Key Terms in Material Religion – Review

Key Terms in Material Religion. Edited by S. Brent Plate. Chennai: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. 304 pages. $45.27CDN (Paperback).

In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult – if not altogether impossible – to discuss most topics in the study of religion without also calling attention to their “material” dimension. Even the most ardent textual critic is inevitably drawn into discussions of the medium, the pages of the manuscript, the loose leaflets adorned with ancient writing, and even the method of their preservation. Religion is, after all, hardly something “out there” to be philosophized or kept at arm’s length, but something to be felt with our hands, seen with our eyes, and moved by our bodies. Ninian Smart would doubtlessly be glad to see how far we have travelled.

The 2015 Bloomsbury publication Key Terms in Material Religion, edited by S. Brent Plate, is a fitting testament to the increasing interest and value which the material approach affords the study of religion. Working off an earlier publication, this volume offers an expanded list of 37 “Key Words” which Plate has assembled, each supported by a short essay composed by some of the leading scholars in today’s field. The editor’s mission in amassing this volume is that it would be modular and flexible enough to be used in the classroom for students of varying levels. Nevertheless, the multitude of confident voices assembled for this undertaking means that even hardened scholars will likely find something of note between these pages.

Concerning these pages, I feel it obligatory to add a few remarks about this volume’s print and binding as some careful thought has gone into the process. Crisp black letters written in a comfortable Helvetica font (which, hardly by chance, is a font that enters into one of the later chapter’s discussions) adorn glossy pages. High-resolution coloured images front every chapter and set the tone for the essay that follows. Overall, one can say that the printing and binding make this volume a remarkably sensual and pleasantly tactile reading experience (this review copy even smelled of factory fresh pages). Such meticulous work from a project editor cannot be entirely coincidental.

Content-wise, apart from one notable typographical error involving the repetition of a phrase (see second paragraph in “Gender”, page 104), the volume is well-edited. Though the editor himself observes in his introduction that some topics were left out (as will always be the case with edited volumes), this collection nevertheless feels complete in the way that few edited volumes manage to achieve. While there are areas which feel underdeveloped or missing (perhaps a more in-depth chapter on costume or clothing to supplement the current one on “Dress”), the end result is hardly a feeling of loss or missed opportunities. Rather, the chapter selection we do have is rich, varied yet encompassing, and insightful from start to finish.

Of the 37 terms, essential sensory topics such as “Taste”, “Touch”, “Smell” and “Sound” (with sight being addressed under the label of “Vision”) are all covered, along with other prominent keywords such as “Food”, “Body”, and “Space”. There are also a number of perhaps unexpected entries, revolving around less-often-used terms of focus, such as “City” and “Movement”, and even some terms which are telling of the modern world in which we live, including “Digital”, “Technology” and “Brain-Mind”.

While none of the terms selected for this volume come across as inessential, not all chapters are presented to us evenly. Bruno Latour’s sarcasm and cynicism are always much appreciated by this reviewer, yet the laissez-faire approach to his critiques and storytelling (of which we find ample in his chapter “Fetish-factish”) might be confusing – or at worst, off-putting – to the casual reader or undergraduate student. Certain chapters such as Rich Freeman’s “Taste”, while making an engaging read for a graduate student, may also obfuscate the intended audience. Nevertheless, there are more stand-out chapters than not in this volume. Notably, the chapter on “Aesthetics” by Inken Pohl and the chapter on “Gender” by Deborah Whitehead struck this reviewer as surprisingly insightful and innovative in their approach at tackling these topics.

The strength of such individual chapters would have been overshadowed had the collection not come together as a whole or if each section felt detached from the other. Fortunately, it is in the reading of such a large volume where one becomes intimately aware of just how much overlap there is in the terminology of our field. Robert Orsi’s chapter on “Belief” overlaps with discussions of medium, materials, icons and even gender; the context of Whitehead’s chapter on “Gender”, focusing on certain details from the Victorian and Edwardian spiritualist movements, could not have been possible without the inclusion of a discussion of medium and presence; and so on with the majority of our chapters.

