Sacred Pain and Consensual Sadomasochism

Morgan Oddie
PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
MA 2014

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Pain hurts. As a general rule, we don’t like pain. We are averse to painful sensations and experiences precisely because they hurt. But if this was completely true, what is the explanation for chosen pain? If you should be averse to pain, why choose it? Surely, it is not solely reducible to notions that some people have higher pain tolerances than others. There are many scenarios where people consent to varying degrees of pain, including participation in sports, medical procedures, and aesthetic body modifications. Rhetoric of “no pain, no gain” is common, where pain is thought to serve the end goal of the activity, rather than acting as the focus of the goal itself. In addition to these examples, some people consent to pain in a sexual context with participation in the large range of activities that fall under the umbrella of BDSM (Bondage / Domination / submission / Sadism / Masochism). There is no single definition of BDSM, but it can be understood as loosely encompassing a number of different practices that include the consensual negotiation of erotic power exchanges, involving techniques and tools to help facilitate these exchanges. Although there are many instances of consensual pain, it is specifically the BDSM sexual context where consent to bodily hurt is often interpreted as pathological.

pain1There has been a recent shift to de-pathologize BDSM, but most of this work focuses on the normalization of psychological characteristics of practitioners and potential psychological benefits. Although the psychological elements of BDSM are important, these are often emphasized at the expense of the embodiment of the practices. So, kinksters are psychologically well-adjusted people, but they are still fleshy, living bodies that are experiencing and inflicting pain. Not all practitioners are purely sadomasochists (those who derive sexual pleasure from the giving and receiving of physical pain), but pain is a common technique for maintaining power dynamics in BDSM scenarios. What if, instead, we focus on the re-contextualization of this embodied pain? I propose that theories of sacred pain are useful here.

Ariel Gluckrich characterizes sacred pain as the experiences of religious adherents that are thought to serve “higher ends” and produce states of consciousness and cognitive-emotional changes that affect subject identity and sense of community belonging.[1] In this way, religious discourses, rituals, and artefacts are mapped onto the body to provide meaning for the experiences.[2] This contextually mediates feelings of pain and results in different interpretations of pain, but also creates different bodily sensations. None of this denies the biology of pain or discounts the corporeal experience, but contributes to discussions of contextually mediated experiences of the body. That is, pain is neither solely sensation or entirely socially constructed, but is a combination of the two.

pain3I argue that frameworks of sacred pain are applicable to BDSM. Consciousness changing experiences and their physical parallels occur in BDSM, known as subspace, and the less common equivalent of domspace. Additionally, some practitioners describe their experiences as relating to spiritual transformation and religious-type experience.[3] Aside from varying sadomasochistic inclinations, the use of pain as a BDSM technique on the body is felt and experienced differently because of the context, including the role of consent, the connection to community, and the elements of ritual in activities. This is not dissimilar from account and analysis of the “sacred pain” of religious adherents.

 

 

 

 

[1] Ariel Gluckrich, Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003, 6-7.

[2] Joanne Burke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014: 92.

[3] Alexzandria C. Baker, “Sacred Kink: Finding Psychological Meaning at the Intersection of BDSM and Spiritual Experience,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy (2016): 1-14, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2016.1205185; Staci Newmahr, Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2012.

 

Even Stephen: Islam vs. Christianity

Amelia Walsh
First Year Undergraduate Student, Arts and Science

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In today’s world of media entertainment, comedians and programs often satirize religion and religious practices in comedy skits and routines. Although malicious elements sometimes appear in these media pieces, the use of satire more commonly presents as a tool to relieve tension, ridicule stereotypes, or educate an audience. In Comedy Central’s skit, Even Stephen: Islam vs. Christianity from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the TV personalities, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart along with actor Steve Carell, perform a skit that reveals the hypocrisy and lack of sense that triggers conflict between religions.

