Goodnight, Old Man

When he first came around my back porch, he looked wary, skittish, hungry. He’d wait, on guard, on the stairs until I put the food dish down and then re-entered the house, closing the door behind me. I’d watch, from the window, as he scurried to the food, making quick glances up towards me, ready to bolt if I opened the door again.

He made friends with my beloved little FrauFrau. Two black cats, I’d watch them in the alley, as they’d saunter and sniff, lounge and chase. FrauFrau slept inside, of course, but he did not come near me all summer. I covered a milk crate with plastic and put a blanket inside it so that he’d have shelter when it rained. I fed him everyday.

In the Fall the nights grew cold. One afternoon I was in the kitchen with the door open, and he slunk in and plopped down on a chair.

“Hello, Black Cat,” I said, and continued to slowly go about my business.

When Frau went outside, he did too. They ate together, and stayed inside together in the increasing cold and rainy days. I’d pet him delicately on the head when he rested on the chair, careful not to startle him. He ran under furniture if I moved too quickly throughout the house or laughed too loudly on the phone. I caught him at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night (FrauFrau’s body languidly extended near my head, soft belly exposed in complete trust), but he jumped down as soon as I tried to move towards him.

Two weeks in I was sitting on the couch watching TV with FrauFrau, as he surveyed us from the hallway, crouching on the rug. One decided moment, he moved across the room, hopped up on the couch, and walked right onto my lap, sitting with paws underneath him, allowing me to pet him all over. We’ve been fast friends ever since.

I called him Stinky, at first. My mother objected: “It isn’t dignified.” So I instead called him Inky.

The stench came from his mouth. Blood and pus would sometimes ooze out the side of his jaw, but I did not yet dare take him to the vet. I fear he would be too traumatized. He was still apprehensive of other people, and loud noises, and quick movements, and sneezing, and exhaling too fast.

In late Fall I risked the vet visit for sterilization and vaccination. He shrieked—his piercing, panicked call—the whole time. Bad news, though, he has a heart murmur, and the kitty aids and leukemia virus, like most abandoned alley cats. The vet doesn’t know how old he is: his skin is fairly youthful; his teeth rotted and infected, with gingivitis like a geriatric feline. “You never know what they’ve been through,” the vet says about feral cats. I doubt he’d had a human before I took him in. It took years before he warmed to anyone else but me.

He gets his balls snipped and all his teeth pulled (except the fangs) in the same operation, the vet agreeing that his heart murmur shouldn’t have to tolerate two separate procedures. On his return to my apartment he would wiggle his hindquarters as if to jump, feel pain in his testicles, and decide against it, but not without giving me a look of betrayal.

For two years my two black cats were my witchy familiars, and when FrauFrau died far too young, Inky would sleep on me: on my belly, or dip of my hip as I lay on my side, or back. He’d never done that before, but he must have felt my grief, his weight comforting, the feline version of a hug. I loved her.

Within a few years another stray adopted us, or, rather, adopted Inky. This time it was a grey Tabby, friendly, young, full of energy. In the morning I’d open the door to let Inky out and he’d hop up on the patio table and yelp—a sound he never made with me—and the Tabby would come running. I’d feed him, and they’d spend their time together.

The Tabby hardly took any time at all to warm to me. He had friends all over the neighborhood. When I had him fixed and vaccinated, gave him a collar with his name and my number on it, I got calls from neighbors expressing their joy that someone had adopted him. He visits them for food. It’s been quite a few years since then, and, still, my Tabby does his daily tour of the neighborhood and sometimes returns smelling like perfume. So I know he gets cuddles and treats from various girlfriends, the lovable little skank.

Inky and the Tabby loved each other. I’d never quite seen two cats be that close that were not raised together, both aggressively affectionate with me and each other. My cats have never been aloof. They joked that Inky was my boyfriend (always following me around) and the Tabby my step-son (demanding attention and food).

But Inky grew to be a senior. His joints stiffened. He slept even more. I eventually had to stop my lively Tabby from play fighting with him, fearing injury. Our favourite time was early morning, where he’d curl up by my head and rub his nose on my face.

