Note from the Editors  » ISHS: International Society for Heresy Studies



Note from the Editors

This past weekend I went to a movie theater to watch an Amazonian princess from a utopian, polytheistic, all-female civilization travel to “Man’s World” to save patriarchal Western civilization from its own self-destructive tendencies (and from Ares, the God of War himself). After a year which saw a woman win the popular vote in the United States’ presidential election, while losing the electoral college vote to a man who described her as “a nasty woman”; after a year which saw that man become president and take actions and support policies that have placed the reproductive health of women in the United States and in other nations that rely on U.S. aid at risk; after a year which saw the Women’s March, one of the largest marches in history, flood the streets of American cities with women (and men) concerned about the stalling or reversal of gender equality progress in the most powerful country in the world; after such a year, a movie about a comic book heroine has taken on a significance in the United States that its makers could never have guessed or intended. , I am happy to say, is a good movie, but more than that, it is an important one.

Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Gal Gadot, and Lisa Loven Kongsli as Amazons in Wonder Woman (Source: IMDB)

Lisa Loven Kongsli, Gal Gadot, Connie Nielsen, and Robin Wright as Amazons in Wonder Woman (Source: )

Superheroes, those figures only recently treated with disdain by the general public as childish fantasies, have risen to form a kind of pantheon of gods over the past few decades, the embodiment of the various hopes, dreams, and primal desires of Western civilization: Ironman, God of Technocracy; Spider-Man, God of Teenage Martyr Complexes; Batman, God of Uncompromising Justice; Captain America, God of the American Ideal; and Thor, God of… well, Lightning. Thor’s poor fit in this pantheon is indicative that this old god doesn’t represent the values of society anymore. We live in an age of New Gods… and now we have recreated the premise of Neil Gaiman’s , the TV adaptation of which is slowly unfolding on the Starz network, even as the TV adaptation (far less faithful) of his Sandman comic book’s character appears on FOX. Within the DC comics film universe, there are also characters known as New Gods who will be the central villains of the future films; within the Marvel comics film universe, godlike cosmic beings like Ego and Eternity have made appearances in various films and are likely to figure even more prominently in the future films of that franchise. Comic gods, gods in comics; was there ever another point in modern history when popular culture was so suffused with representations of the divine?

Crispin Glover as Mr. World, God of Globalization in American Gods. (Source: IMDB)

Crispin Glover as Mr. World, God of Globalization in American Gods. (Source: )

That almost all of these gods and demigods—and certainly all those whose names have appeared in franchise titles—are male, cannot be ignored. The figures who embody our culture’s values remain resolutely masculine, because masculinity itself is one our culture’s most fundamental values. The most recent superhero film based on a DC or Marvel character with a woman in an eponymous role is 2005’s ; since then, there have been (by my count) thirty superhero films with men in such roles. In contrast, the Ancient Greek pantheon worshipped by Wonder Woman is led by the who (at least in some tallies) consist of an equal number of male and female deities. This ancient pantheon offers more female representation than our modern superhero pantheon—or, for that matter, the U.S. president’s cabinet. Given how important these images of heroism have become as cultural touchstones and embodiments of Western values, it is no wonder that so many people are eagerly looking forward to the most famous of female superheroes, Wonder Woman, finally starring in her own film. That this particular hero was designed from her conception as an outsider to Western civilization, as the acolyte and champion of goddesses and as the ambassador of a way of life that, in its hegemonic matriarchalism, presents a direct challenge to the most fundamental beliefs and values of Western civilization, only makes her debut on the cinematic stage more significant.

These reflections, meandering though they may be, are my way of leading our readers to the theme of this issue of exCommunicated: “Women and Heresy.” Like the creators of Wonder Woman, the editors of exCommunicated did not realize how timely this theme would be when we began planning this issue a year ago. We adopted the theme not for the sake of relevance, but with the goal of attracting a more diverse set of contributors to this publication, and presenting our audience with more diverse perspectives. From the very first issue of exCommunicated, women have numbered among our writers. Yet they have also been a clear minority, and several of our issues have gone out to readers without a single byline for a non-male-identifying writer. As happens all too often in academic publications (perhaps particularly in the domain of religious studies) women’s voices have been under-represented in these pages, and female figures, whether historical or divine, have been under-discussed. To break this trend, the editorial board sought out work by and about women that addressed the Society’s principal subjects of inquiry: heresy, blasphemy, and unbelief. The resulting issue of exCommunicated is the first to have an equal number of male and female contributors, and we will try to make this more representative state of affairs the publication’s new gold standard.

Of course, as important as this development is for exCommunicated, the actual contents of the issue are what will most interest our readers. This issue contains some of the most thoughtful and insightful (and, in one case, amusing) pieces we have published to date. Isabel Maria Mareş opens the issue with a discussion of heretical bodies. Offering a feminist reading of the establishment of male dominion through Adam’s power of naming in the biblical Genesis, Mareş explains how “the non-male as heresy is embedded within the framework of Judeo-Christian scripture.” Teasing out the implications of this reading, Mareş argues,

Persons who reveal the fragility of this model commit heresies by defying the biological markers used to classify bodies. Women-identified and GNC [gender-non-conforming] individuals claiming free choice over their bodies and demanding the right to exist safely commit both an antiquated and modern-day act of heresy. They want to take back the power of naming themselves as they see fit.

