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Volume 7, Number 2
FALL 2017

Polymer Love, by John Modern. Who and What is Sex For?: Notes on Theogamy and the Sexuality of Religion, by Lucinda Ramberg. Paying for Kinship: Muslim Divorce and the Privatization of Insecurity, by Katherine Lemons. And Plural: Mormon Polygamy and the Biopolitics of Secularism, by Peter Coviellor.


Polymer Love

  Dear Pastor Rex: I really have enjoyed hearing you on television. I can never thank the Lord enough for what He has done for me through your ministry.
          When I first began to listen to your services on TV, my husband would go outside and not come back in until it was over, but I just kept on turning you on every Sunday morning. After a few Sundays went by, he would come through the room a few times while the program was on.
          Then one Sunday morning, he turned on the TV and said to me, "Aren't you going to listen to Rex this morning?" I answered him, "I sure am." So he sat down and listened to the singing and your sermon. Then one Sunday when you asked all who wanted to be prayed for to come up and you would pray for them, he stood up by his chair and said, I want you to pray for me."
          I was so happy I cried. He was just fine for two months, then he dropped dead with a heart attack.
          So that is why I am so glad to have you for my TV pastor. I shall always be so very grateful for you and the Cathedral of Tomorrow. I know that God is with me and will never let me down.
          —Mrs. F.C., California
You Are Loved
Rex Humbard pitched his tent just outside Akron, Ohio during his 1952 summer "Gospel Big Top" tour. Humbard, an ordained Pentecostal minister, heralded from Little Rock, Arkansas and had grown up in a traveling gospel ministry led by his parents. When Humbard arrived in this midwestern industrial hub he was the patriarch of his own traveling music ministry (with his wife, Maude Aimee, and eventually with his children, Rex Jr., Don, Elizabeth, and Charles). During his summer Akron stint, Humbard took a trip downtown. As Humbard recalled, he was walking down the street one night when he noticed a crowd gathered outside a department store window. He had a revelation right then and there, an insight into the future of crowds, his destiny, and a world increasingly tied to screens. God, claimed Humbard, had given us the gift of television. "Even more remarkable [than] the TV medium's unique person-toperson intimacy [was] the undeniable power of the picture tube [. . .] to hold 140 Polymer Love on to the newly attracted attention of the listener until he begins to realize in his mind and heart the truth of what he is hearing."




Who and What is Sex For?: Note on
Theogamy and the Sexuality of Religion

  Long before History of Sexuality, Volume I, Foucault suggested, in praise of Georges Bataille, that discourse on sexuality had been shaped to fit a space left by the death of God [. . . .] If queer theory analyzes the discourses that swelled to fill the empty throne room of God, how could it not be troubled by lingering words about that old God? [. . .] Queer religion will continue to make trouble for queer theory so long as religion contains the dangerous memory of older theologies, by which I mean, older theories of how to make sex out of bodies and pleasures.
          óMark Jordan
How are we to think about the relationship between religion and sex as categories of knowledge? How have they and how do they organize our ideas about what bodily enactments can do or mean? Do we consider religious and sexual expressions to be discrete, indiscrete, or interpenetrating domains of human activity? In the formulation offered above by historian of Christianity Mark Jordan, theologies are theories of "how to make sex out of bodies and pleasures." The idea that theology articulates sex confounds our usual habits of thought. Typically we think of religion and sex as discreet domains sequestered respectively within houses of the gods and the bedrooms of the world. How have we come to take this organization of ecstasies for granted? As a concept and as a practice, theogamy, marriage of or between the gods, is useful to think about in relation to these questions.




