By Mary Beth Moser April 8, 2015
Sunlight streamed through the open classroom windows and the fragrance of cherry blossoms filled the air at the park-like campus of Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon, where the American Academy of Religion (AAR) Pacific Northwest held its annual regional conference on March 27-29, 2015. Women's Spirituality Program alumna Susan Carter, serving as President of the region, gave the keynote address on Friday night, "The Japanese Sun Goddess: Her Emergence and Survival in Shinto Japan" drawing from her dissertation research.
This year, there were four Arts and Religion panels spanning the three days of the conference. Susan Carter and Louise Paré, also an alumna of the Women's Spirituality Program, initiated the "Arts and Religion" Program Unit of the AAR here in the Northwest in 2009. Initiated as a "special topic session" for three years, it was then approved as a permanent program unit in the region starting in 2012. The section has grown steadily each year, providing an opportunity to present our work in a supportive and lively environment.
For me, being at these conferences calls attention to the importance of our program, its multidisciplinary approach, and our methodologies, which include many ways of knowing, stating our worldviews and sharing our personal connection to the research. I hope that current students as well as graduates will consider presenting at this and other conferences in the future. It is a great way to prepare for your dissertation defense, to communicate your essential ideas along the way, and to experience a sense of community.
Photo: Louise M. Paré presenting on "Life Burgeoning/Healing: The Magic of Woman's Body Dancing"
See the titles and descriptions of the presentations of our CIIS Women's Spirituality Program graduates below.
Presentations offered at AAR by Women's Spirituality alumni:
• Marion Dumont, "Kau'xuma'nupika - Native American Dreamer-Prophet of the Columbia Plateau" (Women and Religion section)
• Marion Dumont, "Bones, Stones, Feathers and Flora: L'objets Trouvé-in Ritual, Art and Spiritual Practice" (Arts and Religion section)
• Louise M. Paré, "Life Burgeoning/Healing: The Magic of Woman's Body Dancing" (Arts and Religion section)
• Susan G. Carter, "Poetry, Prose, and Spirit: A Glimpse of Women's Spiritual Lives in Women's Writings of Heian Japan" (Arts and Religion section)
• Mary Beth Moser, "Upon This Rock: Sacred Stones and the Immanence of Life in the Alpine Folk Traditions" (Arts and Religion section)
Friday, March 27, 2015 at 8:00 PM
The Japanese Sun Goddess: Her Emergence and Survival in Shinto Japan
- Susan G. Carter
Of all the world's main religions, only in Shinto is a goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, the Japanese Sun Goddess, preeminent without a male consort. From a western feminist perspective, this fact is remarkable. This presentation explores why Amaterasu-o-mi-kami came forward in female form and still enjoys her spiritual reign in the Shinto pantheon.
To illuminate Amaterasu-o-mi-kami's possible roots and reasons for survival, an interdisciplinary approach was used to reconstruct Japan's ancient history and to demonstrate the existence of matristic culture (an idea put forward, but not elaborated on, by a number of scholars of Japan). This matristic culture provided fertile ground for the myth of Amaterasu-o-mi-kami to develop. In the early formation of the nation of Japan, the Yamato clan claimed her as their tutelary deity, capitalized on her popularity, and then used her to unify the country, thereby ensuring her survival. Even the later introduction and adoption of Buddhism did not eliminate her as the head of the Shinto pantheon; the syncretism between Shinto and Buddhism also bolstered the Sun Goddesses' survival.
Today, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami still serves as a bridge from the past to the present and from the sacred to the secular. The Japanese Emperor acts as intermediary between Amaterasu-o-mi-kami and the people, tracing his ancestral origins to her as original ancestor of the ruling family and "mother" of the nation. Japanese people honor and worship her regularly through her rituals associated with abundance and fertility, and the well-being of the nation.
Join this exploration of the ancient and contemporary reign of the Japanese Sun Goddess. Share in the noteworthy factors that helped bring her into being and consider the ways in which she continues to shape Japan today.
Kau'xuma'nupika - Native American Dreamer-Prophet of the Columbia Plateau
- Marion Dumont
This paper tells the story about a Native American woman who was a member of the Ktunaxa Nation or Kootenai as they are more commonly known in the Northwest. Kau'xuma'nupika was born in the late eighteenth century and gained notoriety because she was transgendered and because of her active engagement in the political and social events of her time. In my doctoral dissertation I explore her diverse yet congruous roles a courier, guide, warrior, dreamer-prophet, shaman, and peacemaker. Here, I emphasize her active presence on the Columbia Plateau in the Indian resistance movement of the early nineteenth century.
Three main ideas will be highlighted in the sharing of her story. One is the idea that gender fluidity among precontact Ktunaxa allowed for the active participation of individuals, regardless of their maleness or femaleness, in political, social and cultural events. Another is the understanding of spiritual belief systems as shapers of a people's knowledge, history, and culture. And lastly, the idea that a cross-disciplinary approach to history (e.g. philosophy, religion, and women's history) facilitates a more holistic understanding of our past.
