< August 2019 >
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Faithful Bodies: Affect Theory and Religion

A symposium at Macquarie University


Image: Bernardo Strozzi, St Secundus and the Angel, c. 1615/1640, Hermitage Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Date: Wednesday 21 August 2019
Venue: 12 Wally’s Walk, Room 801, Macquarie University
Enquiries: clare.monagle@mq.edu.au
Register: RSVP to Clare Monagle (clare.monagle@mq.edu.au) by August 15.

Download the Symposium Programme


‘the story that we are angels is the ultimate narcotic, distorting our understanding of our own bodies and the bodies with which we share this world’

Donovan Schaefer, Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015)

In Religious Affects Schaefer diagnoses an addiction bedevilling the human species, at least within the world we call western, to the fantasy of our ontological separation from animality. He charts the effects of this addiction particularly in the realm of religion, considering how this insistence of human particularity – defined by human capacity for reason, language and spirituality – has blinded us to the pre-linguistic corporeal basis of religious appetite and practice. Humans do not, Schaefer points out, have a monopoly on the forms of wonder, desire for connection, and talismanic experience of the natural world that he argues to constitute religious experience. But when we make ourselves angels, rather than animals, Schaefer argues we repudiate the spiritual possibilities of our carnality, and alienate ourselves from the world that gives us life.

This symposium asks two questions. The first is historical. How did we turn ourselves into angels? And what were the historical moments within which our angel-ness gained purchase and bedded down. Are there historical moments where the costs, as defined by Schaefer, become particularly and helpfully visible? The second question is one that pertains to current practice in Religious Studies. How does our study of religion look if we try to go to rehab for our reliance on the narcotic of our supposed angel-ness? That is, if we give materiality, affect and embodiment priority over the cognitive and linguistic for understanding spiritual experience. Would ‘religion’, ‘faith and ‘sacred’ work as categories anymore? What other words in our tool kit might we lose if we stayed off the drug? What are the gains and losses of ‘recovery’?


  • Donovan Schaefer (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Clare Monagle (Macquarie University)
  • Karin Sellberg (The University of Queensland)
  • Chris Müller (Macquarie University)
  • Danielle Celermajer (The University of Sydney)
  • Teja Brooks Pribac (The University of Sydney)
  • Peter Sherlock (University of Divinity)
  • Louise D’Arcens (Macquarie University)

This event is Sponsored by the Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University and the Macquarie University Node of the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, and co-sponsored by the ARC Laureate Program for the Deep Human Past & ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.