Blasphemous Feminist Art: Incarnate Politics of Identity in Postsecular Perspective

  • Anne-Marie Korte
Part of the Palgrave Politics of Identity and Citizenship Series book series ( CAL)


Among the increasing number of publicly exhibited works of art that have become accused of blasphemy or sacrilege in the context of cultural identity politics in Western societies, religiously connoted feminist art works and performances seem to stand out and to fulfil a particularly provocative role. The concerned works of art have remarkable common traits in their disputed imagery. They connect almost palpable and often naked human bodies to iconic sacred scenes of Western Christian culture and art, such as the suffering Jesus Christ on the cross, the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, or the Pietà (Mater Dolorosa). Well known examples are works such as Ecce Homo by Elisabeth Ohlson (Sweden), I.N.R.I. by Serge Bramly and Bettina Rheims (France), Yo Mama’s Last Supper by Renée Cox (USA), Our Lady by Alma López (USA), The Blood Ties by Katarzyna Kozyra (Poland), and Passion by Dorota Nieznalska (Poland). More recently, also songs and acts consisting of social, political, and religious critique, performed ‘provocatively’ by pop and punk artists such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, and the Russian formation Pussy Riot, have become publicly contested for comparable reasons. All these works of visual or performative art have been accused — more or less formally — of blasphemy or sacrilege, which contributed to both their notoriety and their controversiality by causing huge media attention.


Religious Identity Liberation Theology Female Artist Feminist Theology Lady Gaga 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, R. (1999). Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  2. Althaus-Reid, M. (2006). Liberation Theology and Sexuality. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  3. Asad, T. (2003). Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Beckwith, S. (1993). Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture, and Society in Late Medieval Writings. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Belting, H. (1981). Das Bild und sein Publikum im Mittelalter: Form und Funktion früher Bildtafeln der Passion. Berlin: Mann.Google Scholar
  6. Berg, M.van den, Bos, D.J., Derks, M., Ganzevoort, R.R., Jovanovic, M., Korte, A.-M., and Sremac, S. (2014). ‘Religion, Homosexuality, and Contested Social Orders in the Netherlands, the Western Balkans, and Sweden.’ In G. Ganiel, H. Winkel, and C. Monnot (eds) Religion in Times of Crisis. Leiden: Brill, 116–134.Google Scholar
  7. Bracke, S. (2008). ‘Conjugating the Modern/Religious, Conceptualizing Female Religious Agency: Contours of a ‘Post-Secular’ Conjunction.’ Theory, Culture & Society 25(6), 51–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braidotti, R. (2008). ‘In Spite of the Times: the Postsecular Turn in Feminism.’ Theory Culture & Society 25(6), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brent Plate, S. (Forthcoming). ‘Eventual Blasphemies: Setting the Offensive Work of Art in Time.’ In Michiel Leezenberg, Anne-Marie Korte and Martin van Bruinessen (eds) Gestures: Religion Qua Performance. New York: Fordham. University Press, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  10. Briggs, K.A. (1984). ‘Cathedral Removing Statue of Crucified Woman.’ New York Times 28 April.Google Scholar
  11. Butler, J., Habermas, J., Taylor, C., and West, C. (2011). The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, edited by E. Mendieta and J. VanAntwerpen. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Casanova, J. (2009a). Religion, Politics and Gender Equality: Public Religions Revisited. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).Google Scholar
  13. Casanova, J. (2009b). ‘Nativism and the Politics of Gender in Catholicism and Islam’. In H. Herzog and A. Braude (eds) Gendering Religion and Politics: Untangling Modernities, 21–50. New York: Palgrave MacmillanGoogle Scholar
  14. Christ, C.P. (1987). Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  15. Clague, J. (1995). ‘Interview with Margaret Argyle.’ Feminist Theology 10(1), 58.Google Scholar
  16. Clague, J. (2005a). ‘The Christa: Symbolizing My Humanity and My Pain.’ Feminist Theology 14(1), 83–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clague, J. (2005b). ‘Divine Transgressions: The Female Christ-Form in Art.’ Critical Quarterly 47(3), 47–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coleman, E.B. (2011). ‘The Offenses of Blasphemy: Messages in and through Art.’ Journal of Value Inquiry 45, 67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Coleman, E.B. and Fernandes Dias, M.S. (eds) (2008). Negotiating the Sacred II: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in the Arts. Canberra: ANU Press.Google Scholar
  20. Coleman, E.B. and White, K. (eds) (2006). Negotiating the Sacred: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in a Multicultural Society. Canberra: ANU Press.Google Scholar
