Don’t miss our rescheduled LGBTQ+ History Month special seminar! Thomas Fleming from UCL will be presenting his paper titled ‘Refiguring ‘The Maternal’: The Body of Christ and Regimes of Sexual Difference in the Eighteenth-Century West’.
Wednesday, 19th April 2023, 4pm BST
Sign up on Zoom here.
Refiguring ‘The Maternal’: The Body of Christ and Regimes of Sexual Difference in the Eighteenth-Century West
Since the publication of Thomas Laqueur’s highly influential book Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud in 1990, the prevailing history of the sexed body in ‘the west’ has been told through the story of the ‘one-sex, two-sex model’ theory. Prior to the eighteenth century, Laqueur suggests it was generally believed that “women were essentially men”, albeit their genitals were “inside the body and not outside it”. Seemingly, men and women represented two different forms of one essential sex. However, in the eighteenth century, this apparently all changed, whereby a new model of sexual difference was constructed in European scientific discourse, one that established and produced incommensurable differences between the sexes. This paper asks, however, would a different picture concerning models of sexual difference appear if other texts and visual material from the eighteenth century were also scrutinised for their constructions and deployments of sex and gender? Then, turning to religious discourse, it examines how ‘the maternal’ – a supposed sexual differentiator in the new ‘two-sex model’ – works (or does not work) as marker of sex in relation to the body of Christ. That is, do eighteenth-century representations of Christ problematise the notion of ‘the maternal’ as universal marker of sexual difference?
About the Speaker
Thomas’s research interests lie at the intersection of cultural, religious, and queer(ing) history in the early modern period. For his PhD project, he is applying an interdisciplinary approach to historical research, proposing to undertake a critical reading of eighteenth-century devotional material, by working from queer, gender, feminist, psychoanalytic, and literary theory. Thomas is interested in how bodies are constructed and culturally inscribed in this discourse, arguing that these seemingly normative gendered and sexed subjects (including Christ) can, in fact, be read as queer. In doing so, he hopes to problematise histories of the body that present a universal (and heteronormative) model of its cultural inscription, endeavouring to refigure this field of study by pointing to other possible narratives of embodiment. Indeed, he argues that these textual subjects seem to fail to conform to dominant models of sexual difference and gender, questioning their supposed naturalness, so causing them to lapse and lose their sure footing.