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The Study of Religions and Motherhood Studies: A Fruitful Interdisciplinary Potential? (2/2)

Panel Chair: Florence Pasche Guignard | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue


This panel features scholarship on motherhood (as an institution), mothering (as women’s experience), and mothers in several religious traditions with the aim to uncover the interdisciplinary potential of motherhood studies with the study of religions and reflect on new paths of research. Studies on kinship and family, im/purity in childbirth, transition rituals, spiritual mothering, goddesses, etc. constitute traditional topics in our discipline, while other areas still deserve further consideration. This is the case of women’s religious experience as mothers and of discourses not just about family and parenting, but by women reflecting on or challenging the religiously defined norms of “the good mother”. The contributions to this panel examine maternal representations and ritual practice in various historical and religious contexts. Methodological issues raised by these cross cultural perspectives will also be addressed in the response to the panel and in the discussion.

Anna M. Hennessey

Uncovering the Topic of Childbirth in Art, Religion, and Philosophy

There is an academic, artistic, and cultural void when it comes to the topic of childbirth. In the case of Religious Studies, research overwhelmingly prioritizes the topic of death over that of birth. A review of library and journal resources or any academic press catalogs on religion reveals that the literature available on religion and death greatly outnumbers that on religion and birth. The American Academy of Religion devotes conference sessions exclusively to research on death and yet none are devoted to birth. As for teaching resources, the situation is no different. In Philosophy and the Arts, the same curious lack of focus on birth exists. What is it about birth that is so silencing? This paper explores the possible reasons for which childbirth remains a taboo topic within Academia. It then makes the case that this academic prioritization of death over birth has profound implications, both ideological and actual.

Anna-Katharina Höpflinger

Motherly Nation. Civil Religious Representations of the “Motherland”

“Motherland” is a term used to construct spatial concepts of political belonging. This belonging is strengthened by a naturalization of the relation between the individuum and a geographical setting, often using terms of family ties. Processes of identification and normative expectations towards the individuum form an important part of such idealised relations. It is striking that the construction of the “motherly nation” is (especially in the course of the strengthening of nationalism in the 19th century) based upon religious world views and representations. For example, female state personifications such as Germania, France’s Marianne or the United States’ Columbia, adopt in their visual stagings iconographical elements taken from religious traditions. These religious visualizations contribute towards the shaping of such female personifications into the idealised concept of the “motherly nation”. My contribution will explore the civil religious functions of the construction of nations as “mothers” with a focus on the specific sociopolitical contexts.

Pamela Klassen


Pamela Klassen will respond to the issues raised in the previous papers.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)