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Lekkie Hopkins

Further information

About the author

Lekkie Hopkins is the co-ordinator of the Women's Studies programme at Edith Cowan University. She is particularly interested in the history of social protest, and is currently engaged in a longitudinal study of women activists in the peace movement in WA; an oral history of WA women’s experience of mastectomy; and a biography of former Australian Senator Patricia Giles.

Publication details

Volume 14, May 2006

Conference Report: Women and the Divine

Hosted by The Institute of Feminist Theory and Research,
The University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University College
Dale Hall, University of Liverpool, England

17 – 19 June 2005

I found this conference to be the best I have attended. No doubt there are many reasons for this: first, the subject matter, which is quite different from my usual academic focus, was immensely stimulating and the papers presented gave me fresh ways to conceptualise my own academic thinking and pedagogical endeavours; second, the conference was exceptionally well organised; third, all delegates were accommodated in the conference venue itself, so that sleeping, dining, partying and conferencing were all within easy walking distance; fourth, the weather was marvellous and the grounds were leafy and shady; and fifth, everyone from organisers to keynote speakers to delegates approached this conference with a kind of generosity and genuine desire to explore intellectual differences and celebrate similarities that is rare in academia.

It is perhaps an indication of the extent of the intellectual and social generosity that pervaded the conference that I haven’t even mentioned yet that Luce Irigaray was the star attraction of the conference. At 76 years of age and after 5 decades of academic celebrity, Irigaray was without a doubt the most celebrated woman present, and yet even she refused the self-absorption of the prima donna, preferring instead to make herself available for discussions and book-signings at mealtimes and during the conference to the limit of her endurance. Irigaray’s work on women and the divine guided and influenced much of the thinking behind conference papers. She has coined the term sensible transcendental to describe an embodied spirituality; she conceives of the feminine divine as a horizon; she links a feminist ethics, poetics and politics to the emergence of an embodied feminine divine. Irigaray writes of love and wonder and the passions and their place in contemporary epistemologies. I spoke with her briefly about the ways I apply her ideas in my teaching, in particular to the question of working across the difference between the self and the other in feminist activist practice. She appeared delighted that her work is finding such practical application amongst feminist scholars and community workers in the antipodes.

Irigaray’s keynote address was called 'Fulfilling our humanity'. How to pursue our human becoming? she asked. How, in particular, to take into account the feminine journey towards the divine? Would a divine in the feminine be capable of escaping the dangers of all sorts of fundamentalisms without neglecting a collective spiritual dimension respectful to each individual? In addition to speaking at this plenary session, Irigaray chaired a roundtable discussion on her work in literature and architecture, and made herself available for a two hour interactive question and answer session with conference delegates.

The conference was attended by about 120 women and a dozen men from a range of countries (Britain, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, India, Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia) and from a range of religious traditions (eg Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, North American Indian). Some delegates were not aligned with any religious tradition. Delegates were of all ages and at a range of stages in their academic lives. Exciting work from young feminist scholars included papers by Agnes Bosanquet from Macquarie University in Sydney ('Seeking the sensible transcendental: an amorous exchange'), Simone Roberts from a university in Texas ('Tantric dance of a divine love'), Sal Renshaw from Nipissing University in Canada ('Longing for the divine other: Helene Cixous’ La Ville Parjure'), Marta Trezebiatowska from Exeter University in England ('Common pathways, different lives: the sacred and the profane in the ‘coming out’ stories of Catholic nuns and lesbian women in Poland') and Lucy Tatman from ANU in Canberra ('Numinous subjects: a feminine sacred trinity'). In addition, the wisdom of the keynote speakers was apparent: Morny Joy from Calgary spoke on 'Abandonment/abundance: reflections on women, the gift and the divine'; and Melissa Raphael from England gave a marvellous paper called 'The Kiss of Shekhinah: tracing the interface between motherhood and God in the Holocaust'.


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