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The “power of silence”

Spirituality and women's agency beyond the Catholic Church in Poland

Agnieszka Kościańska

This article looks at various models of women's agency in Poland in the context of religion. Based on fieldwork among members of two feminized religious milieus—a new religious movement the Brahma Kumaris and an informal Catholic fundamentalist group—this article discusses the role of silence in ritual and everyday life as a form of agency. From the perspective of feminist discourse, particularly Western liberal feminism, silence is often interpreted as a lack of power. Drawing on informants' experiences, under Polish gender regimes, particularly as they relate to the organization of public and private spheres, silence is shown to be a fundamental component of agency. The analysis of silence displays the complexity of religious issues in Poland and serves as a critique of assumptions about religious homogeneity and the pervasiveness of religious authority in Poland.

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Silence in the Woods

Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian North and Western Siberia in the Ethnographic Literature from the Eighteenth to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Art Leete

This article explores the ethnographic, philosophical, and political background of the image of the northern peoples as “silent,” by analyzing the diachronic perspective descriptions of the Finno-Ugric peoples of the north who inhabit Western Siberia and the Russian North from the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. Early modern ethnographies treated the Siberian peoples as aggressive, although from the end of the eighteenth century this image was reassessed and a different view of the silent character of the indigenous people was introduced in scholarly literature. Silent conduct was assessed as an archaic quality of the Finno-Ugric temperament, or as the result of the colonial encounter. This manifestation of silence was the most distinctive marker of the modern transformations of power and knowledge in the arena of Siberian studies.

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Victor Igreja

In spite of the growing public focus on domestic violence (DV) in mainstream Australian society, ethnographers have remained aloof from analysing this problem. In an ethnographic study in the Brisbane region, I analysed people’s perceptions of anti-violence images that were part of a public campaign and assessed the appropriateness of the images’ locations. Occasionally, my interlocutors unexpectedly included accounts of DV. My analysis reveals the tensions between public display and the concealment underlying the campaign. The interlocutors revealed experiences of competing responsibilities related to DV. The use of subtle images of anti-violence in locations filled with competing images, coupled with a failure to consider historical continuities and changes in local imaginaries of violence, exposed the difficulties associated with conveying persuasive messages of DV prevention.

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Mark Thurner

The echoes that Andrés Guerrero hears and shares with us here are strictly inequivalent: the one is an echo of an archival silence, the other of sensational newsflashes. The newsflash conjures more telling silences, and perhaps a film (Biutiful comes to mind); but the echo of such silences demands not film but theory. How so?

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Softly, softly

Comparative silences in British stories of genetic modification

Cathrine Degnen

Since the late 1990s genetically modified foods, crops, and products have provoked a great deal of controversy in Britain. This article does not challenge the presence of debate over genetic modification in Britain, but rather calls attention to public silences on genetic modification that have often been overlooked. Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork in two parts of the north of England, I explore the ways in which these silences were not equally present across both fieldsites. I argue that this is partly due to the intersection of local histories with the ideological framing of genetic modification by the British government as a question of and for scientific expertise. I also explore how silence on the topic may be a form of what Sheriff (2000) has termed ‘cultural censorship’. Finally, I discuss the theoretical and methodological difficulties of studying and writing about silence, proposing that silences can importantly highlight issues of political and social salience.

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Mark Solomon

'The Praise of Silence' is a reflection on silence in the face of the mystery of the divine, and on divine and human silence in the face of suffering and evil, as well as on the author's own ambivalence about silence. It begins by considering three traditional translations of Psalm 65:2: 'Praise is fitting for You, O God, In Zion', 'Praise waits for You, O God, in Zion' and the Targum's interpretation, 'To You silence is praise, O God, in Zion'. The last of these is the main focus of this article. Rashi explains the verse in two ways: firstly, the futility of multiplying words in praise of God, so that the best praise is silence. The roots of this doctrine lie in a Talmudic story, paralleled by a saying of Jesus and by teachings in other religious and philosophical systems, both Eastern and Western. The via negativa of Maimonides is the most powerful expression of this in Judaism. Rashi's second interpretation shifts the focus from human to divine silence, and suggests that God is to be praised for remaining silent in the face of the destruction of the Temple and the blasphemy of the wicked. This derives from a passage in Midrash Tehillim which culminates with the Psalmist's own commitment to stay silent in the face of suffering, a stance which is in tension with the moral imperative of speaking out in the face of evil. This imperative is expressed both by the mediaeval poet who rebukes God's silence in the face of Crusader atrocities, and by the motto of 1980s AIDS activism: Silence = Death. The third part of the article looks at another difficult Talmudic passage which contrasts the silence enforced by human tyranny with the voluntary silence of those who suffer at the hand of God. Two contrasting stories in the Talmud have God, on the one hand, commanding Moses to be silent in the face of the inscrutable divine will, and on the other hand, to speak out in aid of God's work. In conclusion, there is 'a time to be silent' in the face of mysteries beyond our grasp, but 'a time to speak' when we must protest against human evil and end avoidable suffering.

