Confounded Identities: A Meditation on Race, Feminism, and Religious Studies in Times of White Supremacy

Confounded Identities: A Meditation on Race, Feminism, and Religious Studies in Times of White... Abstract This article addresses the pervasiveness of white supremacy in American identity-thinking. Challenging the use of identity to structure unity platforms in academia, I advocate for Black-transnational feminist-queer strategies that demand coalition-based politics oriented around a transformative radical potential. Religious studies is used as an interdisciplinary case study to understand the problem of academic identity-thinking, where I show first, how white privilege is maintained in the “scholar-practitioner” divide, and second, how white supremacy is naturalized in identity-thinking. Eschewing relative or comparative approaches that reify identity-based logics, I move towards analytic and technical approaches that are productive of an activist-oriented decolonial stance. This gesture draws on the relationality, conflict, tension, power, and politics of studying racialized religious and spiritual subjects with an unapologetically transformative agenda. THE 2016 ELECTION of Donald Trump to the US presidency brings into relief how critical it is for scholars to teach the ways identity is used as a platform of governance in the maintenance of white supremacy. Since the election, a number of White liberal “American” students and colleagues have approached me with concerns about how this election has revealed to them that their idea of racial and gendered progress made since the Civil Rights era has been destroyed or undermined. They did not realize that racism and patriarchy were still so powerful. There was a sense from many that white patriarchal supremacy had somehow returned with the 2016 election season (as if it had gone somewhere). On the other hand, activists and scholars of color have felt a profound sense of frustration, even irritation, at how white privilege has allowed for even some of the most critical White scholars to suddenly discover that the United States is indeed a racist, sexist, and patriarchal country with pervasive white supremacy. Black feminists in particular have pointed out how White women voters have always elected the US president, and historically, White women have also always voted primarily Republican.1 One week after the November 2016 election, at the large annual anthropology meetings, the conference keynote speaker, Black feminist scholar and former television news show host Melissa Harris-Perry, proclaimed that racism and “pussy grabbing” had never been a disqualifier for the American presidency. In fact, she argued that for the majority of US history, it had been a requirement. (Her recalling of white supremacy and misogyny came after many liberal academics and political pundits were shocked that Donald Trump was elected even after recorded statements aired on news media that he admitted to habitually grabbing women by “the pussy” without their consent; and then the continued shock when White women elected him after numerous accusations that he had sexually assaulted them.) As Harris-Perry noted, “pussy grabbers”—that is, White cis-gender hetero-men sanctioned and celebrated for their assaults on women—founded this country: except the acceptable pussy usually belonged to Black and Brown women. Indeed, Harris-Perry asserted that White women have always supported White male pussy grabbers, even despite their own interests. And this election was telling not because it was distinct from American historical politics, but rather because of its consistency with a history of white supremacist patriarchy. Nevertheless, a popular media argument remains that, besides the widespread idea that Hilary Clinton was just a “really bad” candidate, it was Trump’s “America-In-Decline” rhetoric that won him the election (see Chira 2016; Jones 2016; Khanom 2016; Friedman-Rudovsky 2016; Featherstone 2016). That the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments that most resonated with the (White people in the) country was not about racism, but rather that good people were simply afraid for their existence.2 From television news to White academics, this argument reasoned that Trump voters (which make up the majority of all White people in the United States) are not all racists, but rather just disgruntled employees who have been turned off by the “political correctness” that had taken over the government (Strassmann 2016; Desmond-Harris 2016). Much of this argument is owed to a longstanding idea that a disgruntled (White) “working class” has been “left behind.” The very myth of a “virtuous” White working class failed by a liberal “identity politics” goes back to the fear of white slavery, which as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, only makes sense when it assumes that slavery belongs to Black people, and that White people should not be treated like Blacks (Coates 2017). This rhetoric is itself part of a White identity politics beholden to white supremacy. Indeed, as Coates’ highlights, Trump’s presidency could not have been possible without first a Black president. We see this in the Trump Administration’s singular goal to eradicate the fact of an Obama presidency as Coates states: “An entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white” (Coates 2017). The myth that Coates identifies is that all politics—except White politics—is seen as identity politics. And as David Duke, the rest of the KKK, other White nationalist groups, and conservative Republicans celebrate the victory of their candidate to office with an ever-increasing series of troubling policy against people of color at all levels of assault, the lines of academic and political activism come into stark relief.3 In these disconcerting times, we must resist and disrupt the use of identity as a form of governance. For those of us who have previously been working on issues of racism and power, we are now bombarded with questions about how to teach in the current situation. During a panel at the same large anthropology conference one week post-election where I had co-organized a session on white supremacy, most questions revolved around the Trump election rather than the material discussed in the papers. Papers that raised issues around current and historical problems of racism—global anti-Blackness, gendered and sexualized trauma, police violence, and Islamophobia—were met by the seventy or so mostly White audience members with questions asking the panel of scholars of color to help them understand how we should teach racism post-Trump. Some of the answers to these questions pointed out the long history of work that has already been done on racism, sexism, and homophobia, and cautioned scholars not to presume that, because they had suddenly discovered these concerns, they needed to reinvent the wheel. During the discussion about Harris-Perry’s argument that White women were mainly to blame for Trump’s election, a White cis-gender female scholar who had attended the talk told me that my description of Harris-Perry’s argument was “more nuanced and sophisticated” than hers. It was difficult for this White woman to see how the language of “nuance” and “sophistication” itself was yet another racist aggression against Black women as not being educated or eloquent enough. Indeed, as someone who teaches on race, gender, and sexuality in religious studies from a critical feminist approach, it is important to reflect on the lack of newness in the xenophobia, racism, and nativism that some people are only recently experiencing first-hand through this election cycle. We must remember the teachings of activist-oriented Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches that provide us with strategies towards critical, abolitionist, and transformative decolonial projects (Alexander 2005; Allen and Jobson 2016; Harrison 1997; Smith 2016a; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012).4 While in the process of reworking this essay on the problems of identity-thinking since the election, I realized that much of what I was experiencing pertained to concerns over the pervasiveness of white supremacy in American identity-thinking. This article thus calls for a recognition that the problem of American identity-thinking and racist patriarchy are tied to the project of white supremacy. White supremacy, as I understand and teach it, is part of the enduring cultural, political, and economic (global) structures of white domination that permeate contemporary politics and publics (Mills 2003, 37). This recognition rests on Black feminist assertions that white supremacy persists and permeates, and that a truly comprehensive understanding of racist patriarchy must be understood as part of the longer, broader formations of white domination in the United States and globally (Ansley 1989, 1024n; Crenshaw 1988, 1336; hooks 1981; Lorde 1984; Mills 2003, 37; Pierre 2012, 6, 31). Thus teaching during a post-Trump election requires an analysis of the broad racialized structurations of identity as politics that plays a role in why people feel this election is so different in the first place. I suggest we begin with an analysis of the problem of American identity-thinking as racialized multicultural governance. I argue here for a renewed commitment towards Black feminist, queer, and transnational approaches that have shown how we cannot stop at critical analysis but must also strive towards an activist-oriented scholarship that produces decolonial transformation. As pioneering Black feminist anthropologist Faye Harrison challenges us, we must confront, “both in intellectual and sociopolitical terms, racism, specifically white supremacy, as a major ideological and institutionalized force in today’s world” (Harrison 1997, 3). Indeed, Harrison argues that critical scholars’ attempts to redress ethnocentrism and sexism have tended to peripheralize Black feminist theory. She calls for a decolonial approach that addresses the nuanced histories of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism that pervade academic and political work at all levels of knowledge production, and continue to strive for an interventionist approach to global white patriarchal supremacy. Indeed, queer Black feminist activist-scholar Cathy Cohen also provides astute observations from trying times in the late 1990s, when she made clear that a “truly radical or transformative politics” had not resulted from queer activism. Cohen shows how some queer politics in fact perpetuate racism and assimilation into dominant structures, and serve to reinforce identitarian dichotomies. It is particularly important in these times to pay attention to Cohen’s challenge to constantly envision transformative coalition-based politics oriented around a truly radical potential rather than some “homogenized identity” (Cohen 1997, 438). Here, I take up these teachings in the rubric of the study of religion. I argue that feelings of uncertainty by many scholars continue to rely on the white privilege that Black feminist scholars have been working to dismantle for decades.5 Given this sense of uncertainty—a feeling of being in a moment of crisis and rupture in (predominantly White) US political liberal circles, I advocate for a serious revisiting of transnational Black feminist and queer activist-oriented maneuvering as a way through the confines of identity-thinking (Cohen 1997; Crenshaw 1991, 2015; Harrison 1994, 1997; Hill Collins 1998, 2000, 2003; hooks 1981; Lorde 1984; Spillers 1987; Wynter 1994, 2003). It is with this move, a posture of transformation rather than a rehashing of critical debates, that I suggest that the question of human rights is far from reconciled. By examining religious studies as a case study to understand the problem of academic identity-thinking, I show first how a naturalizing of white privilege as identity occurs in even the most seemingly benign discussions. I use the “scholar-practitioner” divide as an example of how the religious studies scholarly identity serves to maintain and naturalize white privilege in the study of religion. Second, drawing on transnational, Black feminist, and queer of color theories, I show that feminist studies in religion must push against the quest for identity. I call for methodological strategies that eschew relative or comparative approaches that reify seemingly benign logics of identity, instead moving toward analytic and technical approaches that challenge us towards an activist-oriented decolonial stance. This stance draws on the relationality, conflict, tension, power, and politics of studying racialized religious and spiritual subjects with an unapologetically transformative agenda. Finally, I ask why it has become a problem for some critical scholars to claim a transformative politics beyond rhetorical strategies. By applying Hortense Spillers’s (1987) critique of the ways in which confounded identities are central to American nationalisms, I centralize racializing and sexualizing projects in academia, which play out in particular ways in the study of religion. Through adherence to liberal multiculturalisms, I suggest that identity is an obscuring regime that performs a metaphysical operation or, as Spillers describes it, a loaded telegraphic coding. Following her urge for an excavation of the buried confounded identities that do not allow scholars to “come clean” with their complicity, I suggest a transnational and relational shift that disrupts queer choices of identity. This gesture may not seem new to those already familiar with strategies deployed by Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches. To be clear, my urge to examine identity-thinking is not an apolitical, noncritical, poststructuralist move to undermine the work of marginalized people to fight for social justice, equal rights, or civil liberties through the strategic deployment of the regime of identities within American multiculturalism. Rather I critique the co-opting and depoliticizing of these modus operandi, which increasingly flatten and universalize identity in a representational myth that maintains white privilege and white supremacy. This depoliticizing of identity-thinking as liberal choice has co-opted Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches into categories of representation rather than recognizing them as central challenges to white supremacy. What does this have to do with studying religion? The study and theology of religion is a useful site to disrupt broader trends of understanding and constructing humanity. Scholars of religion have critiqued the formations of the secular as an operational fantasy that emerged from normative Christianized renderings of religion. They have shown how racialized identity-thinking is implicit within this Christianized secularism, and that the perceived liberal “choice” deceptively purges racial or gendered specificity (Asad et al. 2013). Taking ethical questions of scholarly research in the study of religion seriously means actively interrogating the quest to reify liberal secularisms (Pritchard 2010). However, in this the researcher must be left open to the transformative elements that occur in the process of doing research. For instance, historian of religion Albert Raboteau (2004) has discussed the “spiritual agency” in writing about slavery and domination that is itself a transformative process for the historian. Similarly, feminist anthropologist of Islam Saba Mahmood (2005) discusses processes of forming, or the ways in which we are shaped and structured by discourse, oftentimes beyond ego-centered understandings of agency. In my own work on Afro-Cuban ritual practice I discuss how a “spiritual habitus” emerges through embodied practices that make people of different races and ethnicities transform into African diaspora bodies. As these examples demonstrate, issues of representation and agency are central to the ethics of research and writing about religion and spirituality in contemporary global politics. My argument follows Harrison’s decolonial urge with Cohen’s aspiration for queer politics: how we might continue to strive for a disruptive agenda beyond critique that hones the teachings of activist-oriented transformational strategies in these times—times that have never been without racialized state violence and terror. LIBERAL EDUCATION IN (WHITE) RELIGIOUS AMERICA As feminist scholars have argued, we must be critical of the historical tendency that emerged from Westernized forms of differentiation to conjoin and consolidate colonial otherness into various identity formations (Abu-Lughod 2002; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Spivak 1988, 2000a). Yet identity-thinking is also present in other forms of difference (Cutler 2003; Winant 2009). For example, the study of religion in academia has always operated between two confounded identities: are those who study religion “scholars” or “practitioners”? Darlene Juschka has argued that in the attempts of the field of religious studies to fabricate a more humanistic sense of self away from theology, religious studies has created an “identity crisis that is indicative of a pathology” (Juschka 2013, 212). Religious studies emerged as a field in the modern research university in the 1960s out of theology departments, which were seen as having a confessional framework. A familiar “creation myth” propagated in religious studies places the origin story of religious studies in the 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington Township v. Schempp, which allowed for academic teaching about religion, but not academic teaching of religion. In this creation myth, “The Supreme Court, like the God of Genesis, came down and created by separation, Earth from sky, land from water; the teaching of religion from teaching about religion” (Imhoff 2015, 2). To be seen as fundamentally different from church-based inquiries about religion (theology), religious studies thus hailed a detached, objective, and pluralistically orientated academic stance, eschewing truth-claims and purportedly not favoring any particular religious community. The goal of liberal education was to produce “new humanists,” cosmopolitan subjects who were freed from ignorance through academic civilizing projects. After World War II, American higher education saw direct links between biblical religion (and education) and the pursuit of liberal democracy (Hart 1999, 106). As a product of the political and intellectual foment of the Cold War and its ideology that American nationalism is inherently about religious identity, religious studies became an intellectually burgeoning field (Imhoff 2015). Indeed, an academic politics of identity is also explicitly related to the three decades after World War II, known in neo-Marxist terms as “late capitalism,” or in Derridean terms as “neo-capitalism,” during which Western industrial prosperity and global development produced a