My name is Sarojini Nadar. I hold the Desmond Tutu Research Chair and am Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Justice at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. The Desmond Tutu Centre seeks to broadly advance research which focuses on the intersections of religious and cultural studies and social justice. Within the 5 thematic areas of focus within the Centre lies a special emphasis on “religion and gender justice.” In this focus area we seek to foster critical research and civic engagement, which actively challenge the intersecting and systemic powers that produce and maintain the marginalisation and oppression of those who identify as female and queer. More specifically, this area of research focus seeks to explore how religion and culture operate with, and through, social institutions to determine and promote gendered discourses, beliefs and practices. This research produces important insights about gender based violence not least of all because religious discourses such as beliefs in male supremacy and female submission, promote gender-based violence.
I am often taken aback at the dichotomy that people draw between activism and academia in our responses to gender-based violence. I want to be clear – this is a false dichotomy. As I have said elsewhere, my academic passion comes from my embodied experiences not just cerebral analysis. I have learned that our most authentic academic work emerges when we call deep on our courage, and dare to share our deepest fragility; not as ‘navel gazing’ exhibitionism but because we know that when we share our vulnerabilities it develops solidarities across boundaries of race, religion and class. When we allow our bodies to determine our reflections we produce more profound analysis and this deepens, rather than weakens our theoretical reflections. My path to becoming a professor in the fields of gender and religion and researcher in the field of sexual violence was carved through deep personal reflections on how the futures of women and young girls are determined and shaped by religious and cultural norms, which dictate what, how and when she can make choices about herself.
So my activism is my academic reflection and vice versa. This is why I often write opinion-editorial pieces which focus on current issues in South Africa, which I am happy to share on this site too.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
2019 is the year I finish my book on sexual violence and religion. The topic is as broad as that because this book is over a decade in the making, and I have not been able to narrow it to a single focus. It is so deeply entwined with my own personal journey through a court rape trial and childhood sexual violence, that it has been one of the most challenging things to write…but this is the year that it gets done!
I so hear and support your naming the false dichotomy of academia (I’m going to add professional careers) and activism and appreciate your strong claim of the embodied experience propelling your work. I think that is true for many of us, particularly women, that the experience of our lives smacks us right up against the cultural, social and religious obstacles to our well being and full potential as developing human beings.
Thank you for your work and courage in addressing these systems that oppress and stigmatize.