Perhaps that is where the greatest strength of this volume lies: in its inter-subjectivity and cross-disciplinary overview of materiality. Only when all these terms are brought together and ostensibly separated into their own categorized chapters do we really see how tenuous and porous the lines between these elements, terms and ideas really are. Ultimately, in case there was any lingering doubt at the onset of this review, this volume affirms that material religion isn’t a separate sub-study of religious studies any more than religion is entirely separate from anthropology, history, gender studies or the other social sciences. It is indeed refreshing to encounter a volume which bears these considerations in stride.

Alexander Nachaj

Concordia University


Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene – Review

Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene. Marcus Moberg. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2015. 200 pages. $20.45CDN (Kindle); $36.76CDN (Paperback).

            Marcus Moberg’s Christian Metal examines an aspect of contemporary Christianity that, according to Moberg, has received a negligible amount of academic attention (p. 33). The primary goal of this book is to discuss in a systematic fashion a “marginal” form of Christian expression that has emerged out of the heavy metal scene and has become a small transnational, evangelical phenomenon (pp. 1-2). Moberg first situates Christian metal within the world of metal music and offers the reader a brief history of the music scene. This is a necessary step not only for the reader but it probably also reflects Moberg’s own process of acclimatizing to a music scene which he is not well acquainted with. One complication of the book is that Moberg is not a native to the world of metal music. Nevertheless, his academic instinct sees him through this initial stage as he proceeds to synthesize the work of a number of heavy metal scholars. On the plus side, he provides a sampling of the work of heavy metal scholars which can serve as a guide to someone who wishes to begin researching topics that are connected to metal music.

An interesting question which Moberg explores is if a metal concert can facilitate a religious experience. He considers some functionalist arguments which argue in favour of the possibility of having a religious experience at a metal concert (p. 21). According to Moberg, popular music does possess the ability to allow an individual to transcend everyday life, and yet he denies that Christian metal can accomplish this feat due to the proximity of the “transcendent” to the “transgressive” (pp. 68-73). Moberg claims that Christian music as a rule is concerned with “policing popular music’s transgressive potential” (p. 72). He admits that extreme Christian metal that imitates the musical styles of black metal and death metal offers the possibility for listeners to lose themselves in the music. Nevertheless, he insists that Christian metal possesses an inbuilt safety mechanism which prevents any risky boundary crossing (pp. 72-73). The weakness in Moberg’s analysis is that he relies too much on philosophical musings and seems to even ignore his own fieldwork. For instance, Moberg asserts that in interviews he has conducted with Finnish musicians, they often claim to have had experiences of the Holy Spirit during live performances (p. 78). His belief that there is a limit to the degree to which a person can experience transcendence at a Christian metal concert thus could benefit from further research and debate.

Moberg presents some interesting insights into how Christian metal is a means by which Christians who are likewise metal enthusiasts can engage in an alternative way of practicing their faith (p. 80). This phenomenon can perhaps be thought of as the casting of Christianity into a metal matrix. The outcome is actually quite interesting. For example, Christian metal-heads employ war tropes which are common to metal music in their lyrical content about spiritual warfare and apocalyptic scenes (p. 54). Moreover, the rebelliousness of metal music is adopted by Christian metal-heads who claim to be rebelling against the supposed immorality of modern Western society and culture (p. 48). The image of young Christian rebels sporting heavy metal attire is certainly fascinating. The way in which Christians can rally against the status quo through metal highlights Christianity’s ability to transform a countercultural and potentially anti-Christian music scene to suit its own purposes.

Moberg also discusses how many Christian metal musicians wish to evangelize to a larger metal audience (p. 136). Musicians who intend to proselytize among “secular” metal-heads state that attempts to convert people through metal is an effective means of reaching an audience that would mock traditional techniques of Christian conversion (p. 136). Despite this claim that metal is an effective method of converting non-Christians, Moberg mentions that the “secular” metal community has largely rejected Christian metal. He suspects that this might be due to the “deeply ingrained individualistic ethos of secular metal culture” (p. 148). Apparently, despite the originality of their approach to evangelization, the message of Christian metal musicians might be falling on deaf ears. Unfortunately, Moberg does not offer a great deal of primary evidence which can shed light on the dynamics of these interactions between “secular” metal-heads and Christian metal musicians and fans. He presents both sides of the argument, abstaining from critical engagement or further comment. Accounts of the actual attempts at evangelization and the interactions between both Christian and non-Christian metal fans has been left largely unexamined by Moberg and is certainly worth investigating.