In the skit, Colbert and Carell act out the roles of a Christian and a Muslim respectively, and hold a debate over which of their religions is the one, true religion. In order to increase the comedic quality of the sketch, many of the arguments that are presented involve circular and backwards logic and serve to ridicule certain aspects of religion such as life after death, origin stories, and ‘smiting’. At the end of the segment, Colbert and Carell come together to bond over their mutual dislike of Jon Stewart who represents Jews.

This comedy skit puts religion into a fairly negative light through its emphasis on hypocrisy within religion and its apparent criticism of Christianity and Islam. Despite these initial impressions, however, most of the satire in the skit holds a double meaning that educates the audience on logical fallacies that appear in religious arguments and attempts to argue for the pointlessness of arguing over which belief is “right”. At one point in the skit, Stephen Colbert presents an example of these logical fallacies through a somewhat exaggerated statement arguing the truth of Christianity:

“It’s not my logic, it’s god’s logic, as written in the Bible, every word of which is true. And we know every word is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true, and if you remember from earlier on in this sentence, every word of the Bible is true.”

While this is evidently a faulty argument designed to ridicule certain elements of Christianity, the presentation of it in a satirical sense allows for a second, ironic side to show through. The irony emphasizes the point that while many elements of religion don’t necessarily follow logic, they do consist of faith and belief, two concepts that are indisputable and unarguable because of their subjective nature. This argument is especially essential to today’s world as a result of the number of wars being fought on behalf of religion. While the Even Stephen: Islam vs. Christianity comedy sketch does not directly address these disputes between religions, the final lines of the skit do convey the idea of inherent conflict between religions fairly clearly when Stephen and Steve find common ground over their mutual dislike of Jews. These lines could even be further interpreted as a jab at Christianity and Islam and their perceived history of anti-Semitism.

In an effort to maintain comedic effect in Even Stephen: Islam vs. Christianity, many serious topics relating to religion are not discussed at all. These include genuine beliefs, reasonable arguments for religion, and traditions of each religion. This presence of irony and satire also makes it difficult to tell whether the portrayal of religion is actually balanced or biased or both. While there is at least a small part of this skit that is biased towards atheism, the fact that the skit was presented through a comedy channel indicates that there is a lack of seriousness in their words and that perhaps there is more balance beneath all of the satire and irony. Additionally, by using visual media rather than a paper format, the actors are able to convey sarcasm and insincerity in their voices.

Although the role of religion in this media portrayal is mainly to entertain and provide comedic relief, the use of satire helps to provide a double meaning to many of the concepts that are presented. This double meaning allows networks such as Comedy Central to educate its audience and send out deeper meanings of inherent issues of religion into the world. In this sketch specifically, these deeper meanings refer to the ridiculousness of dissent between religions over “right and wrong”.

Adolescent Perceptions and Experiences of the Hijab: a Qualitative Canadian Study

Emma Funnell-Kononuk
Faculty of Education Student, Queen’s University

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Wearing a hijab is a visual marker of Islam and instantly identifies a girl as Muslim. Muslim females regularly experience Islamophobia, a dislike or prejudice against Islam and Muslims, due to this visual association. Canadian girls frequently feel the effects of Islamphobia; girls have been expelled from school and barred from sports such as tae kwon do and soccer. A 2015 hate crime in Toronto, Ontario left a Muslim woman beaten and robbed after attackers tore off her hijab, punched her, called her a “terrorist,” told her to “go back to [her] country,” and stole her money and cellphone. The event occurred just outside a public school; it was 3PM and she was headed to pick up her children. Media representation and political commentary has incited debate about what veiling means and what locations (if any) should permit veiling. This conversation is largely based on an association of veiling with patriarchal values. For instance, in March of 2015 then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that wearing the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women” and that it is “offensive” for someone to cover their face using clothing like a niqab during the citizenship ceremony. Veiling is a highly debated topic within modern Canadian society, and these opinions effect Muslim Canadian women and girls.

hijab-girlIn 2012, nine-year-old Rayane Benatti was not allowed to participate in her team’s final soccer game in Gatineau, Quebec because her hijab was deemed ”unsafe” and she refused to remove it.