Paying for Kinship: Muslim Divorce
and the Privatization of Insecurity

  Years into my research on Muslim divorce in India, and years into our friendship, I finally asked Nadia, a Muslim woman in her early 30s, how her divorce had been carried out. She told me that her husband had said "talaq, talaq, talaq" to her in the presence of several members of their family. The utterance, which effectively divorced the couple, followed a set of long negotiations between the families about where she would live, who would retain custody of their son, and who would be financially responsible for her and her son after the split. Some of these discussions were mediated by the imam from the mosque they attended in their Old Delhi neighborhood, but most were kept within the family. The utterance "talaq, talaq, talaq" was the culmination of a process of undoing their marriage and setting up the conditions of their divorce; in this sense the couple, and their families, had been undergoing divorce for some time and the utterance merely marked the end of this process. No state apparatus was involved.
          According to the Hanafi legal tradition of Sunni Islam, the utterance "talaq, talaq, talaq" is performative: in saying these words to his wife, a Muslim husband divorces her, much like Austin's classic example of "I do" (take you to be my wife) in the wedding ceremony. This form of divorce, which is one among the several that are available to Sunni husbands and wives, is called talaq-ul-ba'in [irrevocable divorce]. Talaq-ul-ba'in can only be given by a husband unless a couple have explicitly stated in the marriage contract that the wife has the right to unilateral divorce. According to Hanafi jurisprudence, talaq-ul-ba'in is a divorce "given in violation of the prescribed procedure," and most Islamic legal scholars and practitioners consider it to be legal but reprehensible. This is because unlike other forms of unilateral divorce, which allow for reconciliation between spouses, talaq-ul-ba'in is irrevocable. In situations like Nadia's, talaq-ul-ba'in is a useful instrument to 198 Paying for Kinship finalize a divorce to which all parties agree without having to go through the courts as the process is extra-judicial: it does not require legal authorization, religious or secular.



Plural: Mormon Polygamy and the Biopolitics
of Secularism

  In the March issue of its 1855 run, Putnam's Monthly led with an editorial. A newish arrival on the tumultuous scene of mid-century New York periodical culture, Putnam's was a rival to established venues like Harper's, and had sought to distinguish itself in the literary marketplace not least through its trumpeted commitment to a certain style of American progressivism: to explicitly American content—American themes, American authors—and also, increasingly, to the great progressive cause of anti-slavery. Only a year and a half before, none other than Herman Melville had published "Bartleby" in two installments in Putnam's; later in 1855, over three issues, Putnam's would run Melville's incendiary parable of slavery and revolt, "Benito Cereno." No surprise, then, that the editorial from the March 1855 number took as its subject and theme a piece of homegrown Americana. It was entitled, simply, "The Mormons."
          The text of the editorial itself is curious. Though its occasion is the pending Mormon petition for statehood, and though it does indeed expend some rhetorical energy specifying for its readers some of the vagaries of Mormon theology—the Mormon belief in the protodivinity of humankind, say; or the Mormon conviction that God is not merely spirit but embodied, has "limbs and local habitation"—nevertheless what the editorial amounts to finally is neither legal disquisition nor metaphysical inquiry. Or not exactly. We are offered instead an ardent rhapsody on the saving human force of something that is reducible neither to religion nor to law, though the editorial will insist that this force, the preservative of "everything that is pure and sacred" in the species, underwrites both. This force, this preservative, Putnam's informs its readers, is monogamy.
          At a moment that witnessed the high flower of what has been called a "culture of sentiment," with its relentless aggrandizement of the private nuclear family as the wellspring of all that was redeeming in a world corrupted by the amorality of market capital, this editorial was, perhaps, unremarkable. But 220 Plural listen to the terms in which that rhapsody unfolds: "Monogamy is sanctioned by our religion," we are told, "but goes beyond our religion [. . . .] It is one of the elementary distinctions—historical and actual—between European and Asiatic humanity [. . . .] It is one of the pre-existing conditions of our existence as civilized white men [. . . .] Strike it out, and you destroy our very being; and when we say our, we mean our race—a race which has its great and broad destiny, a solemn aim in the great career of civilization, with which none of us has any right to trifle."
          Religion and beyond religion: these are the coordinates within which the editorial moves. Notably, what italicizes the editorialist's disgust is not Mormon theology, or not quite. Nor is it precisely the mere fact of Mormon erotic errancy, though this is indeed the occasion for an especially fulsome performance of horror. Rather, because of their derangements of normative intimacy, which are themselves wholly entangled with a set of devotional practices the devious Mormon leadership has conspired to counterfeit as "religion," the Mormons figure here as race-traitors. Their very existence, in the progressive American nineteenth century, appears as a dire sort of scandal for Putnam's. They are threats from within, a population fallen away from the civilizing destiny of whiteness, and so they pose a danger to nothing less than the flourishing of life, of liberty, of imperial nationality.



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