The ingrained individualism of “secular” metal is quite different from the uniformity of the international Christian metal scene which Moberg continually highlights throughout his book. Moberg states that his research shows that Christian metal musicians are prone to musical disagreements but rarely if ever experience conflict about the core Christian message of their music. Moreover, denominational differences do not seem to present any points of disagreement as far as belief is concerned (p. 132). Christian metal not only leans towards doctrinal uniformity but it is also apparently unaffected and independent of the “increasingly global, evangelical popular culture industry” (p. 118). In this sense, it is truly a fringe group within the realm of Christianity. According to Moberg, the Christian metal community is not tied down by outside evangelical influences and likewise experiences a high degree of unity (p. 118). If his conclusions are correct, the Christian metal scene presents an interesting opportunity to study a modern, alternative form of Christianity, which belongs to a larger metal community that often rejects Christian metal-heads. Moberg’s Christian Metal is an important opening into the world of Christian metal music, which has helped pave the way for what can potentially be a more extensive and thorough avenue of research into alternative forms of contemporary Christianity.

Stefanos Singelakis

Concordia University



Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls – Review

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing by Doris M. Kieser. Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2015. 221 p. $38.99 (Paperback).

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing by Doris M. Kieser was published in 2015 as one of nine books currently available in the Studies in Women and Religion series by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. This book takes a revisionist approach to Roman Catholicism, seeking to align Catholic theology with a feminist worldview. Doris Kieser argues that Roman Catholic theology must acknowledge the importance of embodied experience in the human relationship with the divine, which includes a more comprehensive and positive discourse on human sexuality and pleasure. Kieser specifically focuses on how this discourse can impact the lives of adolescent females in a Western context. Through her advocacy for a positive representation of human embodiment, Kieser suggests that female adolescent sexual flourishing is a compatible, even necessary component to Roman Catholic theology, despite being previously excluded or discouraged within the tradition.

The book progresses thematically by chapter, defining and summarizing each component of Kieser’s argument, until the reader has all of the necessary tools to fully engage with the conclusions in the final chapter. The book begins with Kieser introducing herself and her project in an introductory chapter that serves as a detailed index to the rest of the book, containing Kieser’s goals, methodology, key terms and an outline of the material to come. The second chapter provides a helpful, if brief, philosophical and theological background of natural law, beginning with Thomas Aquinas. Kieser then moves into contemporary understandings of natural law, as well as criticisms of these views. In the third chapter Kieser expounds the framework that she will be using throughout the remainder of the book: feminist natural law as delineated by Cristina Traina. Traina’s theory allows for Kieser to remain within the Roman Catholic tradition without creating dissonance between the notions of adolescent female sexual flourishing and a Roman Catholic worldview; because Traina’s feminist natural law advocates for a common human telos of union with the divine, uniting this natural law with that of Thomas and contemporary Catholicism, as Kieser denotes in the previous chapter. The fourth chapter addresses sex, gender, and sexuality within Roman Catholic theology; with a specific focus on the traditional position of the female as complementary to the male. This ideology not only “others” women, but is also fundamentally non-Christian within Kieser’s theological understanding that the female body is made equally in the image of the divine. This chapter begins with an analysis of female embodiment in traditional theological discourse, looking particularly at the theology of the body presented by Pope John Paul II. It shifts into contemporary feminist scholarship that troubles these traditional understandings of female embodiment, centering on Judith Butler and poststructuralist feminist theory to deconstruct the very notions of sex and gender. This chapter locates this book within contemporary feminist dialogue, specifically within poststructuralist debates regarding the universal and/or the particular, and how these discussions can provide more insight into adolescent female sexual flourishing. Kieser presents a valuable, though condensed, version of this extremely relevant debate in contemporary feminist academia, and ultimately seeks a happy medium between the two extremes of the ideologies: a theology that recognizes individual oppressions within a Catholic framework that proposes a universal female embodiment. Chapter 5 explores developmental factors in adolescence from a Western perspective, highlighting gender construction and identity during this transitional and formative time, specifically how girls become women not physically (Chapter 6), but socially, within a heteronormative culture. The sixth chapter focuses on the physical and neural transitions typical of an adolescent experience in a female body, with specific dedication to the physical and social experience of menarche (first menstruation). Chapter 7 discusses the influences that can effect positive sexual flourishing for adolescent females, looking at how the theories Kieser has explored thus far play out in the lives of these individuals. A noteworthy element within this chapter is Kieser’s relatively lengthy discussion of female desire, which is a much needed conversation within this feminist paradigm of adolescent sexuality, and is a quite thought-provoking subsection in this chapter. Finally, the concluding chapter incorporates all of the previously discerned elements of sex, gender, feminist natural law, and female sexual flourishing within a Catholic theological structure. It is in this final chapter that Kieser explicitly shifts the Catholic theological discussion of sexuality from procreation to pleasure, and an engagement with the divine through human bodily pleasures. In so doing, Kieser provides a space for recognition of same-sex relationships, masturbation, the use of contraception, the importance of female orgasm, and other relevant and contentious issues within both feminist and Christian discourses.

Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls: Embodied Flourishing engages with relevant feminist debates, and provides interesting nuances to traditional Catholic theology from within the tradition itself. Kieser’s impetus for writing this book is the lack of information on the subject of female sexuality within a Roman Catholic framework, and more specifically adolescent females and sexual flourishing. This book serves to open up a space for this dialogue, and to establish a Catholic theology that positively impacts and reflects the lived experiences of adolescent females in the Western world. In initiating this conversation however, Kieser must cover a vast amount of information, much of which, due to time and space constraints that she acknowledges, barely scratches the surface of many of the themes explored. Even with this absence of in-depth analysis to many of the topics, reading this book from cover to cover can be an intimidating project. The sheer volume of material, drawing on multiple disciplines like psychology, philosophy, gender studies, religious studies and others, can leave the reader feeling slightly overwhelmed. My recommendation is to instead use this text as a reference point for further study within any of the major themes represented. The structure of the book is conducive to this usage, with each chapter containing an introduction and summary, and convenient subheadings throughout. Kieser also frequently provides lists of authors for further reading, as well as helpful footnotes to define key terms, and expand on key ideologies. As such, this book is an excellent referential resource, as Kieser provides the reader with the tools to interact with her ideas on a deeper level through personal research. Overall the book is an enjoyable glimpse into many contemporary and relevant issues within both Christian and feminist dialogue, and is recommended for any reader interested in the fascinating relationship between these worldviews.

Laurel Andrew

McGill University and Concordia University



Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology – Capsule Review

Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology by Jennifer R. Ayres. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013. 233 p. $46.13 (Hardcover).

This morally robust yet concise volume comprises a series of primers on the global and American food systems and explications of the theological and ethical implications of the incommensurateness in the economics and policies of the American food system in a style of Liberation Theology. It is grounded in a clear-eyed yet hopeful down-to-earth ethnography and present-day accounts of church-supported initiatives in sustainable, imaginative urban farming (to fulfill the imperative of ‘food sovereignty’)  and transnational food justice. Ayres chose that her grounded practical theology would centre mainly on the complex and ironic tension between food and economic security, on the one hand, and sustainable agriculture on the other. (Ayres, xii) Introducing this magnum opus are the contingencies of a single tomato as illustrative of the tangled nature of food politics as a whole, and the metaphysical notion of the Lord’s Table is introduced thereafter. Part I begins with an investigative journalistic approach, citing Michael Pollan (in the New York Times Magazine in addition to his books and allied films) to bring home to the reader the popularity of food issues and their economic, moral, and political impacts, and to discuss how this seemingly never-ending Zeitgeist of corporately consolidated industrial agriculture came to be in the United States.