Kitty snot is a badge of honour.

He spent his days sleeping next to me whenever he could, always curled up, body closed off as to be in the least vulnerable position, never quite losing that feral cat suspicion (unlike the sprawling, underbelly-bared, and gloriously unconcerned sleep of my Tabby). Inky would instantly begin purring his sonorous rumble when I reach out my hand for a pet. I once left the country on a six-month research trip, and took a recording of that wonderful resonant purr. I played it on my phone when I felt lonely.

As with all our fur-friends, Inky’s life crept into its twilight years. I knew, for weeks, that his time was coming, but, like all hoomans in love with their kittehs, that it would be difficult. When the vet said he had a growth in his throat that was likely causing him pain, I arranged for a home euthanasia visit the very next day.

He always despised the vet. He cried the whole way there, in the waiting room, during the exam, and the way home. Even routine check-ups prompted him to sulk for a few hours upon return, turning his back to us all as if to say, “Fuck you guys. I need a moment alone.”

So I could not have him put down at the vet. He spent the night sleeping in my bed, curled up by foot or leg, always ensuring he was touching me.

I spent the day sitting with him, cuddling, telling him I loved and how happy I was that he’d chosen to adopt me. When the doctor came to my house with an assistant, Inky was in his favourite sleeping spot on the back porch—a dirty old rattan table, perfect for scratching and sleeping. They relaxed Inky’s muscles with an injection, and I sat with him, petting, for a few minutes, hoping that my Tabby understood, somehow, what was happening to his brother. Then they injected something to stop his heart. I cried the whole way through, tears wetting the fur on his head.

So Goodnight My Old Man, my Inky Dink, my Mr. Inks, the Shrieker and Purr Machine, my Boyfriend and Kitteh. Inky, my Buddy, life was better because of you.

I’m Published in a Book! A Real Live Book!

Get yourself a copy of The Bloomsbury Reader in Religion, Sexuality, and Gender, edited by Donald L. Boisvert and Carly Daniel-Hughes (both professors in the department of Religion and Culture at Concordia University).

It is an excellent introductory text to the cross-section of gender, sexuality, and religion. I highly recommend it, and not just because I’m in it.

——-

Table of contents

Part I: Bodies
1. Introduction
2. Stereotypes, False Images, Terrorism: The White Assault upon Black Sexuality. (Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective) Kelly Brown Douglas
3. Sin (Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America) Lynne Gerber
4. Blood, Sweat, and Urine: The Scent of Feminine Fluids in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Witch.(International Journal for the Study of New Religious Movements)Cimminnee Holt
5. Sex (Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism) Janet Gyatso
6. The Ultimate Man (A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism) John Powers
7. Mitzvot Built into the Body: Tkhines for Niddah, Pregnancy and Childbirth. (People of the Body: Jews and Judaism from an Embodied Perspective) Chava Weissler
8. Gendering the Ungendered Body: Hermaphrodites in Medieval Islamic Law. (Women in Middle Eastern History) Paula Sanders
9. “Mildred, Is It Fun to Be a Cripple?” The Culture of Suffering in Mid-Twentieth Century American Catholicism.” (Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them) Robert Orsi
10. Discussion Questions
Part 2: Desires
1. Introduction
2. Introduction: Axiomatic (Epistemology of the Closet) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
3. Scientia Sexualis (The History of Sexuality: An Introduction: Volume I) Michel Foucault
4. Law and Desire in the Talmud (Eros and the Jews) David Biale
5. Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood.” (Que(e)rying Religion: A Critical Anthology) Michael Warner
6. Sexual Desire, Divine Desire; Or, Queering the Beguines (Toward a Theology of Eros: Transfiguring Passion at the Limits of Discipline) Amy Hollywood
7. Kukai and the Tradition of Male Love in Japanese Buddhism (Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender) Paul Gordon Schalow
8. The Passions of St. Pelagius (The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology) Mark Jordan
9. Masturbation, Salvation, and Desire: Sexuality and Religiosity in Colonial Mexico (Journal of the History of Sexuality) Zeb Tortorici
10. Discussion Questions
Part 3: Performances
1. Introduction
2. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Judith Butler
3. Witches, Female Priests, and Sacred Manoeuvres: (De)stabilizing Gender and Sexuality in a Cuban Religion of African Origin. (Gender and History) Carolyn Watson
4. Mama Lola and the Ezilis: Themes of Mothering and Love in Haitian Vodou (Unspoken Words: Women’s Religious Lives) Karen McCarthy Brown
5. (Per)formative Selves: The Production of Gender.” (With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India) Gayatri Reddy
6. Toward a Queer Theology of Flourishing: Transsexual Embodiment, Subjectivity, and Moral Agency (Queer Religion: LGBT Movements and Queering Religion) Jakob Hero
7. Intimacy Surveiled: Religion, Sex, and Secular Cunning (Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society) Mayanthi Fernando
8. Release from Bondage: Sex, Suffering, and Sanctity (The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality) Daniel Lehrman
9. “Nakedness, Non-Violence, and Brahmacharya: Gandhi’s Experiments in Celibate Sexuality.” (Journal of the History of Sexuality) Vinay Lal
10. Discussion Questions