Mareş’s call-to-arms is followed by Ethan Quillen’s essay on the role of women in U.S. atheism. Although men, especially within the “New Atheism” movement, dominate the image of U.S. atheism, Quillen shows that female atheists have shaped contemporary atheism through their activism, illustrated by their roles in two U.S. Supreme Court cases. Next, Debapriya Basu draws our attention to England during the early years of the Reformation, a period of ideological instability “uncomfortably similar to events in our own times.” Her essay explores “the fraught relationship between religion, jurisprudence and state power” through the figure of Anne Askew, a woman deemed a heretic at a time when orthodoxy itself was in a constant state of flux. Basu argues that Askew’s womanhood amplified both her religious heresy and her resistance to state authority; refusing the obedience expected of her, “she speaks when authority would have her silent; she is silent when it demands speech.” Rounding out the themed portion of our issue is an excerpt from Jim Morrow’s work-in-progress satirical novel, Lazarus Is Waiting. In the excerpt, Mary, mother of Jesus, along with Mary Magdalene and Princess Salomé, have been magically transported through time to the Council of Nicaea to testify on Jesus’s nature and help settle the Arian controversy. Mary, it turns out, favors Arianism herself, placing the bishops in an awkward position—until, of course, they remember she is just a woman.

Kurt Russell as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Source: IMDB)

Kurt Russell as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Source: )

The final two contributions to this issue diverge from the issue’s theme. The first is Bob Royalty’s essay on the origins of heresy in imperial Rome. The essay begins with Royalty’s reflections on his trek along Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain; that physical journey leads to a mental journey, along which Royalty contemplates the establishment of national boundaries (ancient and contemporary), the establishment of religious boundaries (through Justin Martyr’s attempt to build a wall between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, claiming the former for those Christians who shared his beliefs), and the establishment of the cult of “the Gay God,” Antinous. The last essay is a milestone for exCommunicated: the publication’s first peer-reviewed essay. Gauri Viswanathan’s fascinating essay, “Rough Passages: Heresy and the Editing of Mathematical Knowledge,” situates the genius of Indian mathematician Srinivas Ramanujan (1887-1920) in relation to the construction of various overlapping orthodoxies of Western civilization and modernity: the triumph of secularism, the superiority of the university model of education, and the rationality of the discipline of mathematics. Ramanujan’s seemingly superhuman mathematical abilities presented a challenge to all of these orthodoxies (to say nothing of the challenge to Western religious orthodoxies posed by Ramanujan’s claims to receive his mathematical solutions from Hindu deities). Viswanathan considers how Ramanujan’s heterodoxy forced his contemporaries to acknowledge (with varying degrees of self-awareness) the constructed nature of these orthodoxies, as well as what their construction had cost the West. As she writes,

Modern mathematics’ disciplinary constraints exposed Ramanujan’s way of doing mathematics—without proofs or evidence of procedures—as a vital heretical practice that science could not effectively expunge without losing an important source of its creative energies.

The editors of exCommunicated of essays for peer review, as we aim to include at least one such essay in all future issues of the publication

In addition to launching a peer-reviewed component, this issue marks a new chapter in the history of exCommunicated for a couple more reasons. First, whereas previous issues have taken the form of a single, downloadable PDF document, this issue presents each contribution as a separate blog post on the International Society for Heresy Studies’s website. We made this change to our delivery platform in response to readers’ requests to be able to share individual essays on social media. While we are sad to see the handsome newsletter format go, we think this change best serves our readers and our contributors by making the articles easier to circulate online and opening up the possibility for individual essays to “go viral.” PDFs haven’t entirely disappeared, however. Peer-reviewed essays will be available not only as blog posts, but also as PDFs (professionally formatted by Jordan Miller, our Design Editor). These downloadable essays will be collected on the website’s Journal page, which you can reach via the exCommunicated menu. The PDF of Viswanathan’s essay is available there now.

Second, this issue is the last for which Ed Simon will serve as Co-Editor. Simon has been with the Society and with exCommunicated since the beginning—indeed, since before the beginning, as he was one of the first members of the action group that worked to form the Society. The very title of this publication—exCommunicated—was his brainchild. However, having recently completed his doctoral degree in English, he is moving on to new projects. exCommunicated will not be quite the same without him, but I will do my best to fill his shoes as the new Co-Editor alongside Editor Bernard Schweizer.

In closing, I wish to draw our readers’ attention to the Call for Papers for the Third Conference of the International Society for Heresy Studies. Continuing our work toward being a truly “international,” cross-disciplinary community of scholars, artists, and thinkers, our third conference will be held in London in June 2018 and will feature the theme of “Heresy and Borders.” We urge all of exCommunicated’s readers to read and share the CFP and to submit a proposal to what promises to be our most diverse conference yet.

Hera’s blessings,
Geremy Carnes
Co-Editor, exCommunicated

The Council of the Gods (Raphael, 1517-1518) (Source)

The Council of the Gods (Raphael, 1517-1518) ()

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