I shall now succinctly encapsulate a key flashpoint in Ayres’ monograph, and tie that back to a certain chapter (Desjardins) in the previously reviewed anthology. Chapter Six (Transformative Travel: Education, Encountering the Other, and Political Advocacy) delves into the transnational impacts of neoliberal, supply-side economic policies of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), specifically on Mexico and its culinary traditions and culture. An answer of solidarity to this problem is the Chicago Religious Leadership Network for Latin America (CRLN)’s consciousness-raising program of Encuentros (pp. 119, 122-129), a most grounded aspect of the directive of transnational food justice. This “Tortillas and Trade” quest is then hermeneutically explained in terms of the dialectics of radical hospitality. This has parallels with the inter-denominational and interfaith food bank endeavours that the Desjardins describe in their “The Role of Food in Canadian Expressions of Christianity” anthology chapter. (Desjardins, 77)  

In the appraisal within and between these academic works, various thematic parallels can be observed by the reader, which encompass arguments of historical meaning relevant to religious studies. Cross-references of various analytical points between authors is very common in the constituent essays of Edible Histories, Cultural Politics, particularly but not exclusively of those within the same thematic section. The creation or re-articulation of ethnic and politically germane identities through recipes and other food-related discourses is an exemplary thematic parallel between Eidinger’s essay and Iacovetta’s texts (in the anthology and in Gatekeepers). Identities of political significance and community-building are also forged in Ayres’ Good Food, throughout the entire ethnographic portion of the narrative (mainly Part II). These books are thus more apt to be viewed in a comparative approach than one might think.

Sean Remz

Concordia University

See also: Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History, edited by Franca Iacovetta, Valerie J. Korinek, Marlene Epp.

Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History – Review

Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History, edited by Franca Iacovetta, Valerie J. Korinek, Marlene Epp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. 472 p. $34.15 CND (Paperback).

This anthology of fascinating research on various themes in Canadian food history has made a noticeable splash in the historiography of the topics under investigation. It features an underlying schema of cultural hybridity (e.g. /i.e. contact zones), parameters of space (e.g. local, national, transnational, imperial, diasporic), and discourses of difference (e.g. racial, gendered) that provide analytical substance for a critical approach to the study of Canadian foodways. The preface and the introduction of this text emphasize the contemporary relevance of these historical studies, stressing that questions of culinary exchanges, cultural politics of food production and consumption, and discourses of nutrition mediated by the state, corporation, and its media have intriguing precedents in the historical narratives included in the volume. Its twenty-three research essays are grouped into eight parts, each representing a constellation of themes or a salient portion of the historiography.

A particularly meaningful chapter to scholars of religion is “The Role of Food in Canadian Expressions of Christianity” (Chapter 3, Part One), by Ellen and Michel Desjardins. This piece begins with a comparison between Canadian Roman Catholic and Canadian Protestant dietary practices (with reference to Ukrainian immigrant customs as well), moving toward an analysis of the dietary implications of key 1960s events and phenomena:  the Vatican II Conference and the Quiet Revolution, as well as the diversity of immigration inaugurated by the Immigration Act of 1967 (characterized by the Points System) and the policy of multiculturalism officially beginning in 1971. The interdenominational encouragements of Vatican II led to ecumenical cooperation in hunger relief initiatives, which compensated for doctrinal dilutions according to Church leaders. The Quiet Revolution wrested control of health and education from the Church to the Quebec government, thus increasing the need for trans-valuating the former’s symbolism and engaging in interdenominational collaboration. The Desjardins take note of the corollaries of inclusion of the Points System, both in terms of religious diversity and its impact on young Christians who embrace creative hybridity, such as Catholics who conflate Lent with Ramadan (turning the former into a fast from sunrise to sunset for 40 days), and working together with a Hindu Temple, Sikh Gurudwara, and Muslim Shi’a community for the House of Friendship food bank in the Waterloo Region. (Desjardins, 77) Moreover, the demographic breadth of Canadian Christianity has increased with the 1967-1971 federal legislation, especially Catholics from the Philippines and Latin America. (75) The last analytical argument brought forth in this essay is the shifting of food from a ‘religious’ category to an ‘ethnic’ one, being concurrent with an increased “celebration of difference.” (78)