series of transnational connectivities reflected in the consciousness of modern universities. Critiques of Western imperialism and global decolonization efforts in the United States led to strong antiessentialist pushes that deflated the humanistic subject of its universalizing aspirations. Radical student movements and a critical professoriate launched assaults on liberal education, arguing that European and Western literature silenced the voices of those historically subject to the violence of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism. By the mid-1960s, religious studies had secured its precarious position in the modern university by appealing to a discourse of Western liberal education (Hart 1999, 203). Teaching religion was considered key to good governance where economic upheaval and war had demonstrated the limitations of science (Hart 1999, 12–13). Enrollment and student interest in studying religion in American universities increased across the board in the 1960s. A “ubiquitous rhetoric” emerged that described “American identity as religious, sometimes branded ‘Judeo-Christian’ or ‘Hebrew-Christian,’ as opposed to communist” which formed part of the growing student interest in religious studies and “became part of the rationale behind a war and the draft” (Imhoff 2015, 16). In opposition to communism, religion became intimately linked to American nationalism and Western culture. “The Judeo-Christian tradition, a phrase used with increasing regularity,” Hart notes, was seen as essential “for producing civilized graduates” (Hart 1999, 12–13). On the other hand, outside of the academic governance of religious studies, particularly within political movements, there has been a significant relationship between constructivist social protest and theological writing. Indeed, most twentieth-century public intellectuals have been theologians or religious leaders (Imhoff 2015, 19). In turn, religion has historically been integral to liberal and radical forms of American social transformation. For example, theologians, pastors, and religious leaders have been key to civil rights and other Black social protest movements from Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X to contemporary leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, and even President Barack Obama. As Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1993, 121) shows, Black women Baptists in the early twentieth century used theology to confront American racism and white supremacist patriarchy. However, the sense of a general upheaval in disciplinarity in the post-WWII era was not limited to religious studies. The 1970s and 80s saw a corrective to then-current knowledge production in the humanities and social sciences through a democratization of universities that were forced to include African American, Latino/a, Asian American, Native American Studies, and Women’s Studies as new fields and academic programs. Student uprisings, social protests, radical activist politics against war, and the civil rights movement coalesced in colleges and universities across the country, demanding dramatic change. This agitation resulted in some limited recognition of the histories of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy that had been ignored by white supremacist renditions of history and Western civilization. Since the 1980s, that which later was described by critics as identity politics forced modern universities to respond (however incompletely) to the exclusionist, elitist, racist, and sexist institutional foundations of liberal education. Diversity became the newfound rhetoric of American multicultural liberal education. Oftentimes, concessions made by university administrations were deployed through a politics of identity appeasement: providing identity groups with a particularized representational location within a multiculturalist university arena that did little to change the structural frameworks of racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, class difference, and Western centrism. It also neutralized more radical social movements towards less threatening identity-oriented multiculturalist platforms. These mostly underfunded identity-based academic locations in the humanities—such as African American studies, Chicano/Latino studies, Asian American studies, women’s studies, and religious studies—have thus provided safety valves, diffusing radical politics while also creating potential sites for disrupting disciplinarity. But this radical disruption was not “identity politics” as its critics dismissively claim; rather they were and continue to be solidarity movements that are based in struggle. They continue to fight for and demand real change and transformation. It is important to not conflate the rhetoric and label of “identity politics” with the social activism and mobilizations that have forced change. In the logic of cultural relativism that emerged in the humanities and social sciences at the time, just as all peoples had a race, ethnicity, or gender that could be studied and situated culturally, it was assumed that everyone also had a religious background, whether they believed in or subscribed to a particular religious practice or not. American liberal notions of “religion” have thus been recognized as central to understanding contemporary issues and politics, but also identity. Identity was thus used to depoliticize radical social movements. It is a platform of governing difference in multicultural America—a governance that is based on the normatizing of whiteness. It has made ethnic identifications based in histories of oppression and imperial and colonial interventions to become flag-bearing nationalisms where American identity is defined by claiming alterity. This has produced the confusing logic through which Americans consistently ask people born in this country “where they are from” or “what is their nationality” because American identity is assumed to be White. This is further obscured when discussing racialized and gendered religious subjects. Religious studies’ Americaness and whiteness thus provide the foil for religion to become akin to ethnicity and gender. Scholars have noted religious studies’ relative lack of engagement with postcolonial thought, transnational and Black feminist approaches, and queer theory, even in the subfield of “religion and gender” (King 1995, 2004).6 Sîan Hawthorne describes the neglect of postcolonial theory by scholars of religion and gender as a perhaps “unwitting, dissemination of ‘imperialist ideologies” (Hawthorne 2013, 170), while Claudia Schippert (2011) shows how the role of religion in neoliberal gay configurations, such as homonormativities and homonationalisms, have yet to be fully explored in religious studies. Both authors point to shifts in conceptualizing “identity” as key to understanding the relationship between postcolonial studies and queer and feminist theory. As I explore next, the idea that “religion” has been constructed as an identity term further complicates the colonial and imperial implications of knowledge production in religious studies (Hawthorne 2013, 176). Indeed issues historically embedded in the study of religion often conjoin and consolidate notions of identity and the history of identity as governance (Schippert 2011, 77). In the case of the scholar-practitioner divide in religious studies, agents of white patriarchal supremacy have never been far removed from, nor have they ever disappeared from American identity-thinking. AGENTS OF WHITENESS: DISCIPLINARY IDENTITIES There is a long-standing debate in the study of religion concerning its identity (Imhoff 2015). Those involved in the nebulous field of religious studies have disputed whether they should be “theologians,” “scientists,” “humanists,” or some other unifying identity. Loren Lybarger (2016) recently cast this in terms of the longstanding “scholar-practitioner” binary, arguing that it needs to be overcome. Lybarger points to anthropologist Joel Robbins’s (2006) assessments of the distinction between theology and anthropology as having an “awkward relationship,” saying this is helpful in understanding the scholar-practitioner dichotomy in the study of religion. Lybarger and Robbins see this as a divide concerning alterity. On the one hand, anthropologists are seen to document and prove differences between peoples, but they are not to make claims as to how these “discoveries” could transform their readers’ lives; whereas theologians are seen as committed to using their scholarly “discoveries” to enable transformation for their audience (Lybarger 2016, 129). They claim that anthropology purportedly “abandoned its core concern with alterity in the 1980s, when ‘the fantasy that somewhere there really was a life worth living came to seem naïve’. . . . Theologians, by contrast, have retained their commitment to ‘the reality and force of otherness.’ This fact mocks anthropology, which no longer shows the world how to ‘find real hope for change in the world’ without having to have recourse to faith in god’” (Lybarger 2016, 130). In this binary, “scholars” (anthropologists, sociologists, historians, or those who only study religion) are beholden to liberal secularist quests for truth, but not to hope for critical transformation. They begin with the premise that supernatural powers do not really exist. While “practitioners” (theologians and other purported believers) use similar tools to scholars, they are tied down by their adherence and commitment to “the sacred”—a sacred that demands its teachings be spread (proselytized) to others and involves a transcendental transformation. The “scholar-practitioner” dichotomy, a simplified and static binary, is still a huge issue of contention for those who believe in the need for an identity choice between the two. Ultimately, however, this dichotomy replays White Christian identities—and a White Christian secularism—naturalized as universal. Amy Hollywood points out this double standard when she notes how “the secular” is often constructed as identifiably Christian: “In one version of this argument, the secular looks a lot like liberal Protestant Christianity—sometimes shorn of its explicitly Christian trappings, sometimes not. Irrational, authoritarian, bad Christianity is then identified with Roman Catholicism and, often, the radical reformation” (Hollywood 2016, 12). Not only is critique often a secularized liberal Protestantism, but the idealized “scholar” is also a Protestant stripped of her religiousness (Orsi 2005). The practitioner—the scholar’s rhetorical Other—is thus Catholicized; a seemingly irrational authoritarian trying to affect people with his religion: Yet regardless of the distinctions made—between rationality and fanaticism, paganism and true religion, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism—a paradox remains at the center of some of the most influential modern accounts of the dissolution of religion . . . somehow the irrational begets the rational. To go back to those who assume that critique is secular, arguments for this thesis rest in some way on the claim that religion (or at least Christianity) gives rise to—even fuels—that which stands in opposition to it. (Hollywood 2016, 12, emphasis added) Those who presume critique as secular therefore claim that religion (Christianity) gives rise to that which stands in opposition to it. This operational fantasy of “the secular” as fueled by and emerging from “religion” also creates dialectical tensions between two heteropatriarchal White father figures: “practitioner” and “scholar.” Racialized identity-thinking is implicitly tied to the perceived liberal “choice” between either of these two subject positions (Asad et al. 2013), which are both whitened affective categories that are deceptively seen as purged of their racial and gendered specificity. Taking these ethical questions of research seriously in the study of religion is not always about a quest to reify liberal secularisms.7 It is something that critical theorists of color have been grappling with for decades (Harrison 1997; Raboteau 2004; Spivak 1988). More recently, Talal Asad (2003), Saba Mahmood (2005), and Eddie Glaude (2007), to name a few, take up similar concerns around agency and representation. They suggest that the researcher must be left open for the transformative elements that occur in the process of doing research. Indeed, Raboteau’s notion of “spiritual agency” as transformative for the historian who writes about slave religion is about both writing and disrupting power and domination. Feminists in the study of religion have long relied on practices of subversion as part of their critical politics (Bowie 1998, 46).8 Some have suggested that because religious studies have been feminized in relation to Western modernist discourses, a masculine insecurity has arisen in the field (Schüssler Fiorenza 1999, 98).9 Others have suggested that religious studies should stop trying to differentiate itself from theology and instead focus on constructing an identity more in line with disciplines that attune themselves to broader global and transnational issues that affect the world (Juschka 2013, 215–16). Indeed, many of the concerns over the placement of religious studies in relation to other university fields and disciplines, or feminist studies in religious studies, is about an academic politics of identity.10 As Juschka notes, in its attempt to invent itself as a normative science, religious studies has claimed the identity of the nonsubject of science: “Western, heterosexual, white, male, and middle or upper class” (Juschka 2013, 214). However, we cannot simply situate concerns of identity in the semantics of analytic critique. It is here where I argue that transnational and Black feminist theory and queer theory matter for the study of religion: they challenge normative assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, and culture fixed in identity-thinking and move us beyond critique, to a place of activated disruption, or as Harrison suggests, a decolonial stance. For the study of religion, this decolonial approach is particularly important, as it provides both a mode through which to disrupt the problem of identity-thinking and also a pragmatic enterprise of disruptive transformation. It challenges us to do something. Indeed, transnational feminist approaches argue for a nonessentialist scholarship that pushes back on collapsing into identity (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Clarke and Thomas 2006; Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 2001; Mohanty, Russo, and Torres 1991; Shohat 2002). Instead they ask scholars to trace how different forms of race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, and hierarchies of difference are policed and normatized transnationally. Tina Campt and Deborah Thomas (2008), for instance, suggest we must pay attention to difference, asymmetries, and the limits of unity in order to recognize hegemonies across and within diasporic and transnational spaces. It is important to point out, however, that much feminist, postcolonial, and critical race scholarship are seen as secularist projects. Juliane Hammer points to the issues she deals with working on domestic violence and Islam from a feminist approach, where she has encountered racist and insulting questions from White feminist scholars that mirror mainstream media’s biased stereotypes (Hammer 2016, 99). She often fields assumptions about her person as a researcher, where she is presumed or asked if she is a practitioner. And she describes how (White) feminists deploy “patronizing frameworks in which Muslim women (feminist or otherwise) are [seen as] decades behind in their reform work and need to learn from the secular feminist movement as well as Christian and Jewish feminists” (Hammer 2016, 104). In the case of my own work, I am constantly expected to situate my religious belief and proximity to the people, communities, rituals, or spiritual practices I study, and often because of my racialized, sexualized, and gendered body, also expected to provide liberal white secularism with its token representative and insider informant (Beliso-De Jesús 2015b). There is an insistence that I simultaneously perform the whitened category of hetero-masculine scholar even as my presence is given as an example that the irrational (female) practitioner of color has a seat at the multiculturalist table. Still within the production of academic knowledge, whether one can (re)present another (Spivak 1988, 2000b), how one should situate their location as a feminist ethnographer (Babcock 1995; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Yanagisako and Delaney 1995), and how we write and think about questions of agency (Mahmood 2005; Mankekar 1999) are all loci of knowledge that must be taken into consideration if one is to do ethical critical research with religious subjects, regardless of subject positions or subjectivities. Feminist postcolonial theologian Susan Abraham identifies such potential risks and benefits of feminist essentialisms when she shows that they can be used to form new hegemonies and ideological controls of women of color in the name of halting “masculine superiority” (Abraham 2009, 156). Even the description of certain practices as “feminist” creates a problematic within critical social theory (Beliso-De Jesus 2015a). A semantic quest of finding “resisters” for resistance’ sake without doing transformative and self-critical analysis becomes a serious issue (Abu Lughod 2002. This type of scholarship has tended to seek out women’s agency and construct a singular feminist humanism modeled after White cis-gender women. It reproduces static formulations that disavow racialized women’s agency vis-à-vis racialized men’s domination (hooks 1981). These idealized constructions of women’s agency—or misperceived “resistance”—invokes a whitened humanist, enlightened subject that further entrenches the problematic characteristic of an autonomous “free will” to individuals within feminist scholarship in religious studies (Mahmood 2005, 13). A decolonial stance towards scholarship must recognize how different feminist and queer liberation projects can also conflict with each other and produce new transnational normativities. In the 1980s and 1990s, feminists of color critiqued how White liberal feminists ignored the intersection of race and gender, and in their attempts to “liberate” Third World Women from presumably “oppressive” or “unfree” men and cultures, actually reproduced imperial and colonial relationships of power (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Crenshaw 1991; Collins 1998, 2003; hooks 1981; Mohanty 1991). More recently, queer theory scholars have shown how homonormativities have attempted to circumscribe the “good gay” subject in line with whitened, elite, docile neoliberal subjects, seen for instance in same-sex marriage campaigns (Agathangelou et al. 2008; Duggan 2003). As