Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel III: Gender, Power and Agency

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 4:00 p.m.

1. Jennifer Colby: Sacred Female Images and Identity at the Crossroads: Guadalupe/Tonantzin

2. Emperatriz Guevara: Gender Equality for Hispanic Immigrant Women through Religious Participation

3. Athena Devlin: Fundamentalism and Gender Identity in Fiction and Film by Muslim Writers

4. Krishanti Dharmaraj: To Zen or not to Zen: The practice of women as agents of change

Jennifer Colby


Jennifer Colby, Ph.D. is an artist, scholar and curator, founder and co-director of Galeria Tonantzin Center for Arts and Humanities, a gallery of women’s contemporary art established in 1992 in the California Mission town of San Juan Bautista, where an annual conference and exhibit on the “Images of the Virgin” takes place. Faculty since 2000 of Liberal Studies at the California State University, Monterey Bay, she received Masters in Studio Art and in Theology Religion and the Arts and a Ph.D. in Humanities - Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute for Integral Studies, San Francisco. Her research is in the areas of women’s art and spirituality and multicultural education. She was awarded the 2007 Monterey County Art Educator Champion of the Arts and the 2010 Pacific Region Catalyst Award for Art and Ecology for her work as an artist-activist in women’s issues and watershed ecology and restoration.


Sacred Female Images and Identity at the Crossroads: Guadalupe/Tonantzin

The Mexican Guadalupe offers a touchstone for understanding both the histories of this image’s role in conflicts of conquest and revolution in Mexico and Guadalupe’s role in recent movements of farm workers and feminist Chicana activists in California. Connections to the Aztec Tonantzin “mother of all” provides a basis for questioning the image’s role as a banner for the Spanish conquest and Catholic conversion or as a symbol of resistance by the indigenous with continued worship of a sacred female. In California today this image is predominant in the Mexican American community and is available for visitors to California Missions. Contemporary artists are also incorporating this image into visual art, including a progression, since 1978, of images by Chicana artists who question the prescriptive nature of the image for females and offer in their artwork a dynamic re-imaging of the Guadalupe.

This presentation will draw from two empirical research studies; one which analyses 20 years of exhibitions by women artists and ten interviews (2001) of a subset of those artists. The findings from this on-going study of women artists’ representation of “Images of the Virgin” explores the development of cultural identity and the role of the integration of the Guadalupe image in visual art by women from Latina and Anglo heritages. Variables of identification as Catholic, protestant, or post-religious, ex-Catholic, Jewish, Pagan and other religious or non religious heritages influenced attraction to the image, while the creation of artwork influenced transformations towards new commitments to social justice, earth based spirituality and identification with the mother.

Guadalupe/Tonantzin provides a unifying context for contemporary women from different backgrounds because of her syncretic history and her call to social justice. A more recent study of Images of Guadalupe in the California Missions (2012) also examines the contemporary manifestations of the image and the reactions of viewers; tourists, parishioners and fourth graders on field trips who are exposed to California histories and religious icons. Guadalupe and other images of the Virgin Mary offer subaltern histories of the virgin-mother-crone and in these mission collections a focus on the woman of the Apocalypse – a strong aspect of the Guadalupe iconography and of the other statues and paintings brought to California in the mission period. This study is seeking an understanding of the role of the mother image at the crossroads of encounter of California Indian with mission padres and accompanying Mexican Indians. Again, although uncovering historic perspectives, this study aims to capture present day reactions to theses images in the California Missions and to examine the construction of identities in the conflict zones of secularization, resistance, liberation and 21st Century reclamation of subaltern histories. There is a resurgence of identification with California Indian heritage and efforts to either avoid or re-enter the missions to have their story told.

This presentation will offer the results of both studies to demonstrate the potential of powerful visual imagery of the sacred female in both historic images and contemporary art to mediate conflict and difference. The Guadalupe image reveals a history of unity in conflict and brings forward the underlining potential of mother earth, powerful female agency and an ethics of care and solidarity.

Emperatriz Guevara


Emperatriz Guevara is a master's candidate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, concentrating in International Conflict Resolution. After traveling throughout Latin America, the South Pacific, and Europe, Emperatriz became interested in studying more extensively the relationship between development and conflict. Her interests include women in international security and peacebuilding in Latin America, as well as issues relating to religion and gender. She is currently working on researching leadership roles of immigrant women in protestant churches within Spanish-speaking communities in the United States and is part of the conference organization team at the Centre for Conflict Studies in Monterey, California.


Gender Equality for Hispanic Immigrant Women through Religious Participation

With their growing numbers and influence in many regions of the United States, the Hispanic immigrant community is still in the process of defining their identity as a group but also as individuals. Women are a critical part of this group and changes to their role within their religious community can have implications on a large scale. The academic literature on gender roles in Christianity is abundant and touches on many different aspects of religious life. There are case studies on different churches and populations across the world. However, there is very little written on immigrant women in the United States and their participation in protestant churches. This represents a departure from the traditional religion of Hispanic immigrant women, which is Catholicism.

Hispanic immigrants have followed closely the patterns of gender roles from their countries of origin once they have settled down abroad. This includes beliefs and values of culture and religion. Studying the members of Protestant churches can bring to light new perspectives on the growing number of Hispanic immigrants inside the United States and how gender roles within their religious community affect their individual gender identity. There are also different aspects to women’s participation in Protestant congregations, like how much of a role in the leadership of the church do women play? Which leadership positions are open for both men and women, which are not? Have the attitudes or behavior of men towards women changed because of women’s participation in religious leadership? Protestant churches, which are comparatively more inclusive of women, influence the experiences of Hispanic immigrant women in the United States.

