Elizabeth C. Corey, at First Things, describes the First Church of Intersectionality.
In 1968, the political philosopher Eric Voegelin published a little book called Science, Politics and Gnosticism. In a section of that book entitled â€œErsatz Religion,â€ he argued that modern ideologies are very much like ancient Gnostic movements. Certain fundamental assumptions, Voegelin wrote, characterize both ancient and modern Gnosticism.
The gnostic, Voegelin observed, is fundamentally dissatisfied with his situation and believes that the world is â€œintrinsically poorly organizedâ€ and that salvation from the worldâ€™s evils is possible. The gnostic further thinks that â€œthe order of being will have to be changed in an historical processâ€ and that this is possible through human effort. Finally, the gnostic looks for a prophet who shares saving knowledge about how to make the transformation happen. It turns out that the intersectional project accords in every detail with Voegelinâ€™s description.
Intersectional scholars are, by definition, unhappy with their situations in life. From an outsiderâ€™s perspective, this seems more reasonable for some than for others, though itâ€™s apparent that everyone feels it to a greater or lesser extent. Most affectingly, at the Notre Dame conference, several black feminist scholars from South Africa described the explicitly repressive measures they had endured at their universities, where the prejudice against them is overt and sometimes results in violence. As one scholar put it, â€œItâ€™s not like Iâ€™m full of despair.â€ Then she paused and thought for a moment. â€œBut, of course, I am full of despair.â€
This nearly moved black American women to tears. They detailed their feelings of inadequacy in American universities, confessing that they feel they have no legitimate place, or that they are expected constantly to serve, because this is what has always been expected of black women. A young Hispanic assistant professor explained that United States immigration policy was a systematic attempt â€œto deny intimacy and familyâ€ to immigrants from Mexico. A self-identified â€œChicano gender non-conforming queer Latinxâ€ detailed the exclusion she had felt until she discovered a support group of other transgender people in Los Angeles. And the stories continued.
Expressions of hurt and exclusion were inevitably followed by anger at the systemâ€”at the patriarchy, racism, unjust institutions, and structural prejudiceâ€”and then by exhortations to do something about it. In Voegelinâ€™s terms, they were rebelling against the poor organization of the world, and maintained the hope of salvation through human effort.
Voegelinâ€™s idea that the order of being must be changed â€œin an historical processâ€ nicely captures the mandate of intersectionality. If schools, churches, and families are the primary institutions that have always formed people, and if they are fundamentally shot through with oppression and prejudice, then these institutions must themselves be thoroughly remade. In light of such an objective, the self-conscious deconstruction of what we take for granted makes sense. Gender, sexuality, family, Âhierarchy, capitalism, and, most of all, the university and its â€œpretenseâ€ to objective knowledge must be destroyed and reconstituted. Scholarship is secondary. Activism is what matters most.