Another very significant essay to scholars of religion is “Gefilte Fish and Roast Duck with Orange Slices: A Treasure for My Daughter and the Creation of a Jewish Cultural Orthodoxy in Postwar Montreal,” (Chapter 11, Part Four) authored by Andrea Eidinger. The crucial theme of cultural hybridity is central in this insightful piece, albeit as an implicit cultural orthodoxy, reflecting early Cold War-era discourses of family and freedom (Eidinger, 198), in addition to those of Anglo-conformity. Complementary to the chapters by Sonia Cancian, Julie Mehta, Marlene Epp, and Franca Iacovetta, Eidinger’s historical and cultural analysis engages with the importance of food in the reshaping of ethno-religious identity. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on the intergenerational dynamic between the protagonist of the cookbook A Treasure for My Daughter and her doting mother, characterized by faithful respect and the education in traditions to push back against over-assimilation (192-193). This is a corollary to the “greater importance attributed to women’s domestic rituals,” (202) due to the economic changes in gender roles in Jewish immigrant communities, and the re-negotiation of authenticity. Throughout the text, Eidinger asserts that the Eastern European roots of the cuisine of the cookbook are elided over (but implicitly there, as per the recipes), reflecting the complications in the cultural orthodoxy (200). This is due to the trend of partial assimilation into the discourse of Canadian-ness and middle-class values of the 1950s. Moreover, the broad discourse of the morals of Western civilization and Jewish contributions to it is key throughout the narrative components of A Treasure for My Daughter. This culinary opus proclaims the Jewish people as the originators of key Christian and North American traditions, most notably the Sabbath (called that and not Shabbat for assimilatory reasons) and Thanksgiving (as symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth). (196)

“Food Acts and Cultural Politics: Women and the Gendered Dialectics of Culinary Pluralism at the International Institute of Toronto, 1950s-1960s” (Chapter 20, Part 7) is an important component of the anthology, exploring the relationship between professionals who espoused pluralism and cultural exchange with post-war European immigrants through their foodways. Iacovetta uses a ‘dialectical’ approach to avoid over-politicizing or feigning hyperbole in the text, an approach open to complexities of the women’s activities and their good intentions. Using this perspective helps the reader more clearly perceive a central argument that these endeavours of mutual acculturation helped shift the prevailing discourses somewhat away from socio-politically hegemonic Anglo-conformity to one tolerant of cultural diversity, while still maintaining class and ethnic-racial hierarchies in the paternalistic sense. (Iacovetta, 360) This is a similar line of argument to Chapter 6 “Culinary Containment? Cooking for the Family, Democracy, and Nation” of her magnum opus Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada, in which the encouragement of ‘ethnic’ immigrant communities to celebrate their cultural distinctiveness while adapting to middle-class norms clashed with the intrusive Cold War state discourse of conformity and suspicion of difference. (Idem.)

Iacovetta’s Gatekeepers constitutes a solid vantage point to situate Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History in historiographical context. Foremost to consider is that there are multiple intersecting points between the two works, particularly with regards to Cold War-era themes generally, and various discourses of mid-20th century consumers and housewives in particular, addressed by both Chapter 6 of Gatekeepers  (140-141) and Julie Guard’s “The Politics of Milk: Canadian Housewives Organize in the 1930s.” (Chapter 15, Part Six) With regards to a critical appraisal of Edible Histories, Cultural Politics itself, I should note that the presentation of each of the anthology chapters was thoughtful, some of which included photos that helped to clarify certain discourses of corporate and national-imperial advertising. Moreover, I agree with the relevant goals and the topical presuppositions that were expounded in the preface and the introduction of the volume, which I feel to be corroborated in each chapter comprising the book. The point the editors make in the introduction regarding the search for historical precedents for contemporary phenomena and the ongoing attempt to historicize emergent food trends I find especially meaningful (6). The reader may also notice discourses of religion and culture insightfully expressed within the worldviews of various actors and protagonists within the constituent narratives. This is exemplified by Caroline Durand’s “Rational Meals for the Traditional Family: Nutrition in Quebec School Manuals, 1900-1960” (Chapter 6, Part Two) and in the Part Three (Foodways and Memories in Ethnic and Racial Communities) essays generally, particularly Chapter 8, “Feeding the Dead: The Ukrainian Food Colossi of the Canadian Prairies,” by S. Holyck Hunchuck.