Lisa Duggan argues, this demobilized White gay neoliberal politics of identity is produced “against the ‘civil rights agenda’ and ‘liberationism,’ as access to the institutions of domestic privacy, the ‘free’ market, and patriotism” (Duggan 2003, 179). Homonormativity thus constructs a “hierarchy of ‘worthiness’ with those that identify as transgender, transsexual, bi-sexual or non-gendered deemed less worthy of equal rights” than those in relationships that mirror heterosexual marriages (Cherry 2012, 148). Homonormativities have also recruited queerness in the vilification of Islam and the perpetuation of Islamophobia (Hawthorne 2013, 81; Shohat 2002), and homonationalisms have been deployed in antiterrorism projects where LGBTQ campaigns have justified war and interventionist strategies in the Middle East (Puar 2007, 2010; Shakhsari 2012). Such unifications of homosexuality and US nationalisms have produced a Muslim and Arab “world” that is envisioned as explicitly homophobic (homosexual Muslims, for instance, become impossible). “The West,” delineated as a mythical space of identity where homosexual freedom is said to exist, is then juxtaposed to non-Western sites viewed as inherently homophobic (Beliso-De Jesus 2015a). Global interventionist policies, war, and apartheid states are similarly justified in the name of sexuality in what has more recently been called “pink washing” as in the case of the Israeli state’s justification of violence towards Palestinian and Arab subjects (Braine 2014; Franke 2012; Pierre 2015; Schulman 2012). A transnational analysis of gender and sexuality in the study of religion must do more than simply posit a global alliance of religiously gendered subjects. If a goal of feminist studies in religion is to make critical connections between the lives of marginalized people and power relations without reducing all experiences to a “common culture,” then it is important to not dismiss difference, ignore inequality, or only highlight commonality. First, we must recognize how the perception of religion as simply another identity emerges out of institutional regimes of global white supremacy. This confusing parallelism pits marginalized gendered subjects against racialized, ethnicized, and/or religious subjects, and is at the heart of liberal and neoliberal regimes of distinction and governance. Second, a transnational critical Black feminist analysis in the study of religion does not simply replicate comparativism, where one type of religious subject is juxtaposed with another. For example, comparativist feminist approaches must be careful to not replicate some of the criminalizing or patronizing presumptions that would seem to imply that Black, Asian, or Muslim religious subjects are in need of education from U.S. (White) Christian or Jewish feminisms. Third, while it is important to be attuned to various forms of marginalization, we must be cautious to not fall into the tropes of celebrationism that do not allow for new lines of emerging power to be examined (for instance, simply “excavating” African, Asian, indigenous, or pagan spiritualities as inherently gender neutral, sexually liberating, nonhierarchical, or pure sites from which decolonization can take place). This tendency leads to problematic forms of cultural appropriations that produce fictionalized mystic racialized Others. Within this, the imperial and neocolonial implications of our own work must be interrogated in relation to our subjects, even with decolonial impulses. Hailing marginality as identity is just not enough.11 Rather, as Black feminist and queer transnational approaches have argued, we must pay attention to the transnational networks of power and complicated histories of colonialism and empire, as well as assert a transformative thrust in critical activist-oriented paradigms. This means understanding how the academic identity crisis also reproduces these relationships of power. Taking up the call towards a decolonial analytic must therefore include an analysis of the academic politics of identity that also play a large role in the pervasiveness of white supremacy in all racializing logics. PATRIARCHY. WHITE SUPREMACY. IDENTITY. Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. “Peaches” and “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire” and “Earth Mother,” “Aunty,” “Granny,” God’s “Holy Fool,” a “Miss Ebony First,” or “Black Woman at the Podium”: I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented. —Hortense Spillers, Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe (1987) In Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe, Hortense Spillers situates Black female stereotypes as “a locus of confounded identities” central to the rhetorical wealth of American nationalisms. “My country needs me,” Spillers claims of Black female alterity. She discusses how Black female tropes such as “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire,” “Aunty,” or “Black Woman at the Podium” are the food and water that nurture American nationalisms, without which white supremacy and white privilege could not exist (Spillers 1987, 65).12 In its racial sensuality and assertion of spirit, Spillers’s critique shows how religious irrationality within American blackness is also central to the imputing of white rationality. In Spillers’s terms, identity should not be understood as a quest for self, but instead is a racialized and sexualized national ordering technology—a practice of racialized state governance. That is, American patriarchy is white supremacy, and these intertwined loci of power rest on identity-thinking. Rather than seeing these confounded identities as limited to the historical legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery, or as the sole property of U.S. descended Blacks, Spillers’s critique demands strategies that disrupt the ability for any identity to sit comfortably in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth that is white patriarchal supremacy. “I know that this American god ain’t my god,” Black historian of religion Anthea Butler says as she discusses how America’s White God is “sometimes… not for us” (Butler 2013). Butler considers the death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin who, while walking home with a hooded sweatshirt and a candy bar, was pursued and then killed by vigilante George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Adding to the long list of insult and injury where police (and racist vigilantes) unabashedly take Black lives without consequence, Zimmerman’s shameful acquittal was based on the racist argument that young, unarmed Trayvon was the real threat. Butler tells us that we must be careful with America’s racist White God, who once again showed its unjust face in injustice, a God that only includes Blacks as inferior citizens—as three-fifths of a person. She points to a revival of the religious right, which is entwined with the American justice system: “religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are ‘pro-life.’ They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right.” Womanist theologian Emily Townes describes the continued need for hope, community, and transformation amidst the onslaught of White hate intended to destroy the spirits and lives of Blacks and other marginalized groups in the United States (Townes 2015). Indeed, during this time of the so-called War on Terror in the aftermath of a Trump presidential election, we must pay special attention to the “deepening…militarization of American society [that has enabled] the national security state to build new constituencies and to penetrate disciplines and practices that were formerly off limits” (Gusterson 2010, 291). Heightened Islamophobia is being reproduced through imperialist crusade logics and toxic masculinities in the killing machines that are the US military and American police forces, which rely on essentialist racist notions of religion and ethnicity. The collusions of homonationalisms have been deployed in counter-terrorism projects where LGTBQ campaigns include the demonization of Black and Brown religious subjects perpetuating global anti-Blackness and Islamophobia (c.f. Rana 2016; Smith 2016b; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012, 2015). Such campaigns draw on an orientalized Muslim and Arab “world” produced as homophobic in order to further encroach upon hard won civil liberties in the name of white supremacy. In my own work on the policing of African diaspora religions, which examines how police in the United States are not properly trained to deal with race and religion, nuanced approaches to religion are direly needed. Amidst the increasing numbers of videos giving attention to the history of racialized state violence and Black death of cis and transgender men and women at the hands of police, I have documented the seemingly mundane violence against racialized religions. Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian practitioners of Santería and Vodou, deemed evil and criminal “devil worshippers” and targets of longstanding misunderstandings and demonizations of their practices, experience fear of police reprisals—raids of rituals, arrests for animal sacrifice, accusations of child endangerment, threats of eviction, and loss of resources due to their religious practices. As scholars have shown, we are in desperate need of complex and critical understandings of religion from global and transnational frameworks. We can see how powerful this is in the development of current social movements such as Black Lives Matter, which employ critical Black feminist, African diaspora religious inspiration, and queer transnational approaches, and call on academics and activists to not sit comfortably with violence, war, and death. They also show how religious practitioners and scholars of religion must grapple with the everyday politics of race, gender, sexuality, violence, and imperialism in times of current and historical white supremacy. As we have seen here, liberal Western governance has constructed religion in identity-terms, where Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and other religious identities are seen as seemingly static configurations tied to race and nation in simple renderings of language, territoriality, and ethnicity. In academia, professional identities revolve around disciplinarity where one’s training is collapsed into one’s identity: we are historians, psychologists, anthropologists, or humanists, for instance. In the study of religion, scholars have been concerned with how identity formations arise in the opposition between so-called religious theologians and the scholar/scientist of religion. As I have discussed, this concern reflects the longstanding friction between what has been seen as a “scholar-practitioner” divide, a binary identity-configuration that seemingly involves a liberal choice of identity. One is either a “scholar” or a “practitioner” of a particular religious community. I have argued here that the scholar-practitioner divide itself reproduces forms of white supremacy and patriarchy naturalized into these identity formations. This binary “choice” takes part in obscuring imperial logics of racialized humanism. Through American multicultural governance and the challenges of interdisciplinarity, religious studies has been confounded in its quest for identity. Identity-thinking obscures the racializing logics embedded in this particular form of liberal and neoliberal disciplining. Unlike the radical social movements that have served strategic purposes in disrupting Western regimes of knowledge and Euro-centrism by creating openings in university institutions since the 1980s, academic identity-thinking sequesters identity-based subjects into ghettoized enclaves of representation, and has become a neutralizing system used to manage difference. In this regard, transnational and Black feminist approaches to religion have been key in deconstructing new lines of power and pushing back on the simple celebrationism of identity in liberal multiculturalist technologies. When Black feminist law professor and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” it was to address the complex structure of overlapping forms of discrimination in law and highlight the various avenues of racial and gendered oppression and how they intersected, particularly for Black women (Crenshaw 1988, 1991). It is a way to put vulnerability into legal relief, and allow for a language where people can productively frame their problem. As Crenshaw explains, “Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” (Crenshaw 2015). Intersectionality shows how categories of identity have been used to manage and govern populations, within a language of sequester. Given that a language of sequester in US academic institutions is inherited from the histories of American slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, Black and transnational feminist approaches should not be seen as particularities, but rather as belonging to all American identity formations. It is therefore important that we not get caught up with divisive identifications that obscure these categories. As Latoya Peterson eloquently argues, “intersectionality is not a label” (Peterson 2015).13 It should not be “donned as a term of belonging [but rather as] a rally to action.” That is, while intersectionally is important to strategically deploy categories for coalition-building purposes, and to recognize histories of oppression, it is also just as important to not deploy these categories against each other in a multiculturalist platform. As a frame, intersectionality forces people to reveal their privilege, and has become a ubiquitous term in social justice calls. However, in its many articulations, Black women have seemed to be erased from intersectionality and other theories they have made available to use (see also “critical race theory,” also coined by Crenshaw).14 As Crenshaw argues, Black (cis and trans) women’s analytics are essential to the frame of intersectionality, and they should not be displaced from this useful paradigm. Whereas White hetero and cis gender men and women are centralized in everything, placing Black women in the frames as central and vulnerable to the stories we tell and how we understand the world radically shifts racist heteropatriarchy and white supremacist nationalisms. Indeed, critical scholars and activists should not reap the benefits of Black feminist theory without recognizing their debt to Black women. The divide and conquer mentality of identity-thinking was created to govern non-white populations.15 That is perhaps what is most confounding about identity-thinking: it tugs at the strings of what we think of ourselves to be. It seems to envelop who we are. An activist-oriented, transformative, and aspirational decolonial stance cannot be just a semantic exercise. Eddie Glaude addresses this when he discusses how “the use of gender-specific pronouns to draw attention to feminist concerns in philosophical writing” creates the impression that patriarchy or white supremacy have been seriously considered; however, this “is too often an illusion” (Glaude 2007, 2). Indeed such an illusion is at play in the scholar-practitioner divide. By positing the crisis of religious studies identity around the “secular scholar” or “pious practitioner” (Pritchard 2010), scholars obscure the powerful role these White heteromasculine identities continue to play in the study of religion. They hail naturalized categories of Protestant Christian secularisms in opposition to inverse Catholic believers. The critical distance of the secular scholar, one who is seen as always conflicted, remains an ontological other to their research subject. It does not call into question the racial, sexual, colonial, and imperial projects at stake in the divide between researcher and subject. What of Spillers’s point about the centrality of confounded identities (Black-female-queer otherness) to the redemptive abilities of White hetero cis-gender male scholar as identity? My insistence here is in situating Black-female-queer not just as identities that deserve a seat at the multiculturalist table, but instead as methodologies for linking societies structured in dominance to their universalizing fantasies of naturalized White liberal power. Black-female-queer thus form the obscured ground upon which the binary “choices” of White-scholar-practitioner takes place. Rationality could not exist without Black, queer, feminine irrationality. Thus Black-female-queer is a theoretical frame and critical opening for recognizing power in difference.16 As noted above, the study of religion historically emerged as a White male endeavor in the modern academic university as a choice between these two originary white supremacist patriarchal “fathers”: “scientific scholar” or “practitioner theologian.” My issue here is not with the undoubtedly useful projects that have emerged in Black womanist, Latinx mujerista, or queer theology, but instead, with the ways in which institutional conversations around identity choices differentiate academic research into either personal quests, marks of belonging, or anecdotes of inclusion. Religious studies scholars have been expected to choose between the seemingly neutral and universal categories of “scholar” or “practitioner.” However this choice is far from neutral and neither of these choices is without racialized, gendered, and sexualized histories. Through the presumed choice of identity, the hidden regime of the two whitened masculinities of “scholar” and “practitioner” is obscured. Religious studies scholars have tended to guard academic identities; theologians, anthropologists, historians and so on are pitted against each other in convoluted and often contradictory lexicons. This leads to Black, Latinx, or Asian scholars often being presumed to be religious, while White Christian or Jewish scholars are expected to declare their religious commitments in terms of ethnicized categories of identity. The putative identity choice of practitioner or scholar, naturalized as an expected outcome of liberal multicultural America’s inherent religiousness, thus ends in the claiming of identities. The illusion that gender and sexuality studies are parallel to African American (and other ethnic studies) projects has produced the “unfortunate effects” of liberal disciplining in institutional logics and scholarship (Somerville 2000, 4). For example, until very recently, there has been a relative absence of intersectional and critical race theory in studies of sexuality: whereas (White) queer and (White) feminist critiques are presumed to be universal, studies of race and ethnicity, or Black and Latinx feminist projects are seen as belonging to certain identities (Holland 2012; Weheliye 2014). What I am calling intra-disciplinarity recognizes these entangled histories and attempts at cleansing logics of race, sexuality, and academic imperialism as