Abstract The guest editors introduce the Special Issue, ‘Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions’. The articles in this issue all originated as presentations at the 18th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture, held at the University of Glasgow, 9–11 September 2016. The theme of the Special Issue, ‘Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions’ was originally the title of the 18th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture (ISRLC), held at the University of Glasgow in September 2016. When devising the theme for the conference, the organising committee aimed to highlight the interdisciplinary basis and commitment of ISRLC, and to include an explicitly political focus. The opening paragraph of the call for papers read: The interdisciplinary study of religion, literature and culture demands living on the boundaries, constructing provisional positions, and questioning fixed and dogmatic attitudes. This is necessarily a political exercise, as well as an intellectual and spiritual one. It makes challenging demands upon scholarship, creativity and imagination. It calls us to transformative action. The central image came from the idiom ‘a line in the sand’, attributed as an afterlife of John chapter 8, verse 6 (‘Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground’), but with the deliberate pluralising of ‘lines’ and omission of the definite article ‘the’. With this making strange of a familiar metaphor, attention is drawn to its other possible meanings and associations. In particular, the plurality—or multiplicity—of lines, borders and boundaries, as well as the material qualities of that in which they are drawn: sand. (Both are picked up on by Catherine Keller in her opening article ‘Lines in the Innumerable: Enmity, Exceptionalism and Entanglement’.) Sand is a tricky material for drawing in, or building on. Much like the disciplinary and theoretical boundaries which ISRLC and the journal Literature and Theology interrogate, subvert, and depend upon, sand is shifting, unstable and uncertain. Themes of shifting and becoming also dominate in Emma Ingala’s article ‘Catachresis and Mis-Being in Judith Butler and Étienne Balibar: Contemporary Refigurations of the Human as a Face Drawn in the Sand’, and Marius van Hoogstraten’s ‘A Situation that Cannot be Found: Theorising the “Inter” of the Interreligious’. Both articles focus on the mutability of conceptual boundaries around subjects which are typically presupposed to be stable: the human, the religious. The re-emphasis of ‘sand’ was also intended to allude to the desert, and thus to invite reflections on desert contexts and ‘prompt renewed exploration of desert spirituality’. The theme of desert is represented in this issue by the discussions of postcolonial literature by Clare Louise Radford (‘“The Desert is Our Neighbour”: A Postcolonial Feminist Ethic of Narrative Encounter in Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox’) and Grace Whistler (‘“What-it’s-like” for the Other: Narrative Knowledge and Faith in The Meursault Investigation’, on the Algerian novel by Kamel Daoud). Victor Jeleniewski Seidler critically engages with the spiritual tradition of the desert, challenging the dominant Christian imaginary by a constructive re-reading of meditations collected in the prayer books of Reform Judaism. Many of the articles in this Special Issue engage with the key theme of the uneasy negotiation of borders and encounter with the other in conflicted social and religious contexts. Three do so through close readings of specific texts (incidentally, all of which use the postmodern literary strategy of metafiction, or stories within stories). Whistler explores Daoud’s alternative sequel to Albert Camus’ The Outsider as the ‘creation of a dialogue between oppressed and oppressor’, in which the power of story to enable empathy with the other is suggestive not only of reconciliation in situations of conflict, but also the wider ethical import of literature and narrative. In contrast, Radford reads British Nigerian author Oyeyemi’s storytelling and revisioning strategies as a vital reminder that ‘encounters with others [are] always already mediated through cultural narratives and literary representations … yet others remain ungraspable, giving rise to strategies of representation that signal toward their own failure to know the other fully’. James H. Thrall, in ‘Shifting Histories, Blurred Borders, and Mediated Sacred Texts’, an analysis of the Philip K. Dick novel and Amazon Studios TV series The Man in the High Castle, considers how fictional depiction of alternative histories and futures makes us recognise that those borders and identities we hold to be sacred are not fixed, but contingent and transitory. The ‘borders’, ‘conflicts’ and ‘transitions’ of the conference and special issue subtitle were expanded on in the conference call for papers: Voices in literature and theology are now being heard from many different and divergent cultural situations. We are members of a global community in which the arts function as important sites for articulating the cost of conflicts and imagining transformed futures. The theme of this conference recalls the importance of our provisional attempts to inscribe hope and resistance in an era of conflict, anxiety and environmental destruction … The subject of borderlands also speaks to the current debates concerning citizenship in the twin context of globalization on one hand, and renewed nationalisms on the other. These words were composed in early 2015; by the summer of 2016 they had come to seem both eerily prescient and naively optimistic. In the context of the Brexit referendum result, the European refugee crisis, and the Trump presidential campaign, the task of ‘articulating the cost of conflicts’ of ‘renewed nationalism’ amidst a globalised world took on a new urgency. It also became ever more difficult to imagine ‘transformed futures’, or to hope that artistic and academic inquiry could provide anything other than the most provisional of gestures. The use of the metaphor of ‘borders’ for interdisciplinary scholarship became especially problematic when confronted with daily headlines of people dying while attempting to cross state borders, while others are voting to ‘tighten up our borders’, to build more walls. Concern for the particular political moment of the mid- to late 2010s is present in all of the articles gathered in this issue. Some authors make this explicit, for example van Hoogstraten’s theorising of the interreligious refers to anxieties of difference demonstrated by the rise of the far-right in Europe; Ingala notes the importance of philosophical concepts of the human in order to ‘claim humanity for those who are being systematically excluded from the right to be human: masses of refugees waiting in unbearable conditions to be granted asylum, but also gender, ethnic, or religious minorities’, of ‘building more human-ness by refiguring the human in order to let in those condemned to the margins’. Thrall foregrounds how The Man in the High Castle’s insights that ‘all understandings of history, as of national identity’ are ‘shaped by the mediated texts we consume’ is particularly pertinent in this era of ‘fake news’. Keller’s article, based on her keynote Literature and Theology Annual Lecture, is the piece related most directly to the political events of the time of its delivery. She considers how ‘lines in sand’, as markers of difference and ethical responsibility, must retain their ‘granular multiplicity’ or else ‘harden into the borderline between us and them, “friend vs. foe,” … a political theology of hardline power’. The central question of Keller’s piece, and indeed of this issue as a whole, is ‘[h]ow in a perilous time might a theology of entangled difference resist the political theology of the hardline?’. Included in this Special Issue is Anna Fisk’s review of feminist philosopher of religion Pamela Sue Anderson’s final monograph, Re-visioning Gender in the Philosophy of Religion (2012). The review was first published online this year as part of the journal’s tribute to Pamela on the first anniversary of her death in March 2017. Pamela was a friend and supporter of both Literature and Theology—as attested to by the articles and reviews collected in the virtual issue published in her memory—and of the ISRLC. For many years she convened the Gender panel at the conference, and was responsible for organising the 2012 meeting, at which Victor Seidler, whose work appears in this issue, was a keynote speaker. Even outside of these official roles, she was a constant and supportive presence whose mentorship and encouragement touched the lives of many young scholars and helped both ISRLC and Literature and Theology to develop as spaces which welcome and reward interdisciplinary scholarship that is interesting, incisive, and, above all, risky. These qualities are clearly reflected in the volume which Fisk reviews, which brings together three seemingly divergent philosophical approaches (the ‘Reason, Love and Epistemic Locatedness’ of the volume’s subtitle) with the passion and rigour that characterised all of Pamela’s life and work. She was a scholar who was not afraid to cross borders, nor to shy away from the conflicts this sometimes entails, in seeking transitions to more just and truthful modes of scholarship. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: May 30, 2018
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