Numinous Subjects

Numinous Subjects: Engendering the Sacred in Western Culture, An Essay

Lucy Tatman
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Numinous Subjects
    Book Description:

    Part religious studies, part feminist theory, part philosophy, part indescribable: such is Numinous Subjects. Described by the author as 'a kaleidoscopic exploration of why three gendered figures of the sacred matter within western culture,' the experience of reading this text truly is akin to gazing through a constantly turning kaleidoscope. Images, concepts, phrases and quotes are continually revisited, recombined, though never repeated in quite the same way. From these tumbling constellations arises a new understanding and wary appreciation of the figures of the virgin, the mother, and the whore. Drawing on the insights of thinkers as diverse as Rudolph Otto, Julia Kristeva, Simone de Beauvoir, and Martin Buber, Numinous Subjects simultaneously expands and focuses our attention on the myth of the sacred and its implications for female subjects in western culture today.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-00-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The numinous, the sacred, the holy. Mysterious, dreadful, desirable, alluring, terrifying, soothing, disruptive – all together all at once. The sacred. ‘Not religion or its opposite, atheistic negation, but the experience that beliefs both shelter and exploit, at the crossroads of sexuality and thought, body and meaning, which women feel intensely but without being preoccupied by it and about which there remains much for them – for us – to say.’¹ Being quite preoccupied with the rather elusive notion of the sacred, the preceding words by Julia Kristeva always make me smile. Which is to say, I agree entirely with...

  5. 1. In the Beginning, Myths
    (pp. 7-16)

    Myths. Stories that reveal and establish, simultaneously, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of everything that matters. Stories that tell of creation: the creation of the world, if it is the world that matters, or the creation of the heavens, if the heavens matter, the creation of this particular mountain, this specific stream, this exact rock, this kind of herb – if they are what matters to those keeping the myth alive. Myths do not explain, exactly, but they establish and reveal, simultaneously, the what and the why of it all, including the what and why of different human beings. Myths...

  6. 2. Wrestling with Religion
    (pp. 17-24)

    What is the relation of the sacred to religion? Could it be that the sacred is always already sacrilegious? What if the sacred is always already blasphemous, always already on the verge of unbearable? And what if this blasphemous, intolerable sacred is imagined to be the very foundation of religion? What if, that is, the sacred is simultaneously both the fundamental subject matter of religion and the bane of religion’s existence?

    In this chapter I will sketch one way that ‘we’ (and by ‘we’ I mean specifically, narrowly, those of us who are relatively privileged inhabitants of the western, still...

  7. 3. Numinous Subjects
    (pp. 25-48)

    Virgin, whore, mother: too harshly literal to be ‘just’ metaphors, too potently imagistic to be ‘just concepts’, too suffused with sacred associations to be merely secular designations. That’s it, they are figures suffused with sacred associations, numinous subjects indeed, but how, and why does it matter anyway?

    The sacred. ‘The sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being.’¹ So we are dealing with ontology then. But ontology with a kick, it would seem. ‘The full range of the term sacred, or rather, of the Latin sacer, which is sometimes...

  8. Questions
    (pp. 49-50)

    I wonder why it is the case that at this time within the western cultural imaginary white working-class women are expected to be strong and to speak their minds, to possess a wealth of common-sense wisdom. And I wonder why a white working-class woman who makes no secret of enjoying sex is so liable to be called a slut, a whore. Why are black women expected to be spectacularly powerful mothers, to find ways out of no way to provide for their children? Why are out-spoken black women so often assumed to be as well pillars of moral authority? And...

  9. 4. The Femininity of the Sacred
    (pp. 51-64)

    The sacred, the holy, the numinous: already I have characterized it as ‘the vexingly gendered conjunction of immanence and transcendence,’ yet such a description lacks specificity, cries out for explanation. In response then … It seems to me that the numinous, expressed more fully as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, both embodies and posits the terrifying convergence of immanence and transcendence, or, the coming together of feminine extremes. And now to explain. The mythic femininity of immanence, its tremendously excessive materiality, physicality and corporeality, is blatant.¹ In all its blatancy, however, I think the femininity of immanence has served to...

  10. 5. Subjects in Abundance
    (pp. 65-78)

    ‘Abundance,’ says the sacred. A statement at once descriptive and demanding. At once restful in its placid certitude: there is abundance, now as it was in the beginning, reality is abundant; and unrelenting in its insistence: there must be many, must be more and other. The sacred refuses to be placed in the service of the singular, of the static, of the unchanging.

    What might it mean, what might it change if female subjects were loved, imagined, thought, known in accordance with the abundant logic of the sacred? How might such an abundant imagining, abundant knowing answer Michel Foucault’s (still)...

  11. 6. Ethics With/In Abundance
    (pp. 79-86)

    Chicago, Illinois, 1989. Running almost late, I bounded down the stairs and burst out the side-door, only to freeze immediately. He was one step away, our eyes perfectly level, and perfectly locked. I had surprised him, caught him off guard, he had surprised me, caught me off guard – if there was a difference I do not know how to tell it. Neither of us had been expecting this encounter, that much was clear. There was no one else in that narrow passageway. Would he attack? Would I scream? Would he leap, would I run? We both of us stood...

  12. 7. Corporeality and the Numinous
    (pp. 87-94)

    Dear Woman,

    To read the sacred inscriptions upon your body I must know your skin as palimpsest. With my fingertips I trace words no longer visible to the naked eye. Letters long since scraped off, or covered over with layer after layer of the tamed, acceptable, and ordinary. Steeped in the dye of the same, still the Other etchings upon your skin remain. Demand to be read. And as they are read, are they not written ever anew?

    Just here, beneath the lines around your eyes, and here, in the corner of your crooked smile, I read, I write mysterium....

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 95-100)
  14. Index
    (pp. 101-105)