The purpose of this paper is to understand what changes are occurring inside Hispanic protestant congregations as women become more involved in leaderships and what effect this has in their life outside of the church; are gender relations changing due to involvement in the new churches? Do women in protestant churches feel better represented in these congregations than in other Christian denominations? To what degree has women empowerment in the church led to a greater equality at home or within the community? The empirical research for this paper is derived from interviews with women in Protestant congregations in Las Vegas, Nevada and Monterey, California in the summer and fall of 2012.

Athena Devlin


Athena Devlin is an Associate Professor of English and American Studies at St. Francis College where she directs both the Women’s Studies Minor and the American Studies Program, which she designed. Dr. Devlin has published a book on masculinity entitled Between Profits and Primitivism: Shaping White Middle-Class Masculinity in the U.S., 1880-1917 (Routledge 2005). Her work on gender has appeared in other publications including The Columbia Journal of American Studies and she has presented numerous papers on gender in American culture. More recently, she has presented papers and designed interdisciplinary courses on responses to 9/11. Her current research (a book- length project) is on representations of the war on terror in fiction and film. She is particularly interested in constructions of gender and the West in the work of writers and filmmakers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Algeria.


Fundamentalism and Gender Identity in Fiction and Film by Muslim Writers

My research over the last year has been on representations of the war on terror in fiction and film. I have a particular interest in writers and filmmakers from (what Westerns call) Muslim countries. Central to these works are the issues of radicalization and gender discrimination. Scholarship on fundamentalism as represented in fiction and film post-9/11 from a Muslim perspective is a somewhat new area and thus important to delineate. Perhaps most importantly, I point to how these texts have been (mis)used as primers on Islam for Western audience. This paper looks at four works, analyzing the connection between fundamentalism and gender identity through the artists’ use of hijab.

Obviously, much has been written about hijab. The second part of my paper discusses (briefly) the way the veil and burqa have been understood as a convenient symbol for the oppression of Muslim women. Thankfully, feminist scholars have done much to complicate this too-easy assumption made by Western media. But how have works of fiction and popular Bollywood films used hijab to discuss fundamentalism and gender identity? The four works I discuss in the body of my paper are: The Swallows of Kabul by Algerian author Yasmina Khadra; The Wasted Vigil by Pakistani author Nadeem Aslam; Persepolis by Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi and the Bollywood film, Kurban directed by Rensil D’Silva.

Khadra’s work is an especially interesting meditation on the burqa. He writes about an elite Afghani woman who is forced to wear the burqa by the Taliban and about the wife of a poorer Taliban officer. Their different uses and relationships to the burqa reveal two important things: how the burqa in its erasure of identity is used to manipulate a fundamentalist regime and how class distinctions create different relationships to fundamentalism and the burqa itself.

Satrapi writes (and draws) in a different register, with both sadness and humor about wearing the veil. (For example questioning the power of a few strands of hair to drive a country to ruin.) She also discusses in ways important for Western audiences, modifications in dress used by Iranian women to show resistance to “the regime” and define themselves as either “The Modern Woman” or “The Fundamentalist Woman”. Discussing her work reveals, among other things, the importance of being geographically and historically specific when discussing hijab.

The veil is, of course, a highly visual symbol. Thus, I include the use of hijab as an identity marker in a film about a Hindu woman married to (as she later finds) a Muslim terrorist. I discuss the ways D’Silva uses the veil (and its absence) as a signal to the audience about how to read the heroine’s changing levels of submission.

I close with the uses and misuses of such works. American audiences are prone to read novels and films about Muslims – and one could argue Muslim women in particular – ethnographically. I emphasize the mediated nature of these works while also discussing what role they might play in forming bridges of understanding. Thus, the fact that these are works of art and not ethnography defines the very purpose of the paper.

Krishanti Dharmaraj


Krishanti Dharmaraj is a student of Zen at the Daihonsan Chozen ji International Zen Dojo in Honolulu, Hawaii, and currently exploring the role of women in Rinzai Zen practice in the U.S. She is the Principal of SamasaMdhi, an organization implementing cutting-edge methodology to reduce discrimination and conflict in communities. Prior to this Krishanti was the Western Regional spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. She is also the co-founder of Sri Lanka Children’s fund, the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development, (WILD for Human Rights) an organization advancing human rights in the United States, and initiated the U.S. Human Rights Network with a current membership of over 400 organizations across the nation. Krishanti cois focused on creating ways to integrate the practice of Zen into her work in human rights and leadership. Krishanti has a MBA and MA from University of California at Berkeley, and lives with her family in the San Francisco bay area.


To Zen or not to Zen: The practice of women as agents of change

Zen is a popular word in the twitter age. Yet, it is misused, misunderstood, and miscommunicated by popular culture. The word Zen is often used to express a feeling, a place, or condition that does not remotely capture the essence of Zen. In the continental U.S. and Hawaii, an infrequent number of women have knowingly and willing embraced Rinzai Zen, once practiced and popularized by the samurais of Japan. Zen, which means to transcend life and death, break through dualism positioning Ki’ai (energy) first, is practiced by women who are artist, lawyers, teachers, doctors, activist, policy makers and stay at home moms. Why would this practice, which is perceived as masculine and tough, attract these women?

The presentation will explore the ways women in the continental United States and Hawaii engage in the practice of Rinzai Zen in the 21st century. The results are drawn from both studies and interviews to provide insight into the practice that is rarely communicated, capturing their triumphs and tribulations as agents of change.