Reflections on the ConferenceMichael J. Abraham » ISHS: International Society for Heresy Studies



Reflections on the Conference

Michael J. Abraham

What makes the biennial ISHS conference so powerful is the interdisciplinarity and capaciousness naturally inherent in the emergent discipline of heresy studies. My contribution to this year’s conference, “Toward a Fluid Theory of Gender: The Inversion of the Castration Complex in Ulysses,” was a thought experiment in which I attempted to posit the possibility that Butlerian gender performativity has ossified into a kind of orthodoxy in literary studies of gender, particularly in the context of modernism. The danger of such a project is that, of course, it imperils heresy as an efficacious term, and is itself somewhat heretical for not treating heresy as a religious category, but rather as an intellectual one, and so suggests the possibility that a heretical proposition is nothing more than a novel, subordinate, or subversive idea within any knowledge-field wherein a particular paradigm has become predominant. I found, however, that it may be possible that heresy and orthodoxy are the historiographical terms for some of the various shapes that thought takes in its development and counter-development, its progressive and reactionary forms and movements across time, within fields of great affective import to persons—such as, obviously, religious belief, but also all the other facets of individual and group identity and the politics that attach to those identities. In many ways, I felt that a similar recognition was happening across the conference’s panels this year, as religious studies, political science, cultural and literary criticism, philosophy, and social science collided in a vibrant array to suggest to us that in our reading, writing, thinking, relating, and feeling there is always the struggle to find oneself far afield of an orthodox center, always a drive to declare what each of us believes in contravention of the dictates of Belief itself. I suppose what I am really saying is that heresy is emotional, personal, beautiful, dangerous, sexy, and necessary. We might find it glimmering here and there in all of our histories if we can commit that first heresy of heresy studies: to look for it in ourselves.

Permanent link to this article: /2018/09/09/reflections-on-the-conference/