Due to recurrent debates and disagreements, qualitative and quantitative research regarding Muslim women’s veiling practices is a growing field worldwide. However, the perspective of adolescent girls is not often considered. It is important to include perspectives of youth with regards to any religion, as their experiences regularly differ from that of adults. I completed an Undergraduate Summer Student Research Fellowship (USSRF) this summer to explore the experiences and perceptions of Muslim adolescents regarding the hijab in a midsized Ontario city. I collected data through a focus group of four Muslim girls and two Muslim boys aged 12-15. All of the female participants wore a hijab when they went to a mosque, but at the time of the focus group, two of the four girls self-elected to wore a hijab to school (hijabi) and two did not (non-hijabi). They shared their experiences regarding hijabs in a public school environment, and described occurrences involving peers, teachers, and expectations. Sample questions included: What does the hijab mean to you? Do you feel like your teachers treat you differently when you are wearing a hijab? Coding the data led to eight distinct categories and two higher order concepts: 1. Reasons that adolescent girls choose to wear or to not wear the hijab and 2. The recognition that the hijab is a representation of Islam, and concern that Islam is misunderstood by those around them and by the media.

Findings suggested that adolescent girls consider a variety of factors when choosing whether or not to wear a hijab, such as practicality and their individual sense of style, along with more internal reasons. Both hijabi girls believed that people, Muslim or not, viewed, and should view, their hijab solely as a piece of clothing. As one of the girls put it, “A hijab is just an extension of your clothes. It does not make you any different in here [gesturing to her heart]; it just makes you different out here [gesturing to her face and body].” Another said that the hijab is “just a scarf on the top of your head” and does not change anything about who you are as a person. She continued, “I don’t say to some person, hey you should not wear short shorts. Oh you should not wear a crop top. So why should they tell me not to wear a hijab?” All participants agreed that everyone has the right to choose how to dress without fear of judgement or insults. One participant said her hijabi friend was asked questions by classmates that she deemed annoying and this discouraged her from wearing a hijab at school. She said people’s questions, such as “Do you shower with that, do you sleep with that, do you ever take it off?,” were “insensitive” and that even if they didn’t intend to be rude, it is important to “respect people’s differences in class.”

When I asked what the most important thing I should take away from our conversation was, every participant said something related to the diversity found amongst Muslims and their concern that Islam should be represented accurately. Discussion surrounding the hijab sparked an underlying discussion about what it means to represent Islam. They all recurrently shared fears that the act of one Muslim or Islamic group would be considered an accurate representation of all of Islam. They felt they needed to prove to friends, teachers, and other non-Muslims that Muslims are different from what is shown in the news. One of the male participants said people need to remember that if members of ISIS say they are Muslim, then “they might still be Muslims, but they are not good Muslims.” They explained that within Islam there are a wide variety of interpretations, beliefs and experiences. They felt that this diversity was part of what connected them to their faith.

The importance participants placed on acknowledging the diversity within Islam holds weight within the field of education. Teachers must have background knowledge regarding religions and the variety of meanings behind religious behaviour. This knowledge is critical in preventing stereotyping or unintentionally holding bias; uninformed teachers create an uninformed learning environment, which may influence the understandings of other students. Teachers should be aware of the reasons a girl in their class may wear a hijab and the concerns they may have. This learning will help them better understand their hijabi students’ views and requirements. Should teachers’ learning inspire questions about hijabs or Islam, participants found it easier when a teacher asked them a question about their beliefs rather than a student because they knew teachers “actually want to know…how to make you feel more comfortable as a student.” They also suggested that if non-Muslims had questions about Islam, a great way to find answers is to speak to someone at a mosque, as opposed to listening to the media. Mandated public school curriculum should include components on a variety of faiths, thereby mandating conversations that can help to encourage empathy and understanding within schools. Finally, it is incredibly important that the voices of youth be heard within the academic study of religion. My hope is that this work inspires further research surrounding Muslim youth and the hijab in a school context and highlights why it is important to include the experiences of young people in the conversation.

