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?
We invite applications from faculty and advanced graduate students (ABD status required) whose projects explore aspects of our theme. Such 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's, gender, and sexuality studies. Individuals from all Rutgers campuses are welcome to apply.
The seminar will support up to six Rutgers Faculty Fellows and up to four Graduate Fellows from the New Brunswick, RBHS, Camden, and Newark campuses. Seminar fellows are expected to attend all Thursday morning seminar meetings during Fall and Spring Semesters 2023-2024, provide a paper for discussion in the seminar, and open a seminar session with an extended response to another scholar’s paper.
Graduate students will receive a $5,000 stipend for the year as seminar fellows. Faculty fellows will receive either $4,000 in research support or a one-course teaching release for one semester to enable them to participate in the year-long seminar. In the latter case, departments will be reimbursed for instructional replacements at the minimum contractual PTL rate. Financial arrangements will be made in advance of the seminar with the department chairs and/or appropriate deans.
Applications should include a project title and 150-word abstract, a project description of up to five double-spaced pages, a reference list of five key books/articles or five scholars/activists whose work speaks to your project and the theme, and an updated curriculum vitae. Applications should be received at IRW by Friday, January 27, 2023. All decisions of the selection committee are final. 2023-2024 Seminar Fellows will be notified by Friday, March 3, 2023. Please contact IRW at