Each year, the Institute for Research on Women (IRW) invites several individuals to join us as visiting scholars for four to nine months. While visiting scholars are expected to provide their own funding, IRW offers office space, institutional affiliation, access to the Rutgers library, and participation in a lively interdisciplinary feminist community. The theme for our discussions during the 2023-2024 academic year is “Possession.” We invite applications from university-based scholars and scholar/activists whose work is compatible with the theme.

About the IRW

IRW promotes innovative scholarship on women, gender, and sexuality through interdisciplinary forums, lectures, and conferences. IRW’s weekly seminar allows visiting scholars to discuss drafts of their work with Rutgers faculty and graduate students, all of whom are working on writing projects related to the annual theme. In addition, our visiting scholars program provides an opportunity for postdoctoral scholars and activists to benefit from Rutgers’ unique resources related to the study of women and gender. IRW is a member of the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL), a consortium of several different Rutgers units focused on women and gender, also including Douglass Residential College, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, the Center for American Women and Politics, and the Center for Women and Work, among others.

IRW Visiting Scholars

IRW visiting scholars typically hold jobs or academic appointments elsewhere but wish to be in residence at the institute for a semester or a year. Visiting scholars do not receive any financial support from Rutgers or the IRW, but we are happy to arrange access to university libraries and recreational facilities, provide private or shared office space, and extend invitations to participate in university lectures, colloquia, and seminars. Scholars also receive university email accounts and modest photocopying and long-distance telephone support. Former IRW Scholars have received funding through Fulbright, IREX, other local foundations, and their own institutions. University regulations severely limit our ability to accept applicants who are not funded through their home institutions or through external grants, fellowships and awards.

We invite applications from prospective scholars whose individual research or activism is compatible with the theme of our interdisciplinary research seminar. We expect that visiting scholars will participate in the weekly seminar along with Rutgers faculty and graduate students whose work explores the seminar theme from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives. We also anticipate that visiting scholars will attend the events in our Distinguished Lecture Series on the same theme.

IRW Interdisciplinary Research Seminar - Possession

Possession is a complex phenomenon that takes multiple forms, both material (land, money, bodies) and incorporeal (knowledge, reputation, lineage). It conveys a variety of meanings (economic, emotional, legal, medical, political, spiritual, sexual, territorial). It implies a gendered relationship of power between possessor and possessed. Historically, societies have understood children, women, queer people, and men from subordinated classes, castes, races, and religions to be particularly susceptible to possession: the condition of being controlled, seized, and owned as property, as well as the state of being dominated or inhabited by a spirit. Possessed people are often ascribed the status and condition of femininity, incapacity, vulnerability, and/or dependency.

Yet, possession in its religious connotation also means to invoke, access, and channel power and authority that the possessed are otherwise denied. The very state of being controlled by a divine or otherworldly force—of losing the autonomous self and submitting to the will of another—allows the possessed, if only temporarily, to transgress prescriptive norms and categories, express forbidden desires, and engage in what are often viewed as deviant and subversive patterns of social behavior and relations. As an act of communicating with the immaterial world, spirit possession also sustains relations and communities across temporal boundaries, reanimating and reclaiming ties to and memories of human and nonhuman kin. As such, possession is a potent site in which to challenge the logic of secular modernity, heteropatriarchy, and the (neo)liberalism of individualism and private ownership. Possession is a modality of disempowerment, but potentially of empowerment and refusal too.

Over the last decade, a growing body of literature has emerged on the cultures, histories, landscapes, laws, economies, and politics of dispossession that interrogates racial capitalist, (neo)colonial, and heteropatriarchal modes of accumulation by dispossession. The subject of possession has not become a widespread subject of feminist, queer scholarship in the way that dispossession has. This seminar will explore feminist and queer frameworks for analyzing and theorizing possession and its intersectional dynamics. How might feminist and queer analyses of possession complement and complicate existing understandings of dispossession and how it ought to be studied and redressed? How might feminist and queer approaches to possession diverge?

Studies may examine any time period(s) or geographical location(s) and be rooted in any disciplinary or interdisciplinary approach(es), including anthropology, art and art history, childhood studies, economics, geography, history, law, linguistics, literature, medicine, political theory, psychology, religious studies, and women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Application Procedures

Postdoctoral scholars working in any discipline may apply. Applications should be sent by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with “visiting scholars” in the subject line. They should include the following: letter of intent specifying project title and proposed dates of visit; project description (five pages maximum, double-spaced); curriculum vitae and email address; names and contact information of four professional references. Prospective visiting scholars are invited to discuss the relevance of their project to “Possession” as part of their application. Applicants interested in further information about this program or the IRW are invited to visit our website http://irw.rutgers.edu or contact the institute by email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The deadline to apply is rolling but please note that space is limited and fills up fast.