on social media.

And next term, I'm actually teaching a class on the same topic more broadly. And it's called Muslim TikTok #BlackoutEid Instagram Activism: Muslim Women Navigating Social Media. So I invite you to enroll in my course, to check it out, if you're interested. And I look forward to your questions. Thank you,

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you so much. This has such broad repercussions. And I know that's going to be a fascinating course. I'm now going to introduce our last speaker, our last panelist, who completes our group of five scholars, Swasti Bhattacharyya. Greetings, Swasti.

Swasti Bhattacharyya is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Buena Vista University. The group that she's writing about, the Brahma Nvidia Marnier Ashram in Maharashtra is a place that she has visited since childhood when she and her family would visit there.

And she has been visiting the sisters there and learning from them for much of her adult life. Professor Bhattacharyya, can you introduce us to one or two of the sisters and explain to us what you hope to learn from studying their lives?

SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: Yes. Thank you very much. And thank you for bringing us together. I've really enjoyed this week. And it's been exhausting, but being able to meet my colleagues, I'm really looking forward to the conversations that we'll have.

And I have to add my thanks to you and to Tracy. You have made this just an amazing, seamless move to this area. So thank you. Yeah, when you asked if I could introduce you to the sisters, I thought, oh, which ones?

And one of the ones I'd like to focus on is [? Usha Di. ?] And Di means sister. And you would say that as a term of respect. So [? Usha Di ?] is one of the founding members of the ashram.

She grew up-- when she talks about her life as a kid, she said she grew up in an extended family where there was about 15 to 17 kids. So that's brothers, and sisters, and cousins, and stuff living together.

And she said one of the things that taught her was the importance of considering others. And that there was something that wasn't just hurt, which she always shared it and considered the needs and the wants of the people around her.

And that ends up being something that's really central to her and the rest of the sisters that live in the ashram. And that's the idea of [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. And [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is a term that Gandhi coined. And it means the holistic uplifting of all.

And Vinoba Bhave, who was a follower of Gandhi, kind of gave that term legs. And he says, it's not that we look for the most or the majority, but we bring forward everybody. And we don't leave anybody out. And we don't move forward till we have everybody.

And when we look at that and when I talk to people around here, and my students, and colleagues, people say, yeah, that's a wonderful idea, but it's just not practical and that's not going to happen.

One of the things the sisters do is they operate with consensus decision making processes. Because that idea is you want to do the least amount of harm. You're going to act with non-violence and act with love. So making sure everybody's voice is heard, that's something that they do.

And [? Usha Di ?] talks about how living in this community really helps them practice that. So let me back up a minute. In 1959, she was working with Vinoba and they were walking around the country.

And she and about 12 others went to him and said, men get to follow the spiritual path. We want to do that. And at the time, people would go off and [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] and go off to the mountains of the wilderness to work on spiritual enlightenment.

So Vinoba said, fine, if you guys want to do this, that's great. I have this ashram. He gave them the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. And he challenged them though. And he said, what I encourage you to do is come together and work on [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which is kind of work together as a community of women to gain spiritual enlightenment.

So it's not just an individual. And it's interesting to see how the sisters talk about that. So [? Kalenditai, ?] another one of the older, one of the original members, talked about how when you're the monk out in the wilderness, you can be sitting there by yourself and meditating and actually think you're arriving and that you're becoming quite enlightened.

She said, but living in a community, when you say something and you hurt your sister, you see that reaction in their face. And you go, oh, wait a minute, what have I done? And it makes you more conscious.

So one of the questions-- I may have introduced you very briefly to two of the sisters-- but one of the lessons I hope to be able to learn it and to implement is how do we live this out, this idea of [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], that uplifting of all, that being committed to non-violence and love?

I'm all into non-violence. But what does that mean? How do I live? And one of the things I love about the sisters is they have a very regimented life. It's kind of separated from the world. But they don't expect anybody to follow their path.

