Embodying the feminine divine. Agency, subjectivity and cultural alterity in women's yogic retreats

Start - End 
2017 - 2020 (ongoing)

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Abstract

Yoga, as other new spiritual and well-being practices, has gained a lot in popularity in Western Europe, especially among women. This research project concerns an ethnographic study of yogic women retreats that intend to enhance positive awareness of the female body and highlight its sacred dimension. It aims to uncover the participants’ and retreat leaders’ agency in redefining femininity and developing their female subjectivity in reference to cultural otherness.  The study is situated in the field of gender studies in religion and draws on theoretical insights from feminist theory and contemporary studies of religion, spirituality and secularism.  It adopts an anthropological approach that puts the women’s experiences at the centre of analysis and highlights the insider’s point of view. Multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews in a transnational context (Belgium, Netherlands, UK) will be the main methods used to realize this approach. Through its empirical dimension, the project aims to correct the theoretical and text-based bias in most studies of new spirituality. It will contribute, in following the postsecular turn in feminism, to discuss notions of gender, agency and empowerment beyond the model of liberal equality, with implications for feminist theories of sexual difference and gendered subjectivity.

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