 

Of Interest: “Ethnographic approaches to understanding Trump/Brexit/new rise of conservatism” compiled by @aliciablumross

List compiled by Alicia Blum-Ross, “Ethnographic approaches to understanding Trump/Brexit/new rise of conservatism”

See list here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yA-qV1Qd8SCmOlmaUZ5F2HVnamsnv9Smea3qRUPSzhM/edit

 

Concordia Valedictorian 2016

This is long overdue, but I’d like to highlight the achievement of Daniel Santiago Saenz, a graduate of the Department of Religion at Concordia University, and 2016 Valedictorian. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing Daniel’s exceptional performance throughout his Bachelor degree. We share a supervisor, and his insights and critique have always impressed and elucidated. There’s enough cut-throat competition in academia to keep us all on our toes, but let’s not forget to celebrate the successes of one of our own! I look forward to his future career in academia.

Here is his speech from the graduation ceremony held in June of this year.

 

Event: Robert A. Orsi Sept. 29

Dr. Robert Orsi will be lecturing at Ottawa University at the end of the month, and it is a bizarre misfortune that I have been out of town for every single one of his lectures within the past decade, and, again, will not be here for this upcoming event. Oh well, the gods, demons, and saints simply don’t want us to meet.

But you should all go. I’ve referenced his work on this blog several times.

Speaker | conférencier: Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)
Location and time | lieu et heure: University of Ottawa, Simard Hall, room 125, 5-6:30pm
Lecture title | titre de la conférence: What is Catholic About the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis?

From the Religion and Diversity Project website:

Abstract | Résumé

In this lecture, Robert Orsi looks at how the sexual abuse of children and adolescents by priests was specifically Catholic in its origins and dynamics, not the product solely of individual psychopathology. Orsi argues that the clergy sex abuse crisis has to do with Catholic understandings of the nature of the priesthood, Catholic attitudes towards children, the web of relationships that make up Catholic parishes, and the tension between Catholicism and the modern world, among other things. Catholicism was never the sole cause of the abuse, but the abuse was always Catholic. Understanding this also allows us to see that the consequences of the abuse for many (not all) survivors was not only social and psychological, but religious as well.

Robert Orsi examinera, dans le cadre de cette conférence, comment la violence sexuelle auprès des enfants et des adolescents commise par des prêtres est enracinée dans le Catholicisme, et n’est donc pas le fruit d’une psychopathologie individuelle. Orsi argumente que la crise de la maltraitance sexuelle par le clergé, est intrinsèquement liée à l’acceptation sociale du rôle traditionnel des prêtres au sein de la sphère catholique, les attitudes des Catholiques envers les enfants, la complexité des relations que forment les paroissiens catholiques, ainsi que les tensions entre le Catholicisme et le monde moderne. Le Catholicisme ne fut jamais le seul facteur contribuant aux actes d’agressions sexuelles, or ces actes furent toujours Catholiques. Saisir cette réalité nous permet de mieux comprendre que les séquelles engendrées par la violence sexuelle chez plusieurs survivants (pas tous) ne sont pas uniquement sociales et psychologiques, mais qu’elles ont également une dimension religieuse.