And the Gita talks about how it's important that you follow your [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], your [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], what your duty, or what you're called to do. And there are times I go to the sisters and say, well, what do I do about this? Or how do I do this?

And I would expect them to say, oh, you need to do it like this, kind of copy how they're doing it. But [? Usha Di ?] was really clear. She said, you need to be on your own path and you need to follow your [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH].

And so that's one thing that I've learned and I'm wanting to learn how to translate that into our culture, because they'll wear kadhi. So kadhi is handspun, hand-woven cloth.

And when you think about [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], and non-violence, and love, kadhi-- [? Usha Di ?] talks about how by wearing khadi, so clothes that they spun the cotton, and then it was woven into cloth, and they made their own clothing, they're circumventing that entire market economy that suppresses and oppresses the most vulnerable in society. And I think about all the sweatshops.

But when you're wearing the cloth that you've made, you've totally circumvented that. Well, that's not practical for me. I thought about it. I brought the-- I learned how to spin and I bought the cotton. And I was like, I'm going to do this.

Yeah, right, I would be indecent. It takes a long time. I can't do that. But then how do I translate that? What does it mean for me to live this way in this context?

So the one thing like she talks about, how the Gita talks about you do your [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], your own duty. The second idea is this idea of non-attachment.

And many times when we talk about non-attachment here, students are like, well, what do you mean? How can I not be attached? I care and I love people. It's not that you don't care, but it's that you care, but you're committed to what you're doing irregardless of how other people are acting.

So for instance, I'm committed to non-violence and love. Well, look at the world right now. Just today, I saw that there was an explosion at the Kabul airport. It sounds like 12 US people were killed and a number of other people were injured.

Peace and justice is not everywhere in this world. And it can get really discouraging. And so I could just give up. And one of the people I interviewed, [INAUDIBLE], I said, you've spent your life working for peace. Don't you get discouraged?

And he looked at me and he says, yeah. He goes, but do you care? And I'm like, of course, I care. And he's like, well, then? [INAUDIBLE]. So I care and I want non-violence and love, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. The rest of the world doesn't. That's not my problem.

And that's where that whole idea of non-attachment comes in that if this is what I'm committed to, this is what I'm called to, then I do it and I do it-- it doesn't matter if it happens or not. It's that I'm headed towards that path.

That's something that's really hard to do. But I'm hoping that through studying their lives more, that I'll be able to take some of these teachings and kind of translate them for myself and for the rest of [INAUDIBLE].

And hopefully, in the end, we'll become more conscious and committed to the paths that we think that we should be on. That's a nutshell. Thank you.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you. You've got a lot into that nutshell. And so did all of our speakers today. But thank you for really inspiring words, Swasti. I can't wait to hear more about this project and the sisters of the ashram.

I'm going to ask all our panelists now to unmute their videos and come back on the screen for Q&A. And while our audience are thinking about what questions they would like to ask and typing them into the Q&A, I'm going to start with some questions from the panelists for each other. And Zat, can I start with you?

NURHAIZATUL JAMIL: Yes. So thank you for all the presentations. I've learned so much from all of you just within this short few minutes. My question is for Rahina. I really appreciate the reference to Amina Wadud, whose work has been instrumental to me, not only in a scholarly way, but in a very personal way. And I think you understand what I mean by that.

And the sad thing, however, is also that her work has also received a lot of backlash within the Muslim community, specifically by masculine religious authorities, by Muslim men. And I think you also are familiar with that.

And so I was wondering if you've encountered that in your own work, and how you have dealt with maybe the resistance to what you're doing or what you're studying, and how you sort of navigated that? Thank you.

RAHINA MUAZU: Thank you very much, Zat. And thank you all for the wonderful presentations. Zat, this is a very, very, very important question.

And so to begin with, actually, anything that comes from the west relating to Islam in Nigeria is suspicious really. Even studying in a European university, in a western university, American, it is suspicious and it could be very dangerous, especially with Boko Haram.