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Possessed by Silence

Cotton Mather, Mercy Short, and the Origin of America's Mean Girls

LuElla D'Amico

In 1692, the Salem witch trials introduced perhaps the most famous early American girls-girls notoriously lambasted for instigating the death of twenty people. During that same year, Cotton Mather published Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion (hereafter referred to as Ornaments) and A Brand Pluck'd Out of the Burning (hereafter referred to as Brand). Ornaments served as a moral guidebook for Puritan girls to follow, while Brand details the possession of Mercy Short, an adolescent not directly involved with the witch trials but whose story represents the most thorough recorded account of possession that we have. These two works document the pressure exerted on colonial girls to remain silent, and help to reveal how possession gave them an outlet for the expression of their feelings. In examining them, it becomes possible to ascertain how the Puritan roots of girls' coerced silence and repressed aggression have endured into contemporary America.

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A Question of Silence?

Odette Rosenstock, Moussa Abadi, and the Réseau Marcel

Miranda Pollard

This article investigates one of the most successful Jewish rescue networks in Vichy France, the Réseau Marcel, and specifically how its history, and that of its co-founders, Odette Rosenstock and Moussa Abadi, was created within multiple gendered narratives that consistently emphasized his leadership and often silenced or muted her achievements. Based in Nice, the Réseau Marcel which saved over 500 children from deportation, consisted of just three people: its young Jewish co-founders and the local Catholic Bishop, Monsignor Paul Rémond. Although deported, Rosenstock, always Abadi's equal, survived the death camps. After the war, the reunited couple returned to Paris, where Rosenstock became a distinguished doctor in public health and Abadi a successful theater critic. At the end of their lives, the Abadi re-united with many of their hidden children, who in their honor formed a public Association that has played a key part in shaping the history of the Réseau Marcel.

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GMOs in the laboratory

Objects without everyday controversy

Christina Holmes

This article explores the lack of controversy over genetically modified objects (GMOs) in the daily life of a research laboratory in Canada. Scientific perceptions of GMOs and the types of knowledge valued in scientific research contribute toward an absence of discussion on the wider social implications of GMOs. Technical and epistemic knowledge are crucial for the success of a scientific project, whereas discussion of the social values involved may be allocated to particular settings, people, or research stages. GMOs, within scientific circles, are seen as many individual projects with different goals, rather than as a single object. Therefore, according to this view, it is inappropriate to be opposed to or to support GMOs in general, without first ascertaining the specifics of a particular project. How then are scientists engaged in seemingly local, distinct projects seen as globally defending this technology? Scientific expertise unevenly translates into political voice, transforming into silences as well as debates.

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Silence against Political Rape

Arab Women's Subalterniy During Political Struggles

Ola Abdalkafor

Arab Spring movements in many Arab countries revealed a gap at the heart of Arab society and politics: the large-scale subalternity of Arab women in such movements. In this essay, I hypothesize that, with few exceptions, Arab women have always avoided participation in social and political activism because of their fear of political rape – raping women as punishment during political turmoil. The essay traces the history of political rape through different stages of Arab history. The examples are taken from history, literature and international reports and they mainly cover three countries: Syria, Egypt, and Libya. These examples prove that vulnerable women’s horror at any possibility of their being sexually abused and then rejected by their families and society has always haunted them, preventing them from struggling or protesting. The essay concludes that subalternity is the only stance from which Arab women can encounter political rape. Then, the essay discusses the subalternity of Arab women in the light of the thought of the postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak. This argument leads to the contention that the silence of Arab women vulnerable to political rape should not be considered passive and that feminist theories and actions cannot be successful in supporting subaltern Arab women without the ethical responsibility theorized by Spivak as the most appropriate approach to the subaltern female. This approach entails respecting subaltern Arab women’s culture and fears and avoiding any attempt to make them copies of the European feminist self. Subaltern Arab women who are afraid of being sexually abused have the right to protect their bodies and stick to their culture while still participating in public life.