Sean Remz

Concordia Univeristy

See also: Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology by Jennifer R. Ayres

Further Reading: Iacovetta, Franca. Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines Publishing, 2006, 2009. ISBN: 1-897071-11-6.


Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms – Review

Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms. Kathleen T Talvacchia, Michael F. Pettinger, and Mark Larrimore Eds. New York: New York University Press, 2014. viii + 223 p. $26 USD (paperback); $79 USD (cloth).

Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms is a collection of essays that responds to the challenges and experiences of queer people of faith. Moving away from apologetic attempts to reconcile queerness and Christianity, the main premise of the book is that “queer people are not outsiders to the church. Christianity has not only always had queer members, has not only had the potential to be queered, but has from the start been a site of radical queerness” (2). Acknowledging the fact that Christianity has also been fertile ground for the production and enforcement of normativity, the essays included in this collection continue to argue, as did Elizabeth Stuart, that Christianity is nevertheless a queer thing.

Responding to ongoing scholarship on the subject of queer religiosity, these fifteen essays, divided in four different groups, tackle issues related to the “living worlds of queer Christianities” (1). Particularly, the past few years have witnessed an increasing level of interest in the study of religion and sexuality, in both academic and theological discourses. A good number of religion and theology departments now offer a concentration—or at least some courses—dealing with the study of sexualities in religion, with an important component of this scholarship focused on same-sex desire.

Whereas gay and lesbian studies remain important and relevant in theological and religious studies, the contemporary moment, with its developments in understandings of gender, sexuality, race, and class, demands that the field of religion and sexuality broadens its scope to encompass the lived experiences of all who are marginalized by hetero-patriarchy. The experiences of these marginalized people of faith do not always fit strict categories such as homophobia, sexism, classism, or racism. Instead, they find themselves at the intersection of many of these dis-criminations. In light of this, current scholarship seeks to apply feminist, queer, anti-oppressive, subversive theories and methodologies, destabilizing the epistemological foundations of what religion is and how its study has been undertaken.

The first part explores issues of celibacy in both historical and contemporary settings. This is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book, as celibacy is generally seen as oppressive and anti-queer by mainstream gay politics. This suspicion is not unfounded because, as argued in part one, celibacy is the only form of sexuality that is permitted to queer folk in many churches. Celibacy has indeed been understood as an ultra-conservative lifestyle—one proper of prudes, those gays who do not dare come out, and, as stated above, many queer people of faith who wish to remain Christian without necessarily pre-tending to be heterosexual. This section, which contains essays on early Christian celibacy, the ex-gay movement, queer/celibate politics, and a queer nun’s story, problematizes the idea that celibacy is a denial, voluntary or imposed, of one’s queerness. Instead, it argues that celibacy is queer, and that understanding queerness and Christian celibacy as binary opposites does not do justice to the complex relationships between these two terms. By queering celibacy, one of the most orthodox components of Christianity, the essays in this section argue that Christianity is indeed a queer thing. Moreover, by discussing celibacy in queer terms, the contributors to this book push the boundaries of what it means to be queer and what it means to be Christian, thus paving the way for new understandings of Christian life and sexuality.