I write as a non-native American living more than two hundred years after Kau'xuma'nupika's birth. While I recognize my inability to tell this story in all its fullness, I am inspired to tell it as a way of honoring her presence in the Northwest. My focus will be to highlight the ways in which Kau'xuma'nupika engaged with the incalculable changes brought to the indigenous nations as a result of European contact and colonization, namely, her activities as a prophet in the Columbia Plateau region.
Bones, Stones, Feathers and Flora: L'objets Trouvé-in Ritual, Art and Spiritual Practice
- Marion Dumont
I propose a photographic essay depicting everyday objects found in nature with the intention to communicate the natural beauty of these objects and their role in ritual, art, and spiritual practice. This presentation represents one woman's experience of what is commonly defined as Earth-based spirituality and serves as an example of how this form of spiritual practice helps to create meaning and connection through a participatory relationship with the natural world. "L'objet trouvé" is a term that was coined in the 20th century to refer to objects found by an individual, such as an artist, and determined to have aesthetic value with little or no modification before being presented as an art form. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the spiritual significance of natural objects as both artistic and spiritual expressions. In addition, the presenter wishes to emphasize that it is possible to engage in an Earth-based spiritual practice without appropriating indigenous ways. More importantly, it reveals that the sacred and the mundane are intricately connected and are often one and the same. The photographs will be accompanied by a discourse that supports and enhances the visual portrayal of found objects. The discussion will include an introduction to the topic followed by brief descriptions of the objects as they are shown in order to establish the connection between the mundane and the sacred and their significance in ritual, art, and spiritual practice.
Life Burgeoning/Healing: The Magic of Woman's Body Dancing
- Louise M. Paré
Dance, as the corporeal image of growth and disintegration, is the most ancient form of magic. Recent brain research studying the phenomenon of rhythm establishes that humans seem to be the only species that developed a brain that will "keep time." Ancient European belief traditions honored and invoked female spirits thought to dance life into existence. Woman's moving body created dynamic space for spirit to manifest. The Dancing Goddesses (2014) (Elizabeth Wayland Barber) were considered to be the containers and creators of the fertility and healing powers needed for life to prosper. It was believed that their wrath could also destroy life. Archaeological and folkloric evidence established that throughout time women led dances for many essential life experiences. Dance was also used to influence the spirits of the dead, especially one very special group: young women born into the clan who died before having any children. Exploring the evolution of dance and women's role in it provides a map to the history of women's spirituality. This presentation will explore the varied and long history of dancing goddesses in Europe and the women who embodied them.
Poetry, Prose, and Spirit: A Glimpse of Women's Spiritual Lives in Women's Writings of Heian Japan
- Susan G. Carter
Much of what we know of women's lives during Japan's Heian period (794-1185 CE) comes from that which is written about the elite and ruling classes. At this time of ever more patriarchal court society, some women still held high positions of note: Females could be empresses, and priestesses lived and officiated at the important Kamo and Ise Shrines. These women find their way into the Heian literature, informing us of both Shinto and Buddhist ritual observances and ceremonies of the times. In this period, women were also authors of their lives.
Court women were literate. In fact, it was women who developed hiragana, a form of writing derived by simplifying kanji (the more complicated Chinese characters). Hiragana became the script of choice for poetry and popular stories, and court women used their time to write and develop distinctly Japanese sensibilities that have come down to us through time. In this presentation, two Heian women's well-known writings are briefly explored: Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), by Shikibu Murasaki, considered to be the world's first novel, and The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon, a collection of personal notes, poetry, and amusing lists. These works illustrate that Heian women's poetry and prose provide vibrant descriptions of rites and rituals in tune with nature and Shinto and Buddhist beliefs of the period. They also provide us a rare glimpse of court women's experience and their inner spiritual lives.
Upon This Rock: Sacred Stones and the Immanence of Life in the Alpine Folk Traditions
- Mary Beth Moser
The importance of rocks in the traditional culture of the Italian Alps is evident in the archaeology, folk stories and everyday practices. Rock surfaces scraped smooth by receding glaciers in Valcamonica in northern Italy bear hundreds of thousands of engravings dating from across the millennia. Direct contact with certain rocks by sliding or rubbing was believed to promote fertility, a practice still remembered in the popular culture. The location of shrines, chapels and churches in and on rocks acknowledges a continuity of sacred sites. The chapel that holds the highly-venerated statue of the Black Madonna of Oropa, for example, is built directly upon a rock, not far from a fertility rock.
In the folk stories once told in villages throughout the mountains, rocks are associated with power in the spiritual realm. Imprints on erratics, large boulders left from the ice age, are said to be of saints and the Virgin Mary - or the devil and witches. So-called witches once danced around rocks before the Council of Trent banished them and turned them into stone. A folk remedy for epilepsy, considered a spiritual sickness, utilizes the powder of a certain rock as medicinal. Spring water coming from the rock characterizes sites of fertility rituals. Water held within indentations in the rocks was considered blessed. Drawing from my on-site dissertation research, folk literature, and interviews, I will present specific examples and visual images of rocks in northern Italy that have been regarded as sacred and even life-giving in the folk practices.