Colour Sisterhood: The Discursive Construction of an Imagined Community in Religious Humanitarian Practice

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jeaney YIP, University of Sydney, Australia
Drawing on feminist geography (McDowell 1993) and feminist critical discourse analysis (Lazar 2007; Walsh 2001) we examined how an imagined community was constructed in materials produced by an Australian megachurch's women’s ministry, the Colour Sisterhood.  A megachurch is a Protestant church with more than 25,000 attendees that is flourishing amidst decline in traditional churches in many developed societies such as Australia.  Through text and image-based discourse, the shared, aspirational gendered identity of the sisterhood has particular spatial associations; it constructs a particular relationship between women and the ‘imagined world’ in its altruism practices. The construction is a positive one – women are invited to be part of a feminine community that is empowered, beautiful and can act to make a difference in the world.  By mobilizing the language of sisterhood, this discourse foregrounds the inherent inequality between ‘sisters’. The sisterhood call for women to be empowered to make a difference as there are “orphans to rescue”, “sisters to come alongside with” and “nations to believe in” with a mandate that “places value upon humanity”.  Importantly the scope of this difference is conceptualized in global, rather than local, terms bolstered through the language of social justice and activism that tackle global humanitarian problems.  Images of people from other ethnic groups appear as the targets of humanitarian efforts, in distant places, as ‘spectacles of suffering’ (Chouliaraki 2006).  Western women from privileged classes position themselves as fully formed subjects against whom less privileged ‘other’ women are constructed as abject figures. Our study shows the complex power dynamics that underpin such a construction that operate to reinforce, rather than challenge, dominant gender and racial relations as well as those between developed and underdeveloped regions.