Scientific Models of Religiosity

A recent mathematical study reported at the American Physical Society, and covered by BBC news, claims the provocative title, “Religion may become extinct in nine nations.” Those nations are mostly in modern western secular societies.

The scholars of religion, however, have seen these claims before: not a one has ever held up to scrutiny or time. Early twentieth-century sociologists also predicted the decline and inevitable extinction of religion, and well, look around you.

But the question is far more than simply “Is religion going extinct?” but actually a more nuanced discussion on religion itself. How are they defining religion? The study examines censuses from different nations, which usually asks about religious affiliation, i.e. are you part of an officially recognized, institutionalized religion, which is, without question, on the decline. But census questionnaires do not ask deeper questions. When most people check the “non-religious” box they are usually rejecting the concept of a dogmatic religion, which modern popular sentiment views as violent, divisive, and even silly. But these questionnaires do not account for the multitude of ways people then reinterpret their religiosity: atheistic religions, magical religions, UFO religions, satirical religion, or even vague notions of “spiritual” religions that can incorporate everything from astrology to yoga to homeopathy to psychology, etc.

I posit that when people check the non-religious box they are, in fact, objecting to the word “religion” itself, and its popular negative conceptual implications. It is a political statement. A statement that conveys a critique of perceived imposed religion. In modern western secular societies, this narrow view of religion is what is on the decline, but not religiosity itself.

(Better) Scholars of religion refrain from advancing a particular definition of religion, because when they try, they usually end up with a religion that looks akin to an Abrahamic, monotheistic tradition (i.e. a god or gods, a prime text, ritual, community, etc.). They are cherry-picking familiar traits from non-Abrahamic traditions in order to ease categorization (See Robert A. Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth). This has a consequence of explicitly or implicitly legitimizing religions that resemble the western conceptual framework, which also, intentionally or not, has political and legal ramifications. If your religion falls outside of the rigid concept, then you (as an individual or as a group) face particular challenges. If your religion deliberately rejects the rigid concept of religion (ex.: Neo-Pagans/Wiccans have no prime text or center of authority precisely because they view these things as rigid and unadaptive*; Satanists have no concept of the divine, no main building or communal rituals, yet fully adopt the term “religion;” Raeliens self-identify as atheistic, yet ascribe to the notion of aliens as the creators of human life via cloning) then courts have difficulty making judgements on what protections you are afforded, because they first have to define religion in order to protect it, which becomes an issue if your religion is “atypical” (suggesting there are “normal” and “abnormal” religions).

So when we, the scholars of religion, read yet another study from scientists about how religion is on the decline, a psychological delusion, or has  a “god” gene we react with a collective eyeroll. Studies like these assume particular premises of religion that scholars of religion not only reject, but deliberately avoid, because they are all predicated on stiff definitions of religion, instead of on the far more useful (so far) approach to defining religion based on an ever-shifting (yet admittedly more complicated) notion of political, social, religious, and even economic tensions and negotiations.

The scientific studies themselves are political statements: it denotes that scientists, funding agencies, and institutions are invested in disavowing religion, likely because religion is viewed as an impediment to scientific advancements. And religions absolutely have been, at certain times, in some places (they have also been patrons of science). The current climate in western nations is reflective of a decrease in institutionalized religion, and the reaction to this is for “fundamentalism” to embed more deeply, and vehemently reject science (such as the creationist worldview). Communities under duress amplify their confrontational and schismatic rhetoric. The scientific studies, then, are responding to this rhetoric. There is no apolitical religion or science.

_______

* Scholars of texts argue that “scripture” has always been reinterpreted and adapted to negotiate changing societies. I agree with this view, but here I am addressing the perceived notion of text being inflexible.