Comparative Literature graduate student Arnab Dutta Roy presented what he referred to as both his own project and a perpetual work in progress, highlighting the expressed and perceived conceptions of gender and sexuality relations and its significance in the world’s historical cultures and religious scriptures, all in hopes to create new intellectual spaces for discussion.
In this discussion hosted by the University of Connecticut’s Rainbow Center, Roy explained that there are seemingly endless venues for this analysis to take place but decided to focus primarily on the most central mythological and religious followings of India, his home country, where the stark majority of people practice Hinduism.
“There are other voices trying to be heard. In the political climate of some of these regions, these talks can be very difficult, even dangerous. If I was giving this lecture in India for example, I might end up in big trouble,” Roy said through a laugh, when addressing biased strata in social structures.
The objectives of this ever-changing analysis and compilation are to identify certain generic definitions and categories of mythic androgynies, look at specific examples of Hindu and Buddhist myths that correspond with those definitions and categories and identify cultural biases that are carried over into the myths. Using this gathered information, Roy ultimately wants to create new and inclusive hermeneutics (the science of interpretation as it relates to scriptures) that emphasize a more flexible view of gender, sex and sexuality.
Androgynies were an extremely central theme in his lecture and a key component in analyzing how the people who were brought up with these myths perceive gender with a social-historical context. Androgyny refers to any character or being that has characteristics of both masculine and feminine nature – typically in physical form, but also in psychological, spiritual and cultural forms.
“I want to explore androgyny in terms of how people understand human identity, culture, and behavior,” Roy said. “Although it has been a topic of academic and intellectual discussions, mainly in religious studies, today there is a different need present, particularly when it comes to identity.”
Roy gave several examples of androgyny from within his area of focus and of other regional cultures for supporting evidence of the pervasive nature of man and woman being one in divinity; from the famous ‘Penis De Milo’ sculpture of Hermaphrodite in Rome, to Shiva as Ardhanarishvara of Hinduism. In many texts, the highest divinities and gods are typically seen as either androgynous or genderless to delineate them from humans who have the need for sexual relations and gendered counterparts. That isn’t to say that these same beings have not used sexuality to their advantage against other gods or even men.
“I didn’t realize how many different perspectives on physical and cultural gender that the Hindu faith alone had to offer. It was an interesting contrast to the recent happenings of Hindu culture currently receiving the LGBT community,” eighth-semester economics major Marissa Eklund said.
Roy concluded with a final message about his studies and the major concepts to take away from his lecture. He emphasized that it is important for people in any culture to be mindful to these kinds of discussions and how important it is to reflect on primal androgyny in more open-ended terms. We should aim to combine information derived from historical sources and transition to positive perspectives, without bias for the betterment of historical spaces, especially for those who have been oppressed, all without compromising tradition.
“It was an extremely interesting talk and very peculiar topic for a lecture that I would not have expected to hear about. It has sparked my attention and interest to the other talks going on about HIV, homophobia in Islam and Two Spirit in Native American culture, which are things I never really thought about,” eighth-semester economics major Molly Devlin said.
Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.