permeations of white supremacy. Karen Barad’s concept of intra-action is useful here to radically rework notions of causality in order to not see phenomena as predetermined by inherent boundaries (Barad 2007, 33). To model a frame of intra-disciplinarity means to shift understandings from competing designations of fields and disciplines (interdisciplinarity) towards understanding how modern liberal (and neoliberal) university apparatuses are entangled with racialized governance. Rather than presume a vanguardist stance in which the claiming of a particular identity somehow lends one the feeling of overcoming difference, we might see interdisciplinarity as “intra,” that is, as embedded in racialized and sexualized logics that need to feel (and pin down) an academic identity politics. These agencies (whether fields or disciplines) are thus not preceded by a true unitary self/other dynamic, but rather emerge through intra-actions with each other and other institutional regimes. Intra-disciplinarity highlights how different fields, disciplines, and programs are pitted against each other over resources in the governance of academic institutions. Rather than embrace this form of identitarian governance we might look to Black-feminist-queer-transnational analytic paradigms that have showed us strategies to resist this pigeonhole. This involves first, recognizing the debt to Black women, and second, highlighting their continuing struggles and vulnerabilities as central to our collective concerns of difference. Critical feminist and queer inquiry in the nebulous field of religious studies therefore has the potential to unpack the normatizing projects inherent in interdisciplinarity’s resolve to be seen as a multi-discipline self. It is at this juncture where a queer analytic with a transnational Black feminist gesture might provide a relational understanding of power that would push back on the pervasive white supremacist vanguardism of multidisciplinary identity politics. However, the longstanding concerns over identity in the study of religion and academia more broadly would need to be decentered to allow entry into ways that academic politics of identity (whether intentional or not) freeze up critical knowledge production, debate, and transformation. Rather than modeling itself after other university disciplines, which also hail academic identities as central to their political projects (i.e., anthropologists, sociologists, historians, etc.), religious studies might do better to eschew identity-thinking and embrace its entangled history that resists normatized identity. By recognizing the inherent intra-disciplinarity of academic identity then, scholars might address the entangled desires that arise with the expectation of professionalized identity. CONCLUSION Thinking through religion allows us to excavate the buried confounded identities—such as the welfare queen, illegal immigrant, Islamic terrorist—as troubling invented subjects that conflate and collapse race, ethnicity, and religion into tropes of identity. Thinking through the complexities and real experience of diverse religious and spiritual subjects allows us to “come clean,” as Spillers asks, with our own complicity in reinforcing these balkanizing regimes of identity. As scholars we are complicit with this regime of disciplinarity as we apply for funding, teach courses, and engage in research, academic job searches, recruitment, or the promotion of other colleagues. What alliances are we enabling and disabling by perpetuating identity-thinking? Even as identity was strategically useful in the 1980s US disputes over the need for minority representation in academia, we must nevertheless recognize the ways in which identity-thinking is cleansed of its political intervention and can also function as a form of liberal and neoliberal disciplining in permeations of white supremacy. In many religious studies conferences and classrooms, people continue to ask: what is the work and place of religious studies in the liberal academy and/or world, and how should religious studies understand itself in relation to other fields and disciplines? As I have shown, these questions often lead to a form of self-inquiry concerned with the identity of religious studies. Even the positioning of feminism in the study of religion and theology has been concerned with the identity of a feminist. Feelings of uncertainty within the field sometimes portray the study of religion’s interdisciplinarity as a fault, or communicate a sense that it is “in flux” or unable to locate an acceptable place in university institutions, or finds itself in competition with other, putatively more legitimate disciplines. I suggest that one of the most exciting sources of potential in topic-based fields such as the study of religion is its ambivalence to the traditional boundedness of academic disciplinarity and its thrust towards critical intervention and transformative movements. Here I offer “intra-disciplinary,” which begins with a topic or theme (such as religion) as the rubric of interest that allows for the potential blurring of disciplinary normativities and hails a decolonial thrust that draws from the intervention of Black-female-queer as disruptive framing tool rather than identity. The discomfort sensed about how to fit “religion” into the liberal secular academy signals an issue with categorization in modern universities rather than an issue with the identity of religious studies scholars. Nevertheless, as someone trained in the disciplinary paradigm of anthropology, I understand how interdisciplinarity itself is an assemblage of academic knowledge production that can sometimes reify the very disciplinary boundaries it purports to transcend. This meditation on the problem of identity-thinking in the study of religion during times of pervasive white supremacy suggests a move away from an acceptance of identity toward concerns over the naturalization of power and the politics of research where neither academic disciplines nor their identity politics are ever outside of technologies of power. For example, the cultural turn in the War on Terror found the recruitment of anthropologists as spies in the Intelligence Scholars and Human Terrain Programs, where the government desired a packaged and condensed militarized Islamic and Arab culture—in which religions are seen as static codes that need to be cracked by military intelligence—which were then used by interrogators in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to torture Arab detainees (Gusterson 2010, 289). Identity, Spillers argues, is an obscuring regime that performs a metaphysical operation of separation as a form of governance. Stemming from a complex history of politics that arose from slavery and Jim Crow segregation that couldn’t assimilate racialized minorities into the whiteness of the American dream, multiculturalism became a way to neutralize this reality into a system of governing racialized others while maintaining a whitened naturalized core. What identity through multiculturalism doesn’t allow us to see is how this unrecognized whiteness of American identity is at the heart of the linking of race and ethnicity to religion. Spillers describes this process as a loaded telegraphic coding. As both a perceptual and analytic shift, the confounding of identity Spillers suggests shows how the irrational is not just an Otherizing logic, but also a social location and phenomenology of activist orientation (see also Ahmed 2006). Rather than always spectacular, racism is also an everyday and ordinary occurrence. Some have even described the violence of white supremacy as “pedestrian” (Holland 2012). What this means is that one cannot only examine spectacular moments of racialization. Racialized and sexualized violence are central to identity-thinking within institutional apparatuses that in turn construct categorical differences or university departments that in their mundaneness belong to everyone. It is imperative to acknowledge that racializing humanist assemblages and Black feminist critiques is not just the historical legacy of African American or Ethnic Studies (Holland 2012; Weheliye 2014); they are embedded in the way academic institutions (and scholars) think identity. For feminist scholars who study religion, the recognition that white supremacy permeates identity-thinking repositions identity as a concealed logic that would keep race, gender, sexuality, and religion in separate academic “ghettos.” We cannot wait for racial justice. As Crenshaw warns us, words alone won’t change disparities or how people struggle, and theories “alone cannot bring invisible bodies into view” (Crenshaw 2015). As more of us enter into academia, and the regime of diversity would have us separate ourselves into identity-based categories, we must resist being flattened. More important is to continue the struggle that highlights new and old vulnerabilities, while using all tools available to dismantle violence and oppression. We cannot sleep comfortably with identity when we have pervasive anti-Black, trans, and homophobic global violence, systematic killings of Black and Brown people at the hands of police, the increasing threat of nuclear war and ecological devastation, Native protestors killed to protect sacred water rights, the deportation and incarceration of undocumented people, violence against Muslim women and religious centers, and the continued marginalization and deradicalization of the professoriate that leaves faculty and students of color vulnerable, while violent White nationalists are setting the American agenda based on their misrecognized identity politics.17 We must continue to build social movements and coalitions for action that are intersectional, transnational, and with solidarity and also recognize the new lines of power that emerge that undermine everyone’s lives. The stakes are too high to not take a stand. 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Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation and Transformation . New York : Orbis Books . Weheliye , Alexander G . 2014 . Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human . Durham, NC : Duke University Press . Winant , Howard . 2009 . The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II . New York : Basic Books . Wolf , Byron . 2017 . “ Charlottesville White Nationalist March Has David Duke Gushing .” CNN , August 15. Available at http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/15/politics/donald-trump-david-duke-charlottesville/index.html. Accessed September 5, 2017 . Wynter , Sylvia . 1994 . “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues .” National Humanities Institute Forum 1 ( 1 ): 42 – 71 . ——. 2003 . “ Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, its Overrepresentation—An Argument .” CR: The New Centennial Review 3 ( 3 ): 257 – 337 . CrossRef Search ADS Yanagisako , Sylvia , and Carol L. Delaney . 1995 . Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis . New York : Routledge . Footnotes 1 See the November 9, 2016 statement from the Crunk Feminist Collective website, which points out how 94% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton whereas 53% of White women voted for Donald Trump. They explicitly tell progressive Whites to “get your people” arguing that White feminists need to do the work educating other White people, particularly other White women (Crunk Feminist Collective 2016). 2 Various articles make the argument that Trump won based off of economic fear and the threat of terrorism. See, for example, Lee et al. 2016; Ball 2016; and Battle 2016. 3 For instance, it is easy to get worked up over Donald Trump’s retweet depicting him hitting a golf club into the back of Hillary Clinton’s head. Meanwhile, these public carnivals hide the frightening, day-to-day violence that the administration is launching on people of color, such as Jeff Sessions’ use of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to sue colleges on behalf of White applicants who they claim are being discriminated against by Affirmative Action policies. Also, see Savage 2017, which details Sessions’ attack of Affirmative Action in universities. 4 This is inspired by and owes Keisha-Khan Perry’s transformative paper during the 2016 American Anthropological Association annual meetings where she argued for an “abolitionist analytic” to ethnography as colonialist enterprise. 5 I follow Ifeoma Nwankwo’s expansive use of “Black” which she exercises in various ways to discuss different Black experiences across the Americas (Nwankwo 2006, 581). She uses “U.S. descended Black” instead of “African American” to describe those who “are born, raised, and have multigenerational roots in the U.S” (Nwankwo 2005, 211). This more general index of “Black” allows for other “Black Americas,” and does not homogenize US Black experiences. It also engages the interwoven histories of Black people from the United States, West Indies, Spanish and French speaking Caribbean, Latin America, Latinx, and other iterations of Blackness (Nwankwo 2005, 17; 2006, 597). 6 Throughout this article I use the term “religious studies” to refer to the type of thinking that reifies a false divide between theology and the study of religion. It is not meant to homogenize the wide array of approaches to religion, but rather to point out how much of the transformative work being done in womanist theology, queer ethics, and other blurring projects is often elided by distinguishing religious studies from theology. 7 For example, in her essay, “Seriously, What Does ‘Taking Religion Seriously’ Mean?” Elizabeth Pritchard critiques what she sees as two insidious veins of academic difference: (a) a redeployment of secular liberalism; and (b) the creation of exceptional scholars who purport a deep connection or intimacy with their research. Pritchard’s concern ultimately lies with the proper secular character of the academic study of religion where she advocates for the revivification of the “secular intellectual” (Pritchard 2010, 1089). Although Pritchard claims that she is not trying to “erect an impenetrable barrier between religious practitioners and their scholars or revalorize the ‘secular,’” she inadvertently does just that (Pritchard 2010, 1107). 8 Fiona Bowie takes issue with how feminist studies have been sequestered in religious studies and theological education through what she describes as a “ghettoizing” of feminist approaches instead of an integration of them into the rest of the theology curriculum (Bowie 1998, 46). 9 Drawing on Black intersectional feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins, for example, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (1993) developed the term “kyriarchy” to replace the category of patriarchy to link multiple forms of women’s global oppression signified by the rule of the “emperor/master/lord/father/husband,” which she sees as characteristic of ancient Greece and imperial Roman (Western) social structures. 10 Darlene Juschka (2013, 210–12) suggests that the “identity crisis” of religious studies has made it cloister “itself from other university disciplines.” By obfuscating its own identity by means of an identification with the “nonidentity” understood to be science, history, and so on, religious studies has severed its potential political alliances with ethnic studies, and women, gender, and sexuality studies. 11 Catherine Keller (2004) describes the hardness that occurs in the need for feminist theology to be “cutting edge.” She pushes back from edges to think about the “folding” of God’s language in feminist writing. 12 Critical whiteness studies have taken up the task of exposing how whiteness is revealed as the invisible norm for human beings, producing a myriad of privileges for those in proximity to whiteness and the powers afforded to white skin (Cusick 1997, 8; Hartigan 1997, 496). My use of whiteness and white privilege sees race as a primary feature of US national belonging and nationalism since the nation’s founding (Croegaert 2015, 68; Harrison 1995, 52). In this, markers of racial difference are not limited to the epidermal; rather a universalizing of whiteness goes hand in hand with the operations of white privilege and its perceived lamenting decline (Driscoll 2015, 44). Here I understand whiteness as the familiarity with which white privilege operates as a political choice, social location, and ontological formation. Whiteness is inherent to white racial supremacy, a process that makes non-white Others into “people of color.” James Perkinson has rightly described whiteness as a historical “ticket to admission into the fiction of white superiority” (Perkinson 2005, 2). 13 Latoya Peterson is the editor of Racialicious.com and Fusion. 14 Some have tried to create a division between “intersectional feminists” and “transnational feminists,” with the latter being seen as less beholden to identity politics. However, these articulations continue to be wedded to identity-thinking, which as I argue here is a discourse of self-recognition tied to liberal and neoliberal multiculturalist governance. Furthermore, this inaccurate divide dismisses the contributions of Black women to transnational struggles and politics and does not recognize the long history of coalition-building and solidarity movements. I follow those who see transnational feminist analysis as intersectional and Black feminist analytics as transnational (Hill Collins 1998, 2000, 2003; Smith 2016a, 2016b; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012, 2015). This includes theories of queer assemblage (Allen and Jobson 2016; Beliso-De Jesus 2015a, 2015b; Nyong’o 2007; Puar 2012). 15 Jemima Pierre (2012, 6) clarifies this issue in Africa critiquing how scholars have focused too heavily on ethnic identifications without understanding how broader racial processes, specifically how relations of global white supremacy, create the conditions for identity-based thinking. 16 I follow queer theorists who resist limiting “queerness” to normative homosexual identities or same-sex erotic practices, but instead examine other forms of racialized, disabled, illiberal, animate, and toxic queerness that take part in creating strange ontological sexualities in relation to normative formations (Chen 2012; Povinelli 2006; Puar 2007). 17 See the Byron Wolf (2017) article where David Duke gushes over Trump’s description of violent white nationalists, KKK, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, SC as “fine people.” Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion 2018. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the American Academy of Religion Oxford University Press

Confounded Identities: A Meditation on Race, Feminism, and Religious Studies in Times of White Supremacy

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Oxford University Press
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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion 2018.