  21. Denselow, R. (2012). All That Is Banned Is Desired. Report of the World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression, Oslo, 25–26 October 2012. Copenhagen: Freemuse.Google Scholar
  22. Dresen, G. (1998). Is dit mijn lichaam? Visioenen van het Volmaakte Lichaam in Katholieke Moraal en Mystiek. Nijmegen: Valkhof.Google Scholar
  23. Dudink, S. (2011). ‘Homosexuality, Race, and the Rhetoric of Nationalism’. History of the Present 1(2), 259–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. El-Tayeb, F. (2012). ‘“Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay”: Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City.’ European Journal of Women’s Studies 19(1), 79–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Farrell, M.J. (1985). ‘Christa: Woman Climbs on the Cross to Challenge Christianity’s Male Dominance.’ National Catholic Reporter, 5 April 1985, 11–12.Google Scholar
  26. Fisher, A. and Ramsay, H. (2000). ‘Of Art and Blasphemy.’ Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3(2), 137–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fouz-Hernández, S. and Jarman-Ivens, F. (eds) (2004). Madonna’s Drowned Worlds: New Approaches to Her Cultural Transformations, 1983–2003. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  28. Freedberg, D. (1989) The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Friesen, I.E. (2001). The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis since the Middle Ages. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Friesen, I.E. (2007). ‘Virgo Fortis: Images of the Crucified Virgin Saint in Medieval Art.’ In B. MacLachlan and J. Fletcher (eds) Virginity Revisited: Configurations of the Unpossessed Body, 116–127. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  31. Ganzevoort, R., Van der Laan, M., and Olsman, E. (2011). ‘Growing up Gay and Religious: Conflict, Dialogue, and Religious Identity Strategies.’ Mental Health, Religion, and Culture 14(3), 209–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gibson, J. (1992). ‘Could Christ have been Born A Woman? A Medieval Debate.’ Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 8(1), 65–82.Google Scholar
  33. Göle, N. (2010). ‘The Civilizational, Spacial, and Sexual Powers of the Secular.’ In M. Warner, J. VanAntwerpen, and C. Calhoun (eds) Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, 243–264. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Grigat, N. (1995). Madonnabilder: Dekonstruktive Ästhetik in den Videobildern Madonnas. Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang.Google Scholar
  35. Guilbert, G.C. (2002). Madonna as Postmodern Myth: How One Star’s Self-Construction Rewrites Sex, Gender, Hollywood, and the American Dream. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.Google Scholar
  36. Habermas, J. (2008). ‘Notes on Post-Secular Society,’ New Perspectives Quarterly 25(4), 17–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Häger, A. (1997). ‘The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in Popular Music.’ Temenos 33: 57–61.Google Scholar
  38. Heartney, E. (2003). ‘Thinking through the Body: Women Artists and the Catholic Imagination.’ Hypatia 18(4), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Heartney, E. (2004). Postmodern Heretics: The Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art. New York: Midmarch Arts Press.Google Scholar
  40. Heartney, E. (2007). ‘Kiki Smith: A View from the Inside Out.’ In E. Heartney, H. Posner, N. Princenthal, and S. Scott (eds) After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art, 189–207. Munich: Prestel.Google Scholar
  41. Heartney, E. (2011). ‘The Global Culture War.’ Art in America (October) 119–123.Google Scholar
  42. Irigaray, L. and Burke, K.I. (2007). ‘Beyond Totem and Idol, the Sexuate Other.’ Continental Philosophical Review 40: 353–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jakobsen, J. and Pellegrini, A. (2004). Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  44. Jordan, M. (2011). ‘The Return of Religion during the Reign of Sexuality.’ In L. Martin Alcoff and J. Caputo (eds) Feminism, Sexuality, and the Return of Religion. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Korte, A.-M. (2009a). ‘Madonna’s Kruisigingscène: Blasfemie of Theologische Uitdaging?’ Tijdschrift voor Theologie 49: 125–140.Google Scholar
  46. Korte, A.-M. (2009b). ‘Madonna’s Crucifixion and the Female Body in Feminist Theology.’ In R. Buikema and I. van der Tuin (eds) Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture, 117–133. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Korte, A.-M. (2010). ‘Dying to Tell: Madonna’s Kruisigingscène als Icoon van Heiligheid en Zonde.’ In D. Polleyfelt (ed.) Wil Er Iemand Mijn Messias Zijn? 29–57. Leuven, Belgium: Acco.Google Scholar
  48. Korte, A.-M. (2011). ‘Madonna’s Kruisiging: Van Theatraal Passiespel tot Publiek Steekspel.’ Religie & Samenleving 6(1), 81–101.Google Scholar
