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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prodigal Knowledge: Queer Journeys in Religious and Secular Borderlands

  • Author(s): Devries, Karen
  • Advisor(s): Haraway, Donna J.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

How might feminists better inherit worlds produced by the modern method of dividing knowledge into religious and secular, sacred and profane? While many moderns pledge allegiance to one sphere or the other, the complicated heritage of various feminisms includes a few theorists who are queerly positioned in relation to this Great Divide and its discursive apparatus. To elaborate this queer positioning, this dissertation introduces a Prodigal Daughter figure who belongs to a kin group of feminist figures intent on producing "situated knowledges." Neither properly religious nor secular, Prodigal Daughter has a fractured sense of belonging to her heritage of Western Christian Realism and its religious and secular offspring. Honing in on this logic through a reading of the Christian Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Prodigal Daughter disidentifies with dominant Christian and Secular knowledge formations and gathers up stories regarding knowledge about religion in the contemporary United States.

Juxtaposed to phallogocentric stories and modes of knowledge production, the dissertation draws on personal memoir to enact a counter-narrative of a permanently Prodigal Daughter. Unlike the straight and narrow path of a Pilgrim's Progress conversion narrative, Prodigal Daughter charts her path in a wayfaring mode seeking worldly knowledge and wisdom. Part I is oriented around belonging, knowledge, and authority in the Christian Reformed Church in Churchill, Montana. Formed in this crucible, Prodigal Daughter experiences an increasingly fractured sense of belonging and ventures out into the secular world. Part II traces Prodigal Daughter's knowledge seeking endeavors in several allegorical places, including: the Lands of Liberal Learning (Chapter 3), a Pluralist Pantheon (Chapter 4), the Bluffs of Betrayal and Registers of Difference (Chapter 5), and eventually, the Quagmire of Critique (Chapter 6). The dissertation concludes with Signposts to Feminist Worldly Wisdom where Prodigal Daughter acquires the language to help her and her queer kin flourish in a world structured by discursive regimes that reproduce subjects and conditions of possibility through markers of religious and sexual identity.

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