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0002-7189
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1477-4585
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Abstract

Abstract This article addresses the pervasiveness of white supremacy in American identity-thinking. Challenging the use of identity to structure unity platforms in academia, I advocate for Black-transnational feminist-queer strategies that demand coalition-based politics oriented around a transformative radical potential. Religious studies is used as an interdisciplinary case study to understand the problem of academic identity-thinking, where I show first, how white privilege is maintained in the “scholar-practitioner” divide, and second, how white supremacy is naturalized in identity-thinking. Eschewing relative or comparative approaches that reify identity-based logics, I move towards analytic and technical approaches that are productive of an activist-oriented decolonial stance. This gesture draws on the relationality, conflict, tension, power, and politics of studying racialized religious and spiritual subjects with an unapologetically transformative agenda. THE 2016 ELECTION of Donald Trump to the US presidency brings into relief how critical it is for scholars to teach the ways identity is used as a platform of governance in the maintenance of white supremacy. Since the election, a number of White liberal “American” students and colleagues have approached me with concerns about how this election has revealed to them that their idea of racial and gendered progress made since the Civil Rights era has been destroyed or undermined. They did not realize that racism and patriarchy were still so powerful. There was a sense from many that white patriarchal supremacy had somehow returned with the 2016 election season (as if it had gone somewhere). On the other hand, activists and scholars of color have felt a profound sense of frustration, even irritation, at how white privilege has allowed for even some of the most critical White scholars to suddenly discover that the United States is indeed a racist, sexist, and patriarchal country with pervasive white supremacy. Black feminists in particular have pointed out how White women voters have always elected the US president, and historically, White women have also always voted primarily Republican.1 One week after the November 2016 election, at the large annual anthropology meetings, the conference keynote speaker, Black feminist scholar and former television news show host Melissa Harris-Perry, proclaimed that racism and “pussy grabbing” had never been a disqualifier for the American presidency. In fact, she argued that for the majority of US history, it had been a requirement. (Her recalling of white supremacy and misogyny came after many liberal academics and political pundits were shocked that Donald Trump was elected even after recorded statements aired on news media that he admitted to habitually grabbing women by “the pussy” without their consent; and then the continued shock when White women elected him after numerous accusations that he had sexually assaulted them.) As Harris-Perry noted, “pussy grabbers”—that is, White cis-gender hetero-men sanctioned and celebrated for their assaults on women—founded this country: except the acceptable pussy usually belonged to Black and Brown women. Indeed, Harris-Perry asserted that White women have always supported White male pussy grabbers, even despite their own interests. And this election was telling not because it was distinct from American historical politics, but rather because of its consistency with a history of white supremacist patriarchy. Nevertheless, a popular media argument remains that, besides the widespread idea that Hilary Clinton was just a “really bad” candidate, it was Trump’s “America-In-Decline” rhetoric that won him the election (see Chira 2016; Jones 2016; Khanom 2016; Friedman-Rudovsky 2016; Featherstone 2016). That the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments that most resonated with the (White people in the) country was not about racism, but rather that good people were simply afraid for their existence.2 From television news to White academics, this argument reasoned that Trump voters (which make up the majority of all White people in the United States) are not all racists, but rather just disgruntled employees who have been turned off by the “political correctness” that had taken over the government (Strassmann 2016; Desmond-Harris 2016). Much of this argument is owed to a longstanding idea that a disgruntled (White) “working class” has been “left behind.” The very myth of a “virtuous” White working class failed by a liberal “identity politics” goes back to the fear of white slavery, which as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, only makes sense when it assumes that slavery belongs to Black people, and that White people should not be treated like Blacks (Coates 2017). This rhetoric is itself part of a White identity politics beholden to white supremacy. Indeed, as Coates’ highlights, Trump’s presidency could not have been possible without first a Black president. We see this in the Trump Administration’s singular goal to eradicate the fact of an Obama presidency as Coates states: “An entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white” (Coates 2017). The myth that Coates identifies is that all politics—except White politics—is seen as identity politics. And as David Duke, the rest of the KKK, other White nationalist groups, and conservative Republicans celebrate the victory of their candidate to office with an ever-increasing series of troubling policy against people of color at all levels of assault, the lines of academic and political activism come into stark relief.3 In these disconcerting times, we must resist and disrupt the use of identity as a form of governance. For those of us who have previously been working on issues of racism and power, we are now bombarded with questions about how to teach in the current situation. During a panel at the same large anthropology conference one week post-election where I had co-organized a session on white supremacy, most questions revolved around the Trump election rather than the material discussed in the papers. Papers that raised issues around current and historical problems of racism—global anti-Blackness, gendered and sexualized trauma, police violence, and Islamophobia—were met by the seventy or so mostly White audience members with questions asking the panel of scholars of color to help them understand how we should teach racism post-Trump. Some of the answers to these questions pointed out the long history of work that has already been done on racism, sexism, and homophobia, and cautioned scholars not to presume that, because they had suddenly discovered these concerns, they needed to reinvent the wheel. During the discussion about Harris-Perry’s argument that White women were mainly to blame for Trump’s election, a White cis-gender female scholar who had attended the talk told me that my description of Harris-Perry’s argument was “more nuanced and sophisticated” than hers. It was difficult for this White woman to see how the language of “nuance” and “sophistication” itself was yet another racist aggression against Black women as not being educated or eloquent enough. Indeed, as someone who teaches on race, gender, and sexuality in religious studies from a critical feminist approach, it is important to reflect on the lack of newness in the xenophobia, racism, and nativism that some people are only recently experiencing first-hand through this election cycle. We must remember the teachings of activist-oriented Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches that provide us with strategies towards critical, abolitionist, and transformative decolonial projects (Alexander 2005; Allen and Jobson 2016; Harrison 1997; Smith 2016a; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012).4 While in the process of reworking this essay on the problems of identity-thinking since the election, I realized that much of what I was experiencing pertained to concerns over the pervasiveness of white supremacy in American identity-thinking. This article thus calls for a recognition that the problem of American identity-thinking and racist patriarchy are tied to the project of white supremacy. White supremacy, as I understand and teach it, is part of the enduring cultural, political, and economic (global) structures of white domination that permeate contemporary politics and publics (Mills 2003, 37). This recognition rests on Black feminist assertions that white supremacy persists and permeates, and that a truly comprehensive understanding of racist patriarchy must be understood as part of the longer, broader formations of white domination in the United States and globally (Ansley 1989, 1024n; Crenshaw 1988, 1336; hooks 1981; Lorde 1984; Mills 2003, 37; Pierre 2012, 6, 31). Thus teaching during a post-Trump election requires an analysis of the broad racialized structurations of identity as politics that plays a role in why people feel this election is so different in the first place. I suggest we begin with an analysis of the problem of American identity-thinking as racialized multicultural governance. I argue here for a renewed commitment towards Black feminist, queer, and transnational approaches that have shown how we cannot stop at critical analysis but must also strive towards an activist-oriented scholarship that produces decolonial transformation. As pioneering Black feminist anthropologist Faye Harrison challenges us, we must confront, “both in intellectual and sociopolitical terms, racism, specifically white supremacy, as a major ideological and institutionalized force in today’s world” (Harrison 1997, 3). Indeed, Harrison argues that critical scholars’ attempts to redress ethnocentrism and sexism have tended to peripheralize Black feminist theory. She calls for a decolonial approach that addresses the nuanced histories of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism that pervade academic and political work at all levels of knowledge production, and continue to strive for an interventionist approach to global white patriarchal supremacy. Indeed, queer Black feminist activist-scholar Cathy Cohen also provides astute observations from trying times in the late 1990s, when she made clear that a “truly radical or transformative politics” had not resulted from queer activism. Cohen shows how some queer politics in fact perpetuate racism and assimilation into dominant structures, and serve to reinforce identitarian dichotomies. It is particularly important in these times to pay attention to Cohen’s challenge to constantly envision transformative coalition-based politics oriented around a truly radical potential rather than some “homogenized identity” (Cohen 1997, 438). Here, I take up these teachings in the rubric of the study of religion. I argue that feelings of uncertainty by many scholars continue to rely on the white privilege that Black feminist scholars have been working to dismantle for decades.5 Given this sense of uncertainty—a feeling of being in a moment of crisis and rupture in (predominantly White) US political liberal circles, I advocate for a serious revisiting of transnational Black feminist and queer activist-oriented maneuvering as a way through the confines of identity-thinking (Cohen 1997; Crenshaw 1991, 2015; Harrison 1994, 1997; Hill Collins 1998, 2000, 2003; hooks 1981; Lorde 1984; Spillers 1987; Wynter 1994, 2003). It is with this move, a posture of transformation rather than a rehashing of critical debates, that I suggest that the question of human rights is far from reconciled. By examining religious studies as a case study to understand the problem of academic identity-thinking, I show first how a naturalizing of white privilege as identity occurs in even the most seemingly benign discussions. I use the “scholar-practitioner” divide as an example of how the religious studies scholarly identity serves to maintain and naturalize white privilege in the study of religion. Second, drawing on transnational, Black feminist, and queer of color theories, I show that feminist studies in religion must push against the quest for identity. I call for methodological strategies that eschew relative or comparative approaches that reify seemingly benign logics of identity, instead moving toward analytic and technical approaches that challenge us towards an activist-oriented decolonial stance. This stance draws on the relationality, conflict, tension, power, and politics of studying racialized religious and spiritual subjects with an unapologetically transformative agenda. Finally, I ask why it has become a problem for some critical scholars to claim a transformative politics beyond rhetorical strategies. By applying Hortense Spillers’s (1987) critique of the ways in which confounded identities are central to American nationalisms, I centralize racializing and sexualizing projects in academia, which play out in particular ways in the study of religion. Through adherence to liberal multiculturalisms, I suggest that identity is an obscuring regime that performs a metaphysical operation or, as Spillers describes it, a loaded telegraphic coding. Following her urge for an excavation of the buried confounded identities that do not allow scholars to “come clean” with their complicity, I suggest a transnational and relational shift that disrupts queer choices of identity. This gesture may not seem new to those already familiar with strategies deployed by Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches. To be clear, my urge to examine identity-thinking is not an apolitical, noncritical, poststructuralist move to undermine the work of marginalized people to fight for social justice, equal rights, or civil liberties through the strategic deployment of the regime of identities within American multiculturalism. Rather I critique the co-opting and depoliticizing of these modus operandi, which increasingly flatten and universalize identity in a representational myth that maintains white privilege and white supremacy. This depoliticizing of identity-thinking as liberal choice has co-opted Black, queer, and transnational feminist approaches into categories of representation rather than recognizing them as central challenges to white supremacy. What does this have to do with studying religion? The study and theology of religion is a useful site to disrupt broader trends of understanding and constructing humanity. Scholars of religion have critiqued the formations of the secular as an operational fantasy that emerged from normative Christianized renderings of religion. They have shown how racialized identity-thinking is implicit within this Christianized secularism, and that the perceived liberal “choice” deceptively purges racial or gendered specificity (Asad et al. 2013). Taking ethical questions of scholarly research in the study of religion seriously means actively interrogating the quest to reify liberal secularisms (Pritchard 2010). However, in this the researcher must be left open to the transformative elements that occur in the process of doing research. For instance, historian of religion Albert Raboteau (2004) has discussed the “spiritual agency” in writing about slavery and domination that is itself a transformative process for the historian. Similarly, feminist anthropologist of Islam Saba Mahmood (2005) discusses processes of forming, or the ways in which we are shaped and structured by discourse, oftentimes beyond ego-centered understandings of agency. In my own work on Afro-Cuban ritual practice I discuss how a “spiritual habitus” emerges through embodied practices that make people of different races and ethnicities transform into African diaspora bodies. As these examples demonstrate, issues of representation and agency are central to the ethics of research and writing about religion and spirituality in contemporary global politics. My argument follows Harrison’s decolonial urge with Cohen’s aspiration for queer politics: how we might continue to strive for a disruptive agenda beyond critique that hones the teachings of activist-oriented transformational strategies in these times—times that have never been without racialized state violence and terror. LIBERAL EDUCATION IN (WHITE) RELIGIOUS AMERICA As feminist scholars have argued, we must be critical of the historical tendency that emerged from Westernized forms of differentiation to conjoin and consolidate colonial otherness into various identity formations (Abu-Lughod 2002; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Spivak 1988, 2000a). Yet identity-thinking is also present in other forms of difference (Cutler 2003; Winant 2009). For example, the study of religion in academia has always operated between two confounded identities: are those who study religion “scholars” or “practitioners”? Darlene Juschka has argued that in the attempts of the field of religious studies to fabricate a more humanistic sense of self away from theology, religious studies has created an “identity crisis that is indicative of a pathology” (Juschka 2013, 212). Religious studies emerged as a field in the modern research university in the 1960s out of theology departments, which were seen as having a confessional framework. A familiar “creation myth” propagated in religious studies places the origin story of religious studies in the 1963 Supreme Court decision Abington Township v. Schempp, which allowed for academic teaching about religion, but not academic teaching of religion. In this creation myth, “The Supreme Court, like the God of Genesis, came down and created by separation, Earth from sky, land from water; the teaching of religion from teaching about religion” (Imhoff 2015, 2). To be seen as fundamentally different from church-based inquiries about religion (theology), religious studies thus hailed a detached, objective, and pluralistically orientated academic stance, eschewing truth-claims and purportedly not favoring any particular religious community. The goal of liberal education was to produce “new humanists,” cosmopolitan subjects who were freed from ignorance through academic civilizing projects. After World War II, American higher education saw direct links between biblical religion (and education) and the pursuit of liberal democracy (Hart 1999, 106). As a product of the political and intellectual foment of the Cold War and its ideology that American nationalism is inherently about religious identity, religious studies became an intellectually burgeoning field (Imhoff 2015). Indeed, an