The second part of the book deals with matrimonies, and contains four chapters that deal with issues of marriage ranging from medieval brides to queer family life. An interesting article by William E. Smith III titled “Two Medieval Brides of Christ: Complicating Monogamous Marriage” explores the complicated relationship that two medieval women had with their respective husbands and with Christ, arguing that these relationships exemplify polyandrous arrangements. The second and fourth articles deal with queer marriages, one of them focusing on New York’s first same-sex marriage and providing a valuable history of gay rights in America. The other one explores queer family life, and provides fascinating ways of understanding same-sex marriage that move away from assimilationist critiques. This article was fascinating, as it moved away from the question of whether same-sex marriage is subversive or normalizing, arguing that it should be seen as sacred work, which ought to be understood as a quest for legitimization rather than the desire to be normal. An article by Teresa Delgado titled “Beyond Procreativity: Heterosexuals Queering Marriage,” is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking contributions to this volume. Although the ideas raised by Delgado are quite interesting and valid, I am still wondering whether I believe that heterosexual Catholics “have an ethical responsibility to act on behalf of those who have been relegated to the margins of the church, namely, queer Catholics” (93). As a Catholic-raised queer person of faith, do I truly believe that heterosexuals ought to defend me, like a big brother would from the bullies in the schoolyard? I am not quite sure. Doesn’t emphasizing the role of the privileged in queer liberation take away from the struggle, self-determination, and efforts of the marginalized themselves? This is something that I see in everyday life, where “allies” of LGBTs are constantly applauded and celebrated for their willingness to help queer folk, but we barely talk about the real issues faced by queer communities. For example, I always find news articles about so-and-so heterosexual pop star who claims to support gays, but queer youth homelessness and the efforts made by local queer groups are rarely talked about. I write this not to diminish the role that heterosexually-identified folk play in the queering of Christianity, but it is clear to me that when I read or do queer Christianity and theology, I like to keep my attention on queers themselves. Delgado’s anti-oppressive analysis was definitely intriguing and provocative, and certainly provokes thought on the role of heterosexuals in the queering of religion.

The third section had fun with its subject. Titled “Promiscuities,” this section moved from Augustine to ethics of relationships and friendships to BDSM – it was a wild ride. The articles included here are a great intellectual exercise as they introduce a variety of extremely interesting ideas, all of them related, in one way or another, to sexual ethics. “Love Your Friends: Learning from the Ethics of Relationships” by Mary E. Hunt is a brilliant contribution to this volume. It centers its argument on the idea that marriage does not make people friends, but that friendship could (but does not have to) evolve into marriage. In other words, as I have told some of my colleagues, it is not because gays can now get married that we ought to get married. Hunt explores relation-ships through the lens of friendship, which makes this a great piece to examine the importance and flourishing of friendship, which tends to be obscured by a society obsessed with the marriage industrial complex. She argues that in friendship we find a variety of ways of relating to one another that are not available in marriage-centered relationships.

The fourth and final part “Forward!” brings together the themes discussed throughout the book and points the reader towards new directions in the study of religion and sexuality. The book seems to refuse a conclusion. If that is the case, it makes a lot of sense. The myriad of ideas, methodologies, and approaches discussed across the chapters in the book cannot be synthesized in one conclusion.  The contributions to this volume show is that Christianities may be queer in many different ways, and as readers we must be open to the possibility contradictions, headaches, agreements, and more contradictions. Because of its boundary-pushing approach, its diversity in terms of subjects and authors, and its accessibility, Queer Christianities is a solid introduction to the world of queer issues in Christianity. Readers are bound to find some of the articles interesting and engaging, some others less interesting or outrageous, whereas others could prove to be quite the intellectual challenge. This book, or selections from could serve to introduce new students to the field, or to push the boundaries of more advanced students. Queer Christianities navigates the grey zone between the socio-scientific study of religion and theology, a gap that many students take too seriously. For example, many courses offered by departments of religion tend to shy away from theological reflection, and some theological studies courses do not bridge the gap between the humanities and the social sciences by putting both methodologies into conversation. This division is further exemplified by an all-too-common joke among many of my religions studies classmates, which consists of being offended by someone confusing “Religious Studies” with “Theological Studies.” How dare they assume that our socio-scientific field has anything to do with theology or faith-based religious studies? Perhaps this division is not as clear-cut as one has been taught. This collection of essays draws from theology—particularly the queer theology of Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology—while simultaneously engaging with the social sciences, notably history, politics, and some cultural studies. What Queer Christianities shows with its skillful interplay of religious studies and theological reflection is that both fields could benefit from some interdisciplinary dialogue. By combining politics, history, ethics, and queer family life, Queer Christianities raises the idea that perhaps students of religion and theology have a great deal to learn from each other.

Daniel Santiago Saenz

Concordia University