Women, Religion, and Culture in Spain and Spanish America (1900-2000)

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages


This network will conceive, develop, and explore a new set of questions about how women's cultural production in Spain and Spanish America is intertwined with changes in the role of religion and spirituality in the 20th and 21st centuries. This project will help to recast cultural Modernism, which has often been seen as a period in which the death of God was paramount, as a constructive artistic enterprise aimed at discovering new constellations of material and spiritual life.

On the morning of Tuesday 11th September 2001 al-Qaeda hijacked and flew two American passenger planes into the World Trade Centre-a symbol of global capitalism-killing 2,996 people. The relevance of religion was reaffirmed for the western world in the wake of this incident (Winnfield 2007). In the immediate aftermath the socio-political changes in global relations were apparent to everyone, but in recent years the event of 9/11 has made the connections between art, politics, and religion more explicit, after a period of scepticism about the ability for art to achieve anything at all (Eagleton 2014: 196). The threats and attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten have acted as a violent reminder of the power of art to affect change-positive or negative-on society. More recently, viral images of French police demanding that a woman remove a burquini on a beach were juxtaposed with a 1925 image of a woman in a bathing suit standing on a Florida beach as the police measure the distance from the hem to the knee to ensure it confirms with strict swimsuit regulations. These two images, which challenge assumptions about advancement of the personal and religious freedom of women in contemporary society, invite exploration of the renewed 'interdependence of politics and religion' (Critchley 2012: 8) and suggest that we reopen questions about the origins of patriarchy in control of a woman's sexuality (Lerner 1986). As well as drawing attention to the continued attempts to regulate the women's bodies in the public sphere, the images act as evidence of the increased power of the visual image in contemporary discourses of power.

Spain and Spanish America have long been a crucible of politico-religious tensions, from the complex relationship between Islam and Christianity in early modern Iberia to the clash between the Church and progressive forces culminating in the Spanish Civil War and exile. From the moment Christianity was introduced in Spanish America, it has always been in dialogue with indigenous religions and beliefs and the growth of movements like Liberation Theology in the later part of the twentieth century as well as the more recent spread of evangelical movements show a continued preoccupation with religious thought in the region.

This broad historical overview might suggest that a crude narrative exists in which religion waned after the Enlightenment only to return to centre stage in 2001. This is an over-simplified position but one which contains a grain of truth. The focus and value that modernist writers and artists placed on the overturning of old orthodoxies at the beginning of the 20th century inevitably included a rejection of organised religion, yet they did not disengage from the types of philosophical questions often associated with religious devotion (Gay 2010). The main aim of this project is to explore the use of symbols and imagery related to both organised and alternative religions and spiritualties in works by women artists and writers from across the Spanish-speaking world to show that whilst the influences of organised religion on social and political life was waning, writers and artists still used and engaged with religious symbols as a means of explaining the world.

Planned Impact

In addition to bringing benefits to the academic community, this project will benefit practitioners, specifically translators and the third sector, particularly those working in film and museums and galleries. All information related to the project will also be available to the public in general.

This project includes a round table discussion with academics, translators, theatre groups, film schedulers and representatives of London's museums and galleries. The purpose of this activity is two-fold, as it will (i) stimulate discussion about why the works of women writers and artists from Spain and Spanish America are not particularly well represented in the UK cultural scene and (ii) identify concrete ways in which academics can better support practitioners and representatives from the third sector in order to increase the visibility of works by women from the Spanish-speaking world.

The wider public will have access to a wide range of information about the project through the dedicated website, which will include podcasts of talks as well as blog posts with updates on the project as well as information on current news stories from Spain and Spanish America relating to the broader topic of religion and spirituality. The virtual reading groups will be hosted through the free Piazza platform and will be accessible to anyone who wishes to join. Anyone will be able to follow the project's twitter feed and interact with tweets. The project will also curate a virtual exhibition using Google exhibits, which will be freely accessible to the public.


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