I know you are all familiar with what is happening in northern Nigeria, parts of Nigeria, and other West African countries with regards to Boko Haram. They are a very dangerous terrorist organization that are very specific on fighting Boko.

And Boko is western education [INAUDIBLE]. So far, for me, it's been-- because all what I have done, my works now in English. And majority of the people, even though their official language is English, because of our history of British colonization, are still the majority of the people there and even the Muslim scholars, because many of them study in Saudi Arabia in Al-Azhar, so their language of studies is Arabic, not English.

So my work is not that read in Nigeria. So I would say I'm not among the scholarly cycle. But through my role as a reciter, especially during the competitions, so I think that might give me sort of a positive-- that might help.

But so my aim is to-- I really, really, really want to see this book as well as my forthcoming book published, which will be my first. So I want to, in the future, I plan to translate them into Hausa.

And I'm sure when that is done, then-- I don't know-- I might have to look for asylum. it's really-- so I really understand what you said about Amina Wadud's work. And the first time I mean I heard about her and about all the backlash to her work and, unfortunately, then I didn't have access to her book. We just don't have access to it.

But then to a Nigerian professor that was in the US, so he gave me a photocopy of the book. And I read it and I was so shocked really. I thought, oh my god, so all these backlash is for this? Yes, so I hear you.

And I can-- sometimes, I also think a lot about the kind of reactions that might follow, especially when I'm able to also publish my work in the local language. Yeah, so I'm not sure if I have answered your question correctly, because the last part of it was not very audible to me. So maybe I missed something. But thank you for asking here.

ANN BRAUDE: And thank you for doing this work to both of you. So I believe that Delfi has a question for Zat. And the questions are starting to come into the Q&A. So please, if you have questions, continue typing them in. Delfi.

DELFI NIETO-ISABEL: Yes. Thank you, Ann. Well, Zat, this is a very biased question and I'm sure we'll have opportunity to discuss this in the upcoming months. But why not start here?

So I'm going to put it very simply. Since you're working on social media and that's what I'm doing in a way, but 800 years away, I was thinking, are you considering taking the social analysis approach into your own study?

When these women come to social media and participate, can you follow or have you followed so far the circulation of the different ideas that they bring into the whole thing? So it's very simply put. That's what I wanted to ask. Thank you.

NURHAIZATUL JAMIL: That's a really great question. Thank you. Yes, I do. And I think that people who engage in social media analyses are basically sometimes torn into or divided into separate camps.

There are people who engage in very broad network analyses and think of social media as systems. And there are those who engage in practices, analysis of practices. And I kind of do a little bit of both, but mostly the second.

And I especially engage in analyses of citational politics, what they're discussing, what they're referencing. But because I want to acknowledge what you said about things being so broad. You can't study every single thing on social media.

And so specifically, there are a few things that I do. One is a human-mediated-- what scholars have referred to as a human-mediated RSS feed, which means that you're not only just study every single thing that's being discussed online or being circulated online on something.

But then you look at a certain group of people and their followers. And you're limiting that. So then within that group, I look at what they're referencing, what they're sharing, what kinds of information they're circulating, and how there is the interplay between what is discussed online and what might or might not be discussed in the classrooms.

And I'm noticing all of these important shifts whereby the online space has become a more open space where people feel-- mostly women feel braver to sort of disagree with the teachers. And that they're coming to class and they don't bring it up. And even the teachers have started noticing it. So I look at these differences, these discrepancies in terms of practices.

But I am also really interested in the kinds of information and knowledge that women are circulating on consumption, on modesty, on embodiment, and how to navigate social spaces, and also what they're consuming, both locally and globally, and how that's also discussed in the classes, and how the teachers discuss pious consumption. So sort of the interplay between what's happening online and what's happening on social media. Yeah.

ANN BRAUDE: Well, we just have about one more minute. And I have a question in the chat also for Rahina. But I want to give the panelists a chance if there are any questions for Swasti or Heather. Yes, Rahina.

