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A Walk on the Wild Side: Church and Identity beyond Humanism

  • Steven Shakespeare

Western culture romanticizes wildness even as it fears the destruction of our humanity by all that is bestial, savage and unconstrained. Identity is constructed as a supposedly pure, bounded and sovereign force, constantly fascinated and repelled by its animal others.

The consequences of the church’s investment in this modern humanism are disparate, but united by a strange colonial logic, according to which the savage and the unnatural must be domesticated and incorporated into an empire of light. In the labelling of non-heterosexuals as ‘inhuman’ or ‘bestial’, complex links between the rhetoric of empire and resistance to that rhetoric are exposed. Appeals to African authenticity and liberal universalism are contextualized in postcolonial debates about securing human identity, debates in which the human/animal boundary becomes a key site of struggle.

This paper asks what the church looks like if our obsession with a pure identity of the (Western or African) human is challenged in the context of debates about sexuality within the Anglican Communion. It is argued that the dynamic of Christian revelation works to throw such categories into confusion, to release liberating encounters with the ‘inhuman’ others within and beyond our invented boundaries. An inherently plural, multilingual and differentiated process of Christian community is proposed.

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Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University, UK.

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2. Griffiths, Jay, Wild: An Elemental Journey (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007), p. 1.

3. For examples, see also Simon Barnes, How to be Wild (London: Short, 2007) and Macfarlane, Robert,The Wild Places (London: Granta, 2007).

4. Griffiths, Wild, p. 41.

5. Groves, Philip (ed.), The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 2008), p. 179.

6. Groves, The Anglican Communion, pp. 191–93.

7. Radner, Ephraim and Turner, Philip, The Fate of Communion: The Agony of Anglicanism and the Future of a Global Church (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2006).

8. Shakespeare, Steven, ‘The Paradox of the Inclusive Church. Can Ecclesiology Live with Questions?’, in Clague, Julie, Hoose, Bernard and Mannion, Gerard (eds.), Moral Theology for the Twenty-First Century: Essays in Celebration of Kevin Kelly (London: T&T Clark, 2008), pp.192203.

9. See Althaus-Reid, Marcella, Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 165–76.

10. Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge (London: Penguin, 1998), p. 140.

11. Davies, Tony, Humanism (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 132.

12. Derrida, Jacques, The Animal That Therefore I Am (New York: Fordham, 2008), p. 32.

13. See Wolfe, Cary, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species and Posthumanist Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

14. Quoted in Hoad, Neville, African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), p. xi.

15. Hoad, African Intimacies, p. xiv.

16. Lambeth Conference 1998 Archives. The Lambeth Conference Official Website,

17. The Listening Process: Church of Uganda Position Paper on Scripture, Authority, and Human Sexuality May 2005. The Anglican Communion Official Website,

18. Ward, Kevin, ‘Same-sex Relationships in Africa and the Debate on Homosexuality in East African Anglicanism’, Anglican Theological Review 84.1 (2002), pp. 81111 (108).

19. The Listening Process: Reports from the Provinces — The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),

20. Akinola, Peter , ‘Why I object to Homosexuality’, Church Times, July 4, 2003.

21. Huckabee, Mike, interview with Steven Waldman and Dan Gilgoff on beliefnet,

22. Onuoha, David, ‘The Absurdity of Same Sex Union’. The Church of Nigeria website,

23. Hoad, African Intimacies, p. 67.

24. Patterson, Charles, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (New York: Lantern, 2002), p. 34.

25. Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, p. 35.

26. Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, pp. 35–36.

27. Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, p. 29.

28. Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, p. 30.

29. Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, pp. 25–26.

30. Heise, Ursula K., ‘From Extinction to Electronics: Dead Frogs, Live Dinosaurs and Electric Sheep’, in Wolfe, C. (ed.), Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), pp.5981.

31. Doyle, Arthur C., The Lost World (London: Penguin, 2007).

32. Conan Doyle, The Lost World, p. 124.

33. Conan Doyle, The Lost World, p. 99.

34. Conan Doyle, The Lost World, p. 220.

35. Ward, ‘Same-sex relationships in Africa’, p. 90.

36. Hoad, African Intimacies, pp. 1–20.

37. Hoad, African Intimacies, p. 58.

38. Hoad, African Intimacies, p. 49.

39. Keller, Catherine, Nausner, Michael and Rivera, Mayra (eds.), Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire (St Louis: Chalice, 2004), p. 13.

40. Shakespeare, Steven, ‘The Community of the Question: Inclusive Ecclesiology’, in Mannion, G. (ed.), Church and Religious ‘Other’: Essays on Truth, Unity and Diversity (London: T&T Clark, 2008), pp. 156167.

41. Keller, Nausner and Rivera, Postcolonial Theologies, p. 13.

42. Keller, Nausner and Rivera, Postcolonial Theologies, p. 62.

43. Keller, Nausner and Rivera, Postcolonial Theologies, p. 69.

44. Keller, Nausner and Rivera, Postcolonial Theologies, p. 81.

45. Rivera, Mayra, The Touch of Transcendence: A Postcolonial Theology of God (Louisville: Westminster John Know, 2007), p. 137.

1. Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University, UK.

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Journal of Anglican Studies
  • ISSN: 1740-3553
  • EISSN: 1745-5278
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-anglican-studies
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