 

On Ancient Sexuality and Modern Identity

Jacob DesRochers
School of Religion MA Student

My current research examines how ancient Near Eastern laws and narratives related to sexuality are evidence of a variety of different constructions of sexuality and masculinity in first millennium BCE Israel. By mapping the history of masculinity in the ancient Near East, I wish to examine how the terrain of modern Jewish masculinities has been shaped by the sexual mores of ancient Israel. I am interested in how we interpret masculine sexual norms within the context of the ancient Near East and in the communities of the priestly authors and how these ‘masculine norms’ become manifest in modern Jewish identities.

In particular my research will ask what boundaries are placed upon a Jewish male’s sexual identity and interactions and how do these anxieties create modern Jewish masculinities. Rather than viewing sexuality as a constituent element of gender identity, I am asking how various sexualities; such as class, racially specific, and gendered sexualities, influence our understanding of modern hegemonic and marginalized masculinities. The task is to go back to the past to engage with the present.

Welcome!

Welcome to Engaging Religion the new blog for the Queen’s School of Religion.

Here you will find posts from QSR faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni that connect the academic study of religion to contemporary issues in politics and popular culture.

If you are interested in contributing to this blog, please send an e-mail to qsrblog@gmail.com for more information.

In the meantime, please check out our first few blog posts below and check back often for updates on some of the fascinating discussions taking place at  Queen’s School of Religion.

Revelation, The Walking Dead, and Small Talk

Alex Cox-Twardowski
PhD Student, Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
MA 2015

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“Revelation? That’s the one about the end of the world right? With the antichrist and the rapture and all that stuff?”

These were the questions a polite man asked me this past summer at a wedding reception. We were making small talk and discussing our occupations. His response, in my experience, is very common among nonreligious scholars. Many, without having read it, seem to be familiar with Revelation. The text appears to excite and interest secular audiences more than any other narrative in the New Testament.[i] From being quoted directly in horror classics like The Omen (1976), to contemporary comedic romps like This is End (2013), and even inspiring material for all of the sixth season of Showtime’s Dexter, The Book of Revelation is seemingly everywhere in popular film and television.

The man at the wedding’s response was interesting because it sums up common appreciations of the apocalyptic text. The fact that the antichrist is not mentioned once, or that the rapture is not even stated anywhere in the bible, does not change how most preconceive, know, and even expect certain elements from Revelation. For many, it matters not that the Whore of Babylon is interpreted to represent Rome, or if the lamb to be slaughtered is actually on the throne or beside it. What does matter are the sensations, fears, hopes, disgusts, attractions, anxieties, and catharses that are experienced through Revelation. This is where Affect Theory and zombies come in.

walking_dead_posterMany overt connections can be drawn between Revelation and The Walking Dead, but what matters most are the impressions that both texts make. Revelation and The Walking Dead are actually studied much in the same. Non-specialists often analyze Revelation as allegory, working on unveiling, decoding, and deciphering of socio-political messages to learn more of its historically situated culture. Zombie films are written about much in the same. A trend inspired by the works of George A. Romero, zombie films are frequently studied for their criticism, parody, and insight toward their respective cultures.

To think about Revelation and zombie cinema is also to study bodies. The texts present contradictory bodies. They are alive and dead, consuming and consumed, repulsive and attractive, othered, othering, and contagious. To read these embodied stories is to be encapsulated with fear, disgust, endings, beginnings, hope, death, and life. To study Revelation, for instance, solely for its political and ideological symbolism, or zombie cinema for its criticism of American race relations, is often to ignore the bodies involved and their affects. An affective interpretation of Revelation facilitates the investigation of the represented bodies and audiences. Revelation and The Walking Dead are both revelatory of the sensations, intensities, and experiences involved while dealing with death, chaos, destruction, and historical-cultural change. This research falls in the growing field of affect and biblical interpretation. I suggest that affective biblical interpretation, specifically on Revelation, is an exciting and potentially impactful area to explore in relation to the study of religion and film.

 

[i] Harry O. Maier. Apocalypse Recalled: The Book of Revelation after Christendom. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002), ix, 3.