academic politics of identity is also explicitly related to the three decades after World War II, known in neo-Marxist terms as “late capitalism,” or in Derridean terms as “neo-capitalism,” during which Western industrial prosperity and global development produced a series of transnational connectivities reflected in the consciousness of modern universities. Critiques of Western imperialism and global decolonization efforts in the United States led to strong antiessentialist pushes that deflated the humanistic subject of its universalizing aspirations. Radical student movements and a critical professoriate launched assaults on liberal education, arguing that European and Western literature silenced the voices of those historically subject to the violence of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism. By the mid-1960s, religious studies had secured its precarious position in the modern university by appealing to a discourse of Western liberal education (Hart 1999, 203). Teaching religion was considered key to good governance where economic upheaval and war had demonstrated the limitations of science (Hart 1999, 12–13). Enrollment and student interest in studying religion in American universities increased across the board in the 1960s. A “ubiquitous rhetoric” emerged that described “American identity as religious, sometimes branded ‘Judeo-Christian’ or ‘Hebrew-Christian,’ as opposed to communist” which formed part of the growing student interest in religious studies and “became part of the rationale behind a war and the draft” (Imhoff 2015, 16). In opposition to communism, religion became intimately linked to American nationalism and Western culture. “The Judeo-Christian tradition, a phrase used with increasing regularity,” Hart notes, was seen as essential “for producing civilized graduates” (Hart 1999, 12–13). On the other hand, outside of the academic governance of religious studies, particularly within political movements, there has been a significant relationship between constructivist social protest and theological writing. Indeed, most twentieth-century public intellectuals have been theologians or religious leaders (Imhoff 2015, 19). In turn, religion has historically been integral to liberal and radical forms of American social transformation. For example, theologians, pastors, and religious leaders have been key to civil rights and other Black social protest movements from Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X to contemporary leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, and even President Barack Obama. As Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1993, 121) shows, Black women Baptists in the early twentieth century used theology to confront American racism and white supremacist patriarchy. However, the sense of a general upheaval in disciplinarity in the post-WWII era was not limited to religious studies. The 1970s and 80s saw a corrective to then-current knowledge production in the humanities and social sciences through a democratization of universities that were forced to include African American, Latino/a, Asian American, Native American Studies, and Women’s Studies as new fields and academic programs. Student uprisings, social protests, radical activist politics against war, and the civil rights movement coalesced in colleges and universities across the country, demanding dramatic change. This agitation resulted in some limited recognition of the histories of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy that had been ignored by white supremacist renditions of history and Western civilization. Since the 1980s, that which later was described by critics as identity politics forced modern universities to respond (however incompletely) to the exclusionist, elitist, racist, and sexist institutional foundations of liberal education. Diversity became the newfound rhetoric of American multicultural liberal education. Oftentimes, concessions made by university administrations were deployed through a politics of identity appeasement: providing identity groups with a particularized representational location within a multiculturalist university arena that did little to change the structural frameworks of racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, class difference, and Western centrism. It also neutralized more radical social movements towards less threatening identity-oriented multiculturalist platforms. These mostly underfunded identity-based academic locations in the humanities—such as African American studies, Chicano/Latino studies, Asian American studies, women’s studies, and religious studies—have thus provided safety valves, diffusing radical politics while also creating potential sites for disrupting disciplinarity. But this radical disruption was not “identity politics” as its critics dismissively claim; rather they were and continue to be solidarity movements that are based in struggle. They continue to fight for and demand real change and transformation. It is important to not conflate the rhetoric and label of “identity politics” with the social activism and mobilizations that have forced change. In the logic of cultural relativism that emerged in the humanities and social sciences at the time, just as all peoples had a race, ethnicity, or gender that could be studied and situated culturally, it was assumed that everyone also had a religious background, whether they believed in or subscribed to a particular religious practice or not. American liberal notions of “religion” have thus been recognized as central to understanding contemporary issues and politics, but also identity. Identity was thus used to depoliticize radical social movements. It is a platform of governing difference in multicultural America—a governance that is based on the normatizing of whiteness. It has made ethnic identifications based in histories of oppression and imperial and colonial interventions to become flag-bearing nationalisms where American identity is defined by claiming alterity. This has produced the confusing logic through which Americans consistently ask people born in this country “where they are from” or “what is their nationality” because American identity is assumed to be White. This is further obscured when discussing racialized and gendered religious subjects. Religious studies’ Americaness and whiteness thus provide the foil for religion to become akin to ethnicity and gender. Scholars have noted religious studies’ relative lack of engagement with postcolonial thought, transnational and Black feminist approaches, and queer theory, even in the subfield of “religion and gender” (King 1995, 2004).6 Sîan Hawthorne describes the neglect of postcolonial theory by scholars of religion and gender as a perhaps “unwitting, dissemination of ‘imperialist ideologies” (Hawthorne 2013, 170), while Claudia Schippert (2011) shows how the role of religion in neoliberal gay configurations, such as homonormativities and homonationalisms, have yet to be fully explored in religious studies. Both authors point to shifts in conceptualizing “identity” as key to understanding the relationship between postcolonial studies and queer and feminist theory. As I explore next, the idea that “religion” has been constructed as an identity term further complicates the colonial and imperial implications of knowledge production in religious studies (Hawthorne 2013, 176). Indeed issues historically embedded in the study of religion often conjoin and consolidate notions of identity and the history of identity as governance (Schippert 2011, 77). In the case of the scholar-practitioner divide in religious studies, agents of white patriarchal supremacy have never been far removed from, nor have they ever disappeared from American identity-thinking. AGENTS OF WHITENESS: DISCIPLINARY IDENTITIES There is a long-standing debate in the study of religion concerning its identity (Imhoff 2015). Those involved in the nebulous field of religious studies have disputed whether they should be “theologians,” “scientists,” “humanists,” or some other unifying identity. Loren Lybarger (2016) recently cast this in terms of the longstanding “scholar-practitioner” binary, arguing that it needs to be overcome. Lybarger points to anthropologist Joel Robbins’s (2006) assessments of the distinction between theology and anthropology as having an “awkward relationship,” saying this is helpful in understanding the scholar-practitioner dichotomy in the study of religion. Lybarger and Robbins see this as a divide concerning alterity. On the one hand, anthropologists are seen to document and prove differences between peoples, but they are not to make claims as to how these “discoveries” could transform their readers’ lives; whereas theologians are seen as committed to using their scholarly “discoveries” to enable transformation for their audience (Lybarger 2016, 129). They claim that anthropology purportedly “abandoned its core concern with alterity in the 1980s, when ‘the fantasy that somewhere there really was a life worth living came to seem naïve’. . . . Theologians, by contrast, have retained their commitment to ‘the reality and force of otherness.’ This fact mocks anthropology, which no longer shows the world how to ‘find real hope for change in the world’ without having to have recourse to faith in god’” (Lybarger 2016, 130). In this binary, “scholars” (anthropologists, sociologists, historians, or those who only study religion) are beholden to liberal secularist quests for truth, but not to hope for critical transformation. They begin with the premise that supernatural powers do not really exist. While “practitioners” (theologians and other purported believers) use similar tools to scholars, they are tied down by their adherence and commitment to “the sacred”—a sacred that demands its teachings be spread (proselytized) to others and involves a transcendental transformation. The “scholar-practitioner” dichotomy, a simplified and static binary, is still a huge issue of contention for those who believe in the need for an identity choice between the two. Ultimately, however, this dichotomy replays White Christian identities—and a White Christian secularism—naturalized as universal. Amy Hollywood points out this double standard when she notes how “the secular” is often constructed as identifiably Christian: “In one version of this argument, the secular looks a lot like liberal Protestant Christianity—sometimes shorn of its explicitly Christian trappings, sometimes not. Irrational, authoritarian, bad Christianity is then identified with Roman Catholicism and, often, the radical reformation” (Hollywood 2016, 12). Not only is critique often a secularized liberal Protestantism, but the idealized “scholar” is also a Protestant stripped of her religiousness (Orsi 2005). The practitioner—the scholar’s rhetorical Other—is thus Catholicized; a seemingly irrational authoritarian trying to affect people with his religion: Yet regardless of the distinctions made—between rationality and fanaticism, paganism and true religion, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism—a paradox remains at the center of some of the most influential modern accounts of the dissolution of religion . . . somehow the irrational begets the rational. To go back to those who assume that critique is secular, arguments for this thesis rest in some way on the claim that religion (or at least Christianity) gives rise to—even fuels—that which stands in opposition to it. (Hollywood 2016, 12, emphasis added) Those who presume critique as secular therefore claim that religion (Christianity) gives rise to that which stands in opposition to it. This operational fantasy of “the secular” as fueled by and emerging from “religion” also creates dialectical tensions between two heteropatriarchal White father figures: “practitioner” and “scholar.” Racialized identity-thinking is implicitly tied to the perceived liberal “choice” between either of these two subject positions (Asad et al. 2013), which are both whitened affective categories that are deceptively seen as purged of their racial and gendered specificity. Taking these ethical questions of research seriously in the study of religion is not always about a quest to reify liberal secularisms.7 It is something that critical theorists of color have been grappling with for decades (Harrison 1997; Raboteau 2004; Spivak 1988). More recently, Talal Asad (2003), Saba Mahmood (2005), and Eddie Glaude (2007), to name a few, take up similar concerns around agency and representation. They suggest that the researcher must be left open for the transformative elements that occur in the process of doing research. Indeed, Raboteau’s notion of “spiritual agency” as transformative for the historian who writes about slave religion is about both writing and disrupting power and domination. Feminists in the study of religion have long relied on practices of subversion as part of their critical politics (Bowie 1998, 46).8 Some have suggested that because religious studies have been feminized in relation to Western modernist discourses, a masculine insecurity has arisen in the field (Schüssler Fiorenza 1999, 98).9 Others have suggested that religious studies should stop trying to differentiate itself from theology and instead focus on constructing an identity more in line with disciplines that attune themselves to broader global and transnational issues that affect the world (Juschka 2013, 215–16). Indeed, many of the concerns over the placement of religious studies in relation to other university fields and disciplines, or feminist studies in religious studies, is about an academic politics of identity.10 As Juschka notes, in its attempt to invent itself as a normative science, religious studies has claimed the identity of the nonsubject of science: “Western, heterosexual, white, male, and middle or upper class” (Juschka 2013, 214). However, we cannot simply situate concerns of identity in the semantics of analytic critique. It is here where I argue that transnational and Black feminist theory and queer theory matter for the study of religion: they challenge normative assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, and culture fixed in identity-thinking and move us beyond critique, to a place of activated disruption, or as Harrison suggests, a decolonial stance. For the study of religion, this decolonial approach is particularly important, as it provides both a mode through which to disrupt the problem of identity-thinking and also a pragmatic enterprise of disruptive transformation. It challenges us to do something. Indeed, transnational feminist approaches argue for a nonessentialist scholarship that pushes back on collapsing into identity (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Clarke and Thomas 2006; Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 2001; Mohanty, Russo, and Torres 1991; Shohat 2002). Instead they ask scholars to trace how different forms of race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, and hierarchies of difference are policed and normatized transnationally. Tina Campt and Deborah Thomas (2008), for instance, suggest we must pay attention to difference, asymmetries, and the limits of unity in order to recognize hegemonies across and within diasporic and transnational spaces. It is important to point out, however, that much feminist, postcolonial, and critical race scholarship are seen as secularist projects. Juliane Hammer points to the issues she deals with working on domestic violence and Islam from a feminist approach, where she has encountered racist and insulting questions from White feminist scholars that mirror mainstream media’s biased stereotypes (Hammer 2016, 99). She often fields assumptions about her person as a researcher, where she is presumed or asked if she is a practitioner. And she describes how (White) feminists deploy “patronizing frameworks in which Muslim women (feminist or otherwise) are [seen as] decades behind in their reform work and need to learn from the secular feminist movement as well as Christian and Jewish feminists” (Hammer 2016, 104). In the case of my own work, I am constantly expected to situate my religious belief and proximity to the people, communities, rituals, or spiritual practices I study, and often because of my racialized, sexualized, and gendered body, also expected to provide liberal white secularism with its token representative and insider informant (Beliso-De Jesús 2015b). There is an insistence that I simultaneously perform the whitened category of hetero-masculine scholar even as my presence is given as an example that the irrational (female) practitioner of color has a seat at the multiculturalist table. Still within the production of academic knowledge, whether one can (re)present another (Spivak 1988, 2000b), how one should situate their location as a feminist ethnographer (Babcock 1995; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Yanagisako and Delaney 1995), and how we write and think about questions of agency (Mahmood 2005; Mankekar 1999) are all loci of knowledge that must be taken into consideration if one is to do ethical critical research with religious subjects, regardless of subject positions or subjectivities. Feminist postcolonial theologian Susan Abraham identifies such potential risks and benefits of feminist essentialisms when she shows that they can be used to form new hegemonies and ideological controls of women of color in the name of halting “masculine superiority” (Abraham 2009, 156). Even the description of certain practices as “feminist” creates a problematic within critical social theory (Beliso-De Jesus 2015a). A semantic quest of finding “resisters” for resistance’ sake without doing transformative and self-critical analysis becomes a serious issue (Abu Lughod 2002. This type of scholarship has tended to seek out women’s agency and construct a singular feminist humanism modeled after White cis-gender women. It reproduces static formulations that disavow racialized women’s agency vis-à-vis racialized men’s domination (hooks 1981). These idealized constructions of women’s agency—or misperceived “resistance”—invokes a whitened humanist, enlightened subject that further entrenches the problematic characteristic of an autonomous “free will” to individuals within feminist scholarship in religious studies (Mahmood 2005, 13). A decolonial stance towards scholarship must recognize how different feminist and queer liberation projects can also conflict with each other and produce new transnational normativities. In the 1980s and 1990s, feminists of color critiqued how White liberal feminists ignored the intersection of race and