  49. Kuntsman, A. (2009). Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond. Oxford: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  50. Lanzi, F. and Lanzi, G. (2004). Saints and Their Symbols: Recognizing Saints in Art and in Popular Images. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.Google Scholar
  51. Latour, B. (2002). ‘What is Iconoclash? Or is there a World Beyond the Image Wars?’ In B. Latour and P. Weibel (eds) Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art. Karlsruhe: Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie.Google Scholar
  52. Lazzarini, P. (1982). Il Volto Santo Di Lucca, 782–1982. Lucca: Fazzi.Google Scholar
  53. Levy, L. (1993). Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  54. Lynch, G. (2005). Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  55. Maitland, S. (1997). ‘Blasphemy and Creativity.’ In D. Cohn-Sherbok (ed.) The Salman Rushdie Controversy in Interreligious Perspective, 115–130. Queenston, ON: The Edwin Mellen Press.Google Scholar
  56. Meyer, J.M. (1997). ‘Profane and Sacred: Religious Imagery and Prophetic Expression in Postmodern Art.’ Journal of the American Academy of Religion LXV(1), 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Miles, M. (1989). Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  58. Nash, D. (2007). ‘Analyzing the History of Religious Crime: Models of “Passive” and “Active” Blasphemy since the Medieval Period.’ Journal of Social History 41(1), 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Nash, D. (2008). ‘Blasphemy and Sacrilege: A Challenge to Secularization and Theories of the Modern?’ In E.B. Coleman and M.S. Fernandes Dias (eds) Negotiating the Sacred II: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in the Arts, 11–22. Canberra: ANU Press.Google Scholar
  60. Newman, B. (1995). From Virile Woman to womanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nightlinger, E. (1993). ‘The Female Imitatio Christi and Medieval Popular Religion: The Case of St.Wilgefortis.’ In B. Wheeler (ed.) Feminea Medievalia: Representations of the Feminine in the Middle Ages, 291–328. Dallas, TX: Academia Press.Google Scholar
  62. Papenburg, B. and Zarzycka, M. (eds) (2013). Carnal Aesthetics: Transgressive Imagery and Feminist Politics. London/New York: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  63. Plaskow, J. (1991). Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.Google Scholar
  64. Plate, S.B. (2006). Blasphemy: Art That Offends. London: Black Dog.Google Scholar
  65. Puar, J. (2007). Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Puar, J. (2011). Citation and Censorship: The Politics of Talking about the Sexual Politics of Israel. Feminist Legal Studies 19(2), 133–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Raab, K.A. (1997). ‘Christology Crossing Boundaries: The Threat of Imaging Christ as Other than a White Male.’ Pastoral Psychology 45(5), 389–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ruether, R.R. (1983). Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  69. Samson, J., Jansen, W.H.M., and Notermans, C.D. (2011). ‘“The Gender Agenda”: New Strategies in Catholic Fundamentalist Framing of Non-Heterosexuality in Europe.’ Journal of Religion in Europe 4(2), 273–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Schnürer, G. and Ritz, J.M. (1934). Sankt Kümmernis und Volto Santo: Studien und Bilder Düsseldorf: L. Schwann.Google Scholar
  71. Schweizer-Vüllers, R. (1997). Die Heilige am Kreuz: Studien zum Weiblichen Gottesbild im späten Mittelalter und in der Barockzeit. Bern: P. Lang.Google Scholar
  72. Schwichtenberg, C. (1993). The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  73. Scott, J.W. (2009). Sexularism. Ursula Hirschman Annual Lecture on Gender and Europe. Florence, Italy, 23 April 2009. RSCAS Distinguished Lecture 2009/01.Google Scholar
  74. Strahm Bernet, S. (1991). ‘Jesa Christa.’ In D. Strahm and R. Strobel (eds) Vom Verlangen nach Heilwerden: Christologie in Feministisch-theologischer Sicht, 172–181. Fribourg, Switzerland: Exodus.Google Scholar
  75. Stychin, C. (2009). ‘Faith in the Future: Sexuality, Religion and the Public Sphere.’ Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 29(4), 729–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Thienen, J. van. (2007). ‘Madonna’s Kruis: De Vrouwelijke Verbeelding van Christus.’ Lover 34(1), 8–10.Google Scholar
  78. Verrips, J. (2008). ‘Offending Art and the Sense of Touch.’ Material Religion 4(2), 204–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wils, J.P. (2007). Gotteslästerung. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag der Weltreligionen.Google Scholar
  80. Zänker, J. (1998). Crucifixae: Frauen am Kreuz. Berlin: Gebr. Mann.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Anne-Marie Korte 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne-Marie Korte

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations