2007-08 | Religious Biopolitics: Transcendental Hygienics Past, Present and Future

Faculty Leader: James D. Faubion, Professor and Chair of Anthropology
Student Participants: Ann Gleig (religious Studies), Sarah Graham (English), Andrea Jain (religious studies), Daniel Levine (religious studies), Valerie Olson (anthropology)
In the first volume of his History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault traces the clinical and psychoanalytic pastoralism of what he calls the biopolitical "anatomo-politics of the human body" in large part to a Christian confessional that he characterizes as being then and as still being "the general standard governing the production of true discourse about sex." The concepts, disciplines and domains of intervention that Foucault includes within the broader Western European universe of biopower suggest that it has its most purely extra-ecclesiastic realization in nineteenth-century France. There, the church and its clerics are remarkable for their absence. Across the Atlantic, however, the universe of biopower takes a different turn. Its expansion in Europe and in America has the same impetus--the cholera epidemic of 1832. A good many physicians are among its American executors, but its great popularizers are with few exceptions ardent Christians, though sometimes Christians very much of their own cloth. The focus of the research that I will develop in the Mellon Seminar, what I call "religious biopolitics," thus belongs to the history of the refractions of the modern apparatus of governmentality as they mingle with the voluntarism, sectarianism and pragmatic utopianism of an America that has long interposed between the individual body and the general population its ever fissile array of Protestant congregations--which it has exported and continues to export widely around the world.  Download a complete description.