gender, and in their attempts to “liberate” Third World Women from presumably “oppressive” or “unfree” men and cultures, actually reproduced imperial and colonial relationships of power (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Crenshaw 1991; Collins 1998, 2003; hooks 1981; Mohanty 1991). More recently, queer theory scholars have shown how homonormativities have attempted to circumscribe the “good gay” subject in line with whitened, elite, docile neoliberal subjects, seen for instance in same-sex marriage campaigns (Agathangelou et al. 2008; Duggan 2003). As Lisa Duggan argues, this demobilized White gay neoliberal politics of identity is produced “against the ‘civil rights agenda’ and ‘liberationism,’ as access to the institutions of domestic privacy, the ‘free’ market, and patriotism” (Duggan 2003, 179). Homonormativity thus constructs a “hierarchy of ‘worthiness’ with those that identify as transgender, transsexual, bi-sexual or non-gendered deemed less worthy of equal rights” than those in relationships that mirror heterosexual marriages (Cherry 2012, 148). Homonormativities have also recruited queerness in the vilification of Islam and the perpetuation of Islamophobia (Hawthorne 2013, 81; Shohat 2002), and homonationalisms have been deployed in antiterrorism projects where LGBTQ campaigns have justified war and interventionist strategies in the Middle East (Puar 2007, 2010; Shakhsari 2012). Such unifications of homosexuality and US nationalisms have produced a Muslim and Arab “world” that is envisioned as explicitly homophobic (homosexual Muslims, for instance, become impossible). “The West,” delineated as a mythical space of identity where homosexual freedom is said to exist, is then juxtaposed to non-Western sites viewed as inherently homophobic (Beliso-De Jesus 2015a). Global interventionist policies, war, and apartheid states are similarly justified in the name of sexuality in what has more recently been called “pink washing” as in the case of the Israeli state’s justification of violence towards Palestinian and Arab subjects (Braine 2014; Franke 2012; Pierre 2015; Schulman 2012). A transnational analysis of gender and sexuality in the study of religion must do more than simply posit a global alliance of religiously gendered subjects. If a goal of feminist studies in religion is to make critical connections between the lives of marginalized people and power relations without reducing all experiences to a “common culture,” then it is important to not dismiss difference, ignore inequality, or only highlight commonality. First, we must recognize how the perception of religion as simply another identity emerges out of institutional regimes of global white supremacy. This confusing parallelism pits marginalized gendered subjects against racialized, ethnicized, and/or religious subjects, and is at the heart of liberal and neoliberal regimes of distinction and governance. Second, a transnational critical Black feminist analysis in the study of religion does not simply replicate comparativism, where one type of religious subject is juxtaposed with another. For example, comparativist feminist approaches must be careful to not replicate some of the criminalizing or patronizing presumptions that would seem to imply that Black, Asian, or Muslim religious subjects are in need of education from U.S. (White) Christian or Jewish feminisms. Third, while it is important to be attuned to various forms of marginalization, we must be cautious to not fall into the tropes of celebrationism that do not allow for new lines of emerging power to be examined (for instance, simply “excavating” African, Asian, indigenous, or pagan spiritualities as inherently gender neutral, sexually liberating, nonhierarchical, or pure sites from which decolonization can take place). This tendency leads to problematic forms of cultural appropriations that produce fictionalized mystic racialized Others. Within this, the imperial and neocolonial implications of our own work must be interrogated in relation to our subjects, even with decolonial impulses. Hailing marginality as identity is just not enough.11 Rather, as Black feminist and queer transnational approaches have argued, we must pay attention to the transnational networks of power and complicated histories of colonialism and empire, as well as assert a transformative thrust in critical activist-oriented paradigms. This means understanding how the academic identity crisis also reproduces these relationships of power. Taking up the call towards a decolonial analytic must therefore include an analysis of the academic politics of identity that also play a large role in the pervasiveness of white supremacy in all racializing logics. PATRIARCHY. WHITE SUPREMACY. IDENTITY. Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. “Peaches” and “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire” and “Earth Mother,” “Aunty,” “Granny,” God’s “Holy Fool,” a “Miss Ebony First,” or “Black Woman at the Podium”: I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented. —Hortense Spillers, Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe (1987) In Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe, Hortense Spillers situates Black female stereotypes as “a locus of confounded identities” central to the rhetorical wealth of American nationalisms. “My country needs me,” Spillers claims of Black female alterity. She discusses how Black female tropes such as “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire,” “Aunty,” or “Black Woman at the Podium” are the food and water that nurture American nationalisms, without which white supremacy and white privilege could not exist (Spillers 1987, 65).12 In its racial sensuality and assertion of spirit, Spillers’s critique shows how religious irrationality within American blackness is also central to the imputing of white rationality. In Spillers’s terms, identity should not be understood as a quest for self, but instead is a racialized and sexualized national ordering technology—a practice of racialized state governance. That is, American patriarchy is white supremacy, and these intertwined loci of power rest on identity-thinking. Rather than seeing these confounded identities as limited to the historical legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery, or as the sole property of U.S. descended Blacks, Spillers’s critique demands strategies that disrupt the ability for any identity to sit comfortably in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth that is white patriarchal supremacy. “I know that this American god ain’t my god,” Black historian of religion Anthea Butler says as she discusses how America’s White God is “sometimes… not for us” (Butler 2013). Butler considers the death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin who, while walking home with a hooded sweatshirt and a candy bar, was pursued and then killed by vigilante George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. Adding to the long list of insult and injury where police (and racist vigilantes) unabashedly take Black lives without consequence, Zimmerman’s shameful acquittal was based on the racist argument that young, unarmed Trayvon was the real threat. Butler tells us that we must be careful with America’s racist White God, who once again showed its unjust face in injustice, a God that only includes Blacks as inferior citizens—as three-fifths of a person. She points to a revival of the religious right, which is entwined with the American justice system: “religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are ‘pro-life.’ They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right.” Womanist theologian Emily Townes describes the continued need for hope, community, and transformation amidst the onslaught of White hate intended to destroy the spirits and lives of Blacks and other marginalized groups in the United States (Townes 2015). Indeed, during this time of the so-called War on Terror in the aftermath of a Trump presidential election, we must pay special attention to the “deepening…militarization of American society [that has enabled] the national security state to build new constituencies and to penetrate disciplines and practices that were formerly off limits” (Gusterson 2010, 291). Heightened Islamophobia is being reproduced through imperialist crusade logics and toxic masculinities in the killing machines that are the US military and American police forces, which rely on essentialist racist notions of religion and ethnicity. The collusions of homonationalisms have been deployed in counter-terrorism projects where LGTBQ campaigns include the demonization of Black and Brown religious subjects perpetuating global anti-Blackness and Islamophobia (c.f. Rana 2016; Smith 2016b; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012, 2015). Such campaigns draw on an orientalized Muslim and Arab “world” produced as homophobic in order to further encroach upon hard won civil liberties in the name of white supremacy. In my own work on the policing of African diaspora religions, which examines how police in the United States are not properly trained to deal with race and religion, nuanced approaches to religion are direly needed. Amidst the increasing numbers of videos giving attention to the history of racialized state violence and Black death of cis and transgender men and women at the hands of police, I have documented the seemingly mundane violence against racialized religions. Afro-Cuban and Afro-Haitian practitioners of Santería and Vodou, deemed evil and criminal “devil worshippers” and targets of longstanding misunderstandings and demonizations of their practices, experience fear of police reprisals—raids of rituals, arrests for animal sacrifice, accusations of child endangerment, threats of eviction, and loss of resources due to their religious practices. As scholars have shown, we are in desperate need of complex and critical understandings of religion from global and transnational frameworks. We can see how powerful this is in the development of current social movements such as Black Lives Matter, which employ critical Black feminist, African diaspora religious inspiration, and queer transnational approaches, and call on academics and activists to not sit comfortably with violence, war, and death. They also show how religious practitioners and scholars of religion must grapple with the everyday politics of race, gender, sexuality, violence, and imperialism in times of current and historical white supremacy. As we have seen here, liberal Western governance has constructed religion in identity-terms, where Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and other religious identities are seen as seemingly static configurations tied to race and nation in simple renderings of language, territoriality, and ethnicity. In academia, professional identities revolve around disciplinarity where one’s training is collapsed into one’s identity: we are historians, psychologists, anthropologists, or humanists, for instance. In the study of religion, scholars have been concerned with how identity formations arise in the opposition between so-called religious theologians and the scholar/scientist of religion. As I have discussed, this concern reflects the longstanding friction between what has been seen as a “scholar-practitioner” divide, a binary identity-configuration that seemingly involves a liberal choice of identity. One is either a “scholar” or a “practitioner” of a particular religious community. I have argued here that the scholar-practitioner divide itself reproduces forms of white supremacy and patriarchy naturalized into these identity formations. This binary “choice” takes part in obscuring imperial logics of racialized humanism. Through American multicultural governance and the challenges of interdisciplinarity, religious studies has been confounded in its quest for identity. Identity-thinking obscures the racializing logics embedded in this particular form of liberal and neoliberal disciplining. Unlike the radical social movements that have served strategic purposes in disrupting Western regimes of knowledge and Euro-centrism by creating openings in university institutions since the 1980s, academic identity-thinking sequesters identity-based subjects into ghettoized enclaves of representation, and has become a neutralizing system used to manage difference. In this regard, transnational and Black feminist approaches to religion have been key in deconstructing new lines of power and pushing back on the simple celebrationism of identity in liberal multiculturalist technologies. When Black feminist law professor and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” it was to address the complex structure of overlapping forms of discrimination in law and highlight the various avenues of racial and gendered oppression and how they intersected, particularly for Black women (Crenshaw 1988, 1991). It is a way to put vulnerability into legal relief, and allow for a language where people can productively frame their problem. As Crenshaw explains, “Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” (Crenshaw 2015). Intersectionality shows how categories of identity have been used to manage and govern populations, within a language of sequester. Given that a language of sequester in US academic institutions is inherited from the histories of American slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, Black and transnational feminist approaches should not be seen as particularities, but rather as belonging to all American identity formations. It is therefore important that we not get caught up with divisive identifications that obscure these categories. As Latoya Peterson eloquently argues, “intersectionality is not a label” (Peterson 2015).13 It should not be “donned as a term of belonging [but rather as] a rally to action.” That is, while intersectionally is important to strategically deploy categories for coalition-building purposes, and to recognize histories of oppression, it is also just as important to not deploy these categories against each other in a multiculturalist platform. As a frame, intersectionality forces people to reveal their privilege, and has become a ubiquitous term in social justice calls. However, in its many articulations, Black women have seemed to be erased from intersectionality and other theories they have made available to use (see also “critical race theory,” also coined by Crenshaw).14 As Crenshaw argues, Black (cis and trans) women’s analytics are essential to the frame of intersectionality, and they should not be displaced from this useful paradigm. Whereas White hetero and cis gender men and women are centralized in everything, placing Black women in the frames as central and vulnerable to the stories we tell and how we understand the world radically shifts racist heteropatriarchy and white supremacist nationalisms. Indeed, critical scholars and activists should not reap the benefits of Black feminist theory without recognizing their debt to Black women. The divide and conquer mentality of identity-thinking was created to govern non-white populations.15 That is perhaps what is most confounding about identity-thinking: it tugs at the strings of what we think of ourselves to be. It seems to envelop who we are. An activist-oriented, transformative, and aspirational decolonial stance cannot be just a semantic exercise. Eddie Glaude addresses this when he discusses how “the use of gender-specific pronouns to draw attention to feminist concerns in philosophical writing” creates the impression that patriarchy or white supremacy have been seriously considered; however, this “is too often an illusion” (Glaude 2007, 2). Indeed such an illusion is at play in the scholar-practitioner divide. By positing the crisis of religious studies identity around the “secular scholar” or “pious practitioner” (Pritchard 2010), scholars obscure the powerful role these White heteromasculine identities continue to play in the study of religion. They hail naturalized categories of Protestant Christian secularisms in opposition to inverse Catholic believers. The critical distance of the secular scholar, one who is seen as always conflicted, remains an ontological other to their research subject. It does not call into question the racial, sexual, colonial, and imperial projects at stake in the divide between researcher and subject. What of Spillers’s point about the centrality of confounded identities (Black-female-queer otherness) to the redemptive abilities of White hetero cis-gender male scholar as identity? My insistence here is in situating Black-female-queer not just as identities that deserve a seat at the multiculturalist table, but instead as methodologies for linking societies structured in dominance to their universalizing fantasies of naturalized White liberal power. Black-female-queer thus form the obscured ground upon which the binary “choices” of White-scholar-practitioner takes place. Rationality could not exist without Black, queer, feminine irrationality. Thus Black-female-queer is a theoretical frame and critical opening for recognizing power in difference.16 As noted above, the study of religion historically emerged as a White male endeavor in the modern academic university as a choice between these two originary white supremacist patriarchal “fathers”: “scientific scholar” or “practitioner theologian.” My issue here is not with the undoubtedly useful projects that have emerged in Black womanist, Latinx mujerista, or queer theology, but instead, with the ways in which institutional conversations around identity choices differentiate academic research into either personal quests, marks of belonging, or anecdotes of inclusion. Religious studies scholars have been expected to choose between the seemingly neutral and universal categories of “scholar” or “practitioner.” However this choice is far from neutral and neither of these choices is without racialized, gendered, and sexualized histories. Through the presumed choice of identity, the hidden regime of the two whitened masculinities of “scholar” and “practitioner” is obscured. Religious studies scholars have tended to guard academic identities; theologians, anthropologists, historians and so on are pitted against each other in convoluted and often contradictory lexicons. This leads to Black, Latinx, or Asian scholars often being presumed to be religious, while White Christian or Jewish scholars are expected to declare their religious commitments in terms of ethnicized categories of identity. The putative identity choice of practitioner or scholar, naturalized as an expected outcome of