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Desire and Intimacy in the Study of Religion


The Department of Religious Studies’ Graduate Student Association at Northwestern University invites submissions for a graduate student conference centered on the theme “Desire and Intimacy in the Study of Religion,” to be held in Evanston, Illinois on October 25-27, 2024. We request submission materials by May 1, 2024.

This conference will explore how desire and intimacy shape religious lives and the scholars who study them. Desire and intimacy is everywhere—in the intimacy of a child as she holds a statue, or in a mosque where two men kiss, or in a church as a Palestinian minister speaks of his desire for peace—yet this theme has rarely been foregrounded in Religious Studies. This conference is oriented around a set of questions. First, attuned to bodily intimacies, including intimacies forged between humans as well as humans and their gods, saints, and spirits, we ask: How do touch, glances, and words create intimacies and desires between religious subjects? How do religious institutions, texts, and families foreclose certain forms of desire, especially that of marginalized people? And how do intimacy and desire exist as sites of possibility and violence in the study of religion? Second, this conference is invested in the realm of the political. How do religious subjects navigate and fight for their political desires? How are politico-religious desires forged within such locations as poetry, literature, law, activism, and art? Finally, this conference attends to our own desires as scholars of religion. How do desire and intimacy shape our own experiences as scholars? What happens when scholarly desire comes up against realities of fieldwork or the archive? What happens when we feel we have become too close to a text or group of people? Our conference will address these pressing questions. 

Paper topics for this conference include, but are not limited to:

Keynote speakers


Omar Kasmani, Guest Lecturer in Social and Cultural Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin and author of Queer Companions: Religion, Public Intimacy, and Saintly Affects in Pakistan (2022). 


Mona Oraby, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Howard University and author of Devotion to the Administrative State: Religion and Social Order in Egypt (2024).


Submission Process

Presentations should not exceed fifteen minutes in length and may approach the topic from any discipline or methodology.  Presentations in non-traditional formats are welcome, including but not limited to: documentaries, performances, poetry readings with commentary, and other creative forms.

Please send a 300-word abstract, along with your name, institution, and year of study to by May 1, 2024. Decisions will be communicated by the beginning of June.


This event is co-sponsored by:

Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; Asian American Studies Program; Buffett Institute for Global Affairs; Department of Anthropology; Department of Asian Languages and Cultures; Department of Political Science; Department of Religious Studies; Department of Black Studies; Department of Philosophy; Gender & Sexuality Studies Program; Global Politics and Religion Research Group; Middle East and North African Studies Program (MENA); South Asia Research Forum; The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN); and, The Weinberg Center for International and Area Studies.