What does it Mean to Study Spirituality?

Galen Watts
PhD Student, Cultural Studies

This is a question I keep coming back to.

More Canadians than ever before identify as “spiritual” as opposed to “religious,” and talk of “spirituality” is becoming increasingly prevalent in mainstream discourse.

In 2014 I decided to devote my time and energy to figuring out what spurred this shift in the religious and cultural landscapes, and what precisely “spirituality” means.

Up to now I’ve interviewed thirty-three Canadian millennials (aged 18-36) who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious,” some of whom I have interviewed up to three times over the course of three years.

I’ve learned a lot about the spiritual lives of these young Canadians. I’ve heard intimate stories that revolved around struggles with depression, family troubles, life changing events, and even all night raves. I’ve watched interviewees shed tears, burst out laughing, and speak with a passion so intense it was contagious.

I’ve learned that to study spirituality is not simply to study spirituality, but to study the intersections of subjectivity, society, history, politics, and economics—to study spirituality is to study the human condition.

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.