liberal multicultural America’s inherent religiousness, thus ends in the claiming of identities. The illusion that gender and sexuality studies are parallel to African American (and other ethnic studies) projects has produced the “unfortunate effects” of liberal disciplining in institutional logics and scholarship (Somerville 2000, 4). For example, until very recently, there has been a relative absence of intersectional and critical race theory in studies of sexuality: whereas (White) queer and (White) feminist critiques are presumed to be universal, studies of race and ethnicity, or Black and Latinx feminist projects are seen as belonging to certain identities (Holland 2012; Weheliye 2014). What I am calling intra-disciplinarity recognizes these entangled histories and attempts at cleansing logics of race, sexuality, and academic imperialism as permeations of white supremacy. Karen Barad’s concept of intra-action is useful here to radically rework notions of causality in order to not see phenomena as predetermined by inherent boundaries (Barad 2007, 33). To model a frame of intra-disciplinarity means to shift understandings from competing designations of fields and disciplines (interdisciplinarity) towards understanding how modern liberal (and neoliberal) university apparatuses are entangled with racialized governance. Rather than presume a vanguardist stance in which the claiming of a particular identity somehow lends one the feeling of overcoming difference, we might see interdisciplinarity as “intra,” that is, as embedded in racialized and sexualized logics that need to feel (and pin down) an academic identity politics. These agencies (whether fields or disciplines) are thus not preceded by a true unitary self/other dynamic, but rather emerge through intra-actions with each other and other institutional regimes. Intra-disciplinarity highlights how different fields, disciplines, and programs are pitted against each other over resources in the governance of academic institutions. Rather than embrace this form of identitarian governance we might look to Black-feminist-queer-transnational analytic paradigms that have showed us strategies to resist this pigeonhole. This involves first, recognizing the debt to Black women, and second, highlighting their continuing struggles and vulnerabilities as central to our collective concerns of difference. Critical feminist and queer inquiry in the nebulous field of religious studies therefore has the potential to unpack the normatizing projects inherent in interdisciplinarity’s resolve to be seen as a multi-discipline self. It is at this juncture where a queer analytic with a transnational Black feminist gesture might provide a relational understanding of power that would push back on the pervasive white supremacist vanguardism of multidisciplinary identity politics. However, the longstanding concerns over identity in the study of religion and academia more broadly would need to be decentered to allow entry into ways that academic politics of identity (whether intentional or not) freeze up critical knowledge production, debate, and transformation. Rather than modeling itself after other university disciplines, which also hail academic identities as central to their political projects (i.e., anthropologists, sociologists, historians, etc.), religious studies might do better to eschew identity-thinking and embrace its entangled history that resists normatized identity. By recognizing the inherent intra-disciplinarity of academic identity then, scholars might address the entangled desires that arise with the expectation of professionalized identity. CONCLUSION Thinking through religion allows us to excavate the buried confounded identities—such as the welfare queen, illegal immigrant, Islamic terrorist—as troubling invented subjects that conflate and collapse race, ethnicity, and religion into tropes of identity. Thinking through the complexities and real experience of diverse religious and spiritual subjects allows us to “come clean,” as Spillers asks, with our own complicity in reinforcing these balkanizing regimes of identity. As scholars we are complicit with this regime of disciplinarity as we apply for funding, teach courses, and engage in research, academic job searches, recruitment, or the promotion of other colleagues. What alliances are we enabling and disabling by perpetuating identity-thinking? Even as identity was strategically useful in the 1980s US disputes over the need for minority representation in academia, we must nevertheless recognize the ways in which identity-thinking is cleansed of its political intervention and can also function as a form of liberal and neoliberal disciplining in permeations of white supremacy. In many religious studies conferences and classrooms, people continue to ask: what is the work and place of religious studies in the liberal academy and/or world, and how should religious studies understand itself in relation to other fields and disciplines? As I have shown, these questions often lead to a form of self-inquiry concerned with the identity of religious studies. Even the positioning of feminism in the study of religion and theology has been concerned with the identity of a feminist. Feelings of uncertainty within the field sometimes portray the study of religion’s interdisciplinarity as a fault, or communicate a sense that it is “in flux” or unable to locate an acceptable place in university institutions, or finds itself in competition with other, putatively more legitimate disciplines. I suggest that one of the most exciting sources of potential in topic-based fields such as the study of religion is its ambivalence to the traditional boundedness of academic disciplinarity and its thrust towards critical intervention and transformative movements. Here I offer “intra-disciplinary,” which begins with a topic or theme (such as religion) as the rubric of interest that allows for the potential blurring of disciplinary normativities and hails a decolonial thrust that draws from the intervention of Black-female-queer as disruptive framing tool rather than identity. The discomfort sensed about how to fit “religion” into the liberal secular academy signals an issue with categorization in modern universities rather than an issue with the identity of religious studies scholars. Nevertheless, as someone trained in the disciplinary paradigm of anthropology, I understand how interdisciplinarity itself is an assemblage of academic knowledge production that can sometimes reify the very disciplinary boundaries it purports to transcend. This meditation on the problem of identity-thinking in the study of religion during times of pervasive white supremacy suggests a move away from an acceptance of identity toward concerns over the naturalization of power and the politics of research where neither academic disciplines nor their identity politics are ever outside of technologies of power. For example, the cultural turn in the War on Terror found the recruitment of anthropologists as spies in the Intelligence Scholars and Human Terrain Programs, where the government desired a packaged and condensed militarized Islamic and Arab culture—in which religions are seen as static codes that need to be cracked by military intelligence—which were then used by interrogators in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to torture Arab detainees (Gusterson 2010, 289). Identity, Spillers argues, is an obscuring regime that performs a metaphysical operation of separation as a form of governance. Stemming from a complex history of politics that arose from slavery and Jim Crow segregation that couldn’t assimilate racialized minorities into the whiteness of the American dream, multiculturalism became a way to neutralize this reality into a system of governing racialized others while maintaining a whitened naturalized core. What identity through multiculturalism doesn’t allow us to see is how this unrecognized whiteness of American identity is at the heart of the linking of race and ethnicity to religion. Spillers describes this process as a loaded telegraphic coding. As both a perceptual and analytic shift, the confounding of identity Spillers suggests shows how the irrational is not just an Otherizing logic, but also a social location and phenomenology of activist orientation (see also Ahmed 2006). Rather than always spectacular, racism is also an everyday and ordinary occurrence. Some have even described the violence of white supremacy as “pedestrian” (Holland 2012). What this means is that one cannot only examine spectacular moments of racialization. Racialized and sexualized violence are central to identity-thinking within institutional apparatuses that in turn construct categorical differences or university departments that in their mundaneness belong to everyone. It is imperative to acknowledge that racializing humanist assemblages and Black feminist critiques is not just the historical legacy of African American or Ethnic Studies (Holland 2012; Weheliye 2014); they are embedded in the way academic institutions (and scholars) think identity. For feminist scholars who study religion, the recognition that white supremacy permeates identity-thinking repositions identity as a concealed logic that would keep race, gender, sexuality, and religion in separate academic “ghettos.” We cannot wait for racial justice. As Crenshaw warns us, words alone won’t change disparities or how people struggle, and theories “alone cannot bring invisible bodies into view” (Crenshaw 2015). As more of us enter into academia, and the regime of diversity would have us separate ourselves into identity-based categories, we must resist being flattened. More important is to continue the struggle that highlights new and old vulnerabilities, while using all tools available to dismantle violence and oppression. We cannot sleep comfortably with identity when we have pervasive anti-Black, trans, and homophobic global violence, systematic killings of Black and Brown people at the hands of police, the increasing threat of nuclear war and ecological devastation, Native protestors killed to protect sacred water rights, the deportation and incarceration of undocumented people, violence against Muslim women and religious centers, and the continued marginalization and deradicalization of the professoriate that leaves faculty and students of color vulnerable, while violent White nationalists are setting the American agenda based on their misrecognized identity politics.17 We must continue to build social movements and coalitions for action that are intersectional, transnational, and with solidarity and also recognize the new lines of power that emerge that undermine everyone’s lives. The stakes are too high to not take a stand. 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CrossRef Search ADS Yanagisako , Sylvia , and Carol L. Delaney . 1995 . Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis . New York : Routledge . Footnotes 1 See the November 9, 2016 statement from the Crunk Feminist Collective website, which points out how 94% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton whereas 53% of White women voted for Donald Trump. They explicitly tell progressive Whites to “get your people” arguing that White feminists need to do the work educating other White people, particularly other White women (Crunk Feminist Collective 2016). 2 Various articles make the argument that Trump won based off of economic fear and the threat of terrorism. See, for example, Lee et al. 2016; Ball 2016; and Battle 2016. 3 For instance, it is easy to get worked up over Donald Trump’s retweet depicting him hitting a golf club into the back of Hillary Clinton’s head. Meanwhile, these public carnivals hide the frightening, day-to-day violence that the administration is launching on people of color, such as Jeff Sessions’ use of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to sue colleges on behalf of White applicants who they claim are being discriminated against by Affirmative Action policies. Also, see Savage 2017, which details Sessions’ attack of Affirmative Action in universities. 4 This is inspired by and owes Keisha-Khan Perry’s transformative paper during the 2016 American Anthropological Association annual meetings where she argued for an “abolitionist analytic” to ethnography as colonialist enterprise. 5 I follow Ifeoma Nwankwo’s expansive use of “Black” which she exercises in various ways to discuss different Black experiences across the Americas (Nwankwo 2006, 581). She uses “U.S. descended Black” instead of “African American” to describe those who “are born, raised, and have multigenerational roots in the U.S” (Nwankwo 2005, 211). This more general index of “Black” allows for other “Black Americas,” and does not homogenize US Black experiences. It also engages the interwoven histories of Black people from the United States, West Indies, Spanish and French speaking Caribbean, Latin America, Latinx, and other iterations of Blackness (Nwankwo 2005, 17; 2006, 597). 6 Throughout this article I use the term “religious studies” to refer to the type of thinking that reifies a false divide between theology and the study of religion. It is not meant to homogenize the wide array of approaches to religion, but rather to point out how much of the transformative work being done in womanist theology, queer ethics, and other blurring projects is often elided by distinguishing religious studies from theology. 7 For example, in her essay, “Seriously, What Does ‘Taking Religion Seriously’ Mean?” Elizabeth Pritchard critiques what she sees as two insidious veins of academic difference: (a) a redeployment of secular liberalism; and (b) the creation of exceptional scholars who purport a deep connection or intimacy with their research. Pritchard’s concern ultimately lies with the proper secular character of the academic study of religion where she advocates for the revivification of the “secular intellectual” (Pritchard 2010, 1089). Although Pritchard claims that she is not trying to “erect an impenetrable barrier between religious practitioners and their scholars or revalorize the ‘secular,’” she inadvertently does just that (Pritchard 2010, 1107). 8 Fiona Bowie takes issue with how feminist studies have been sequestered in religious studies and theological education through what she describes as a “ghettoizing” of feminist approaches instead of an integration of them into the rest of the theology curriculum (Bowie 1998, 46). 9 Drawing on Black intersectional feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins, for example, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (1993) developed the term “kyriarchy” to replace the category of patriarchy to link multiple forms of women’s global oppression signified by the rule of the “emperor/master/lord/father/husband,” which she sees as characteristic of ancient Greece and imperial Roman (Western) social structures. 10 Darlene Juschka (2013, 210–12) suggests that the “identity crisis” of religious studies has made it cloister “itself from other university disciplines.” By obfuscating its own identity by means of an identification with the “nonidentity” understood to be science, history, and so on, religious studies has severed its potential political alliances with ethnic studies, and women, gender, and sexuality studies. 11 Catherine Keller (2004) describes the hardness that occurs in the need for feminist theology to be “cutting edge.” She pushes back from edges to think about the “folding” of God’s language in feminist writing. 12 Critical whiteness studies have taken up the task of exposing how whiteness is revealed as the invisible norm for human beings, producing a myriad of privileges for those in proximity to whiteness and the powers afforded to white skin (Cusick 1997, 8; Hartigan 1997, 496). My use of whiteness and white privilege sees race as a primary feature of US national belonging and nationalism since the nation’s founding (Croegaert 2015, 68; Harrison 1995, 52). In this, markers of racial difference are not limited to the epidermal; rather a universalizing of whiteness goes hand in hand with the operations of white privilege and its perceived lamenting decline (Driscoll 2015, 44). Here I understand whiteness as the familiarity with which white privilege operates as a political choice, social location, and ontological formation. Whiteness is inherent to white racial supremacy, a process that makes non-white Others into “people of color.” James Perkinson has rightly described whiteness as a historical “ticket to admission into the fiction of white superiority” (Perkinson 2005, 2). 13 Latoya Peterson is the editor of Racialicious.com and Fusion. 14 Some have tried to create a division between “intersectional feminists” and “transnational feminists,” with the latter being seen as less beholden to identity politics. However, these articulations continue to be wedded to identity-thinking, which as I argue here is a discourse of self-recognition tied to liberal and neoliberal multiculturalist governance. Furthermore, this inaccurate divide dismisses the contributions of Black women to transnational struggles and politics and does not recognize the long history of coalition-building and solidarity movements. I follow those who see transnational feminist analysis as intersectional and Black feminist analytics as transnational (Hill Collins 1998, 2000, 2003; Smith 2016a, 2016b; Perry 2013; Pierre 2012, 2015). This includes theories of queer assemblage (Allen and Jobson 2016; Beliso-De Jesus 2015a, 2015b; Nyong’o 2007; Puar 2012). 15 Jemima Pierre (2012, 6) clarifies this issue in Africa critiquing how scholars have focused too heavily on ethnic identifications without understanding how broader racial processes, specifically how relations of global white supremacy, create the conditions for identity-based thinking. 16 I follow queer theorists who resist limiting “queerness” to normative homosexual identities or same-sex erotic practices, but instead examine other forms of racialized, disabled, illiberal, animate, and toxic queerness that take part in creating strange ontological sexualities in relation to normative formations (Chen 2012; Povinelli 2006; Puar 2007). 17 See the Byron Wolf (2017) article where David Duke gushes over Trump’s description of violent white nationalists, KKK, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, SC as “fine people.” Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion 2018. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.

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Published: Feb 1, 2018

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