reflections, poetry, theology, Cymru

Identity and Dazzling Darkness

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This week I’ve been catching up with PhD work as well as general admin – with it being half term it’s handy to be able to work from home. I wrote something about Discourse Analysis for my supervisor, read more about identity, and in the middle of it all received Rachel Mann’s book Dazzling Darkness through the post. It is part narrative theology, part  spirituality with such layers of meaning and potential to be mined for quotes for sermons and reflections that I will have to read it again soon. I also have a confession to make – I did rush through the more `spiritual’ reflection to get to the story. So I will have to read it again soon anyway!

This week I also dipped in to Manuel Castell’s work on identity. For my research, I am looking at how Welsh women think and feel about themselves (personal identity) and think and feel about the social groupings they belong to (social identity) – being Welsh, female, as well as other characteristics they may have that they share with others e.g. age, sexuality, race, class. He talks about three kinds of identity:

A legitimizing identity – identity as defined by those in power, what most people think of as `normal’ because this is what is portrayed for us as `normal’.

A resistance identity – a stigmatised identity but one which is resilient and resists attempts to change it to make it more socially acceptable.

A project identity – when a stigmatized group have `got hold’ of their identity and are transforming it into something positive and life affirming. 

In terms of a Welsh identity, a legitimizing identity could be seen in the ways in which Welsh people have bee stereotyped as rugby playing male voice choir singing people, a romanticized image and also that we are somehow more close to nature because we are Celtic….but not really seen as serious folk with a contribution to make to the world because we are not as `civilized’.  (I am leaving the question as civilized as whom hanging in the air deliberately!)

A resistance identity is also seen in how we have stubbornly refused to assimilate and have kept or distinctiveness, particularly language.

A project identity – well maybe we’re not there yet but there have been attempts to change our image from the creation of the Eisteddfodau to S4C and its myriad of programmes.

Rachel’s book however blows this apart for me a bit because she writes about having several identities, all quite defining (being transgender, having a chronic illness, being a woman priest, being a lesbian) and much of her book is a theological reflection (in a very striking and distinctive way) of how to reconcile these different social identifiers in a relationship with a God who is often silent, sometimes absent and often overwhelming, but is also very real and present.

Maybe human experience is more like that – we don’t just have one social identity but several. That’s the nature of being a human being. Her book is also an outworking of something I believe to be true – that there is no such thing as being essentially female or being essentially male. Gender identity is something we perform (following Judith Butler) rather than something which belongs to us because of our biological sex.  I don’t think that all women are caring any more than I think that all Welsh people can sing.

I certainly recommend you buy Dazzling Darkness though – it will stimulate you in unexpected ways. 


Author: Manon Ceridwen James

Poetry. Theology. Cymraes.

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