RAHINA MUAZU: Yes, so I have a very fast one for Swasti. Thank you for the presentation. So while listening to you and the lives of the women in the ashram, which I find fascinating, I was just thinking about the men in their lives, the men in the lives of the ashram women.

So I don't know if part of your work will touch on it. But even not now, I really want to hear more about how the men are allowed, or not allowed, or intruding, or creating maybe some problems in kind of the lives that the ashram women are living.

SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: It's interesting. I mean, there are a few men there. And Vinoba was the man. But it's funny, because my cousin was a member and one day she was talking about no men. And she was kind of talking about the power of women.

And Vinoba actually wrote a book called The Women Power or Woman's Power. And so my cousin was talking, women are better and kind of cutting down men. And I said, well, what about Vinoba? He's a man. And she goes, no, he's a woman.

So it is interesting to see that and the different reactions they have. But they're actually really respected. In the village, I went into the village with [? Usha Di ?] once. And she's wearing the white khadi. And the villagers are literally [INAUDIBLE] for her.

By the villagers, they're kind of seen as saints in a sense. But they are really committed to living these lives and praying for peace of the world from their little hill.

They talk about in this age of science when somebody can push a button and totally annihilate a town halfway across the world, why cannot they pray for the peace of the world? And so it's different. But it is interesting. We'll have to talk about that over the semester. It'll be very interesting. Thank you.

ANN BRAUDE: I'm going to take the chair's prerogative and offer the last question to Heather. And I would love to hear, Heather, how you think about the changes between the terminology and the ways that gay identity were figured in the time that you're writing about and today. There's been a huge amount of change. And I just wonder how you think about that and what you do with it.

HEATHER WHITE: Yeah, absolutely. The explanation that I most frequently give is to think about what are the umbrella terms that make sense at a particular moment in time.

And that question about umbrella terms is useful for thinking about all kinds of social identity. So what's the classification? What are the specifics underneath that broader terminology? Who is related to whom underneath that sense of classification?

And to what sometimes is that classification opposed? And then in what ways has this entire way of making sense and organizing identity been constructed politically, socially, and all of that?

So most specifically, the thing that has changed the most, I think, in queer identities, at least in the US, one huge difference is simply how much more of a global story there is here than in the 1960s, which is when I'm focusing.

Even then, there certainly was a global story. But there wasn't as much of a sort of visible sense of those connections. So the global story has changed. The story about gender has changed massively, such that we sense-- really especially since the 1990s.

Think about gender identity as a category that is distinguishable from sexual orientation or homosexual identity. And in the 1960s, the activist groups that I am studying didn't really have a sense of that.

Even the ones that were organized around trans identity sort of thought about gay as the umbrella category under which most of these other kind of different ways of being gay were organized.

And so part of the history here is how that movement label of using gay as a self chosen and a movement chosen name then fragments, in part, because of the way that mostly white gay male-led organizations were not responsive in listening to the diversity within those groups.

And in part, because of the possibilities, actually, for organizing separately and providing affinity spaces for groups that needed a separate space of their own. So in some ways, having church space as a part of the fragmenting, it makes it sound negative, but the proliferation of identities.

Because having the space to claim as your own is also important to being able to name a group and name your space as who you are. So there's a lot more that I could say about that question. But those are just a few starting places there. Yeah, thank you.

ANN BRAUDE: Heather, that's a really helpful way to think about this. And it makes me think about our own program, the Women's Studies in Religion Program , which was founded with that name in the 1970s.

And we often talk about should we change the name, what should we do to indicate the new forms of analysis that have arisen? And we'll see. That's a conversation that continues.

Thank you so much to all of our panelists and to all of the participants who have joined us for this conversation today. I wish that you were all here in the room to welcome our research associates in-person. I hope you'll take the opportunity to do that at some point during the year.

I hope that you'll be able to take one of their classes, to come to their lectures, and to have a chance to meet them, and welcome them to campus, as I welcome all of you who are coming to campus for the first time. And we look forward to seeing you during the year. Thanks so much to everyone and goodnight.