Domenico_Fetti_-_Portrait_of_a_Scholar_-_WGA07862What is the affective nature of scholarship? A current graduate student posed this question recently in response to a panel she’d just attended that claimed that “all scholarship is love” [This is a paraphrase of Holly White paraphrasing the panel].

All scholarship is love?

Holly pursued her thoughts to an interesting cul-de-sac that led her to ask whether religion scholars might themselves be considered the ‘fandom’ of religion. It was a curious line of thought to listen to because the previous night I had listened to a former graduate student and now colleague (Donovan Schaefer) give a thoughtful delineation of the joy of scholarship as an internally diverse affect divided between excitement and pleasure. Excitement, Donovan said, was produced for him by apprehending a situation, seeking its outer edges and then seeing how to push them. Speaking for myself, cultural studies scholarship generates pleasure from the play of concepts, the intellectual-aesthetic task of juxtaposing concepts and bodies differently, noting their interrelations and assessing how the different aspects of those interrelations appear by means of different conceptual and practical configurations.

Religion scholarship as fandom seems something else altogether, an affective intensity of engagement that forms around ways in which the object of scholarship works on the scholar, as opposed to how the scholar is working on the object. Perhaps this insight needs a certain assuaging of the subject-object binary by saying something about how fandom devolves from celebrity and celebrity culture, thereby constituting—or instaurating—fans and the structures of fandom from the various cultural auras of celebrity. In light of this nuance, the scholar is constructed as a fan, she is given over to the spectacle, and aura, and even consumption of the religious artifact (or group or event) being studied, before questions or methods of analysis are developed.

Other scholarly relationships persist, too, of course. Consider, for instance, a Christian theologian (it does not seem prudent to extend this rumination to other forms of theology, if indeed there are other non-Christian theologies). For the theologian, a register or horizon of normativity precedes and shapes the conditions of scholarship. Theology trains scholars in humility, inculcates the affect of responding carefully to something like orthodoxy, even if the positioning functions to ameliorate the tightness or tyranny of this orthodoxy. Theology marshals a severe weight of historical sedimentation of discourse, institutional authority and controversies over variant practices. This weight bears upon the singular body of the theologian, bound as she is in space and time and yet called by the very task of theology itself to craft and deepen a relationship with eternal, with the eternal God.

The affects of feminist scholarship are situated opposite the affects of theological scholarship (a difference that raises interesting questions for the task of the feminist theologian). Feminist discourse trains the scholar-teacher to narrate her subjectivity, to articulate her own past history of the forces of her subjectivation in order to justify the set of questions and methodological framing of her analysis. Scholarship requires a transparency, not about the aura of the object or history and tradition of the object, but about the subject performing the labor of its production. Affectively, this transparency about the subjectivity of the scholar performs a claim to ethico-political openness that grounds the scholar-teacher’s hope for social transformation.

Scholarship is love, then, only as love is a complexly multifacted affair.

What kinds of loves galvanize your own research?