Wilcox, 2013.pdf - Chapter 13 Queer Theory and the Study of...

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Chapter 13 Queer Theory and the Study of Religion 1 Melissa M. Wilcox In 1991, in a special issue of the journal differences , Teresa de Lauretis intro- duced a new term into academic discourse: “queer theory.” 2 “The term ‘queer,’ ” she explained, “juxtaposed to . . . ‘lesbian and gay’ . . . is intended to mark a certain critical distance from the latter, by now established and often conve- nient, formula.” 3 Drawing on the newly visible, resistant political use of the once-derogatory term “queer,” de Lauretis suggested moving into a more de- constructive, critical mode of theorizing in lesbian and gay studies, as it was then known. Her proposed theoretical orientation was to have two foci: “the conceptual and speculative work involved in discourse production, and . . . the necessary critical work of deconstructing our own discourses and their con- structed silences.” 4 Queer theory was to address the elisions in mainstream gay studies—the experiences of those not white and male—and in so doing, would have consequences for activism as well as academics. “Racial and gen- der differences,” de Lauretis asserted, “are a crucial area of concern for queer theory, and one where critical dialogue alone can provide a better understand- ing of the specificity and partiality of our respective histories as well as the stakes of some common struggles.” 5 Subsequent to de Lauretis’s writing, the term “queer theory” has had a var- ied fate. It has developed a genealogy, beginning with works predating the differences issue such as Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality , volume 1, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet , Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s This Bridge Called My Back , and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble . 6 It has been rejected by its own creator. 7 It has been maligned as too academic, Copyright © ${Date}. ${Publisher}. All rights reserved.
228 LGBT Movements and Queering Religion too inaccessible, too white, too male, too mainstream. And it has been used in books and essays by lesbians and gay men of color, challenged and developed by authors interested in globalization and democracy, joined with disability theory, developed and altered. 8 It has even, in small amounts, entered the hal- lowed halls of religious studies—though not without resistance and not in a very widespread way. This essay provides an introduction to queer theory, reviews works in religious studies that make use of queer theory, and suggests future directions for this promising but under-studied intersection of fields. A Brief Introduction to Queer Theory To encapsulate two decades of queer theoretical work into a mere handful of pages is a daunting task on its own, made more difficult by the fact that queer theory itself defies definition. De Lauretis never defined the term explicitly, and later authors have refused definition, claiming with David Halperin that “queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers . It is an identity without an essence.” 9

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