The Gendered Invention of “Religion” in Colonial-Modernity and its Implications for Global Politics | Dr. Rabea Khan (University of St. Andrews) | AMI Research Seminar

In this research seminar Dr Khan provided a critical historical deconstruction of the power category ‘religion’ and demonstrated how ‘religion’ emerged in post-Westphalian, Enlightenment Europe as a gendered (and racial) category. Dr Khan explained how religion, in colonial-modernity, is a feminised category, both historically and discursively, and what the implications of this feminisation look like.

Attaching the label ‘religious’ to actors, especially in the arena of Global Politics, can have severe consequences, often marking such actors as dangerous, irrational, and non-negotiable. Dr Khan explained how notions of irrationality are so easily attached to actors marked as ‘religious’ due to the feminine gender identity inscribed on the modern-colonial concept ‘religion’.

The gendered implications of the religious label are further illustrated by how the popular ‘good religion’ versus ‘bad religion’ narrative continues to prevail in political discourses. ‘Good religion’ is imagined as acting gender-conforming to the feminine nature that has been inscribed on the category ‘religion’ in modernity. It is also imagined as the ideal form of religion, modelled on the Euro-Christian template. ‘Bad religion’ on the other hand acts as gender non-conforming and by inserting itself into the public sphere. It is also most commonly attached to non-Western religion, and especially Islam, which has a long history of being presented as the prime example of ‘bad religion’. Thus, the gender identity inscribed on ‘religion’ makes possible and reifies racial hierarchies and has been crucial in aiding the colonial project during Europe’s colonial era where ‘religion’ was also used as a tool to sort people on a racial hierarchy from less developed to more developed.

Dr. Rabea Khan successfully defended her PhD thesis at the University of St. Andrews in June 2021 with a thesis entitled the ‘The Gendered Coloniality of the Religious Terrorism Thesis: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Religious Labels and their Selective Use in Terrorism Studies’. Rabea’s work is interdisciplinary and brings together the fields of Critical Terrorism Studies and Critical Religion, utilising gender and decolonial theory. Rabea is currently working on her first manuscript, based on her PhD thesis which explores the colonial origins and function of the category ‘religious terrorism’. Her research interests include terrorism, religion, discourse analysis, race, gender, and post- and decolonial theory.