Contested Authorities over the Body: The State, the Secular, and the Religious

Pascale Fournier (University of Ottawa)

“Regulating Bodies & State Recognition: Jewish and Muslim Women in Contested Spaces in the West”



Yofi Tirosh (Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Sapir Academic College) and

Anna Korteweg (University of Toronto, Department of Sociology)

Introduction and moderation:

Gökce Yurdakul (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

When & where:

WZB (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung)

Keynote lecture 16:00-18:00h, reception 18:00-19:00h

Please register for participation:


“Regulating Bodies & State Recognition: Jewish and Muslim Women in Contested Spaces in the West” – Abstract

The past few decades have witnessed a significant increase in scholarly attention to the subject of the interaction between secular law and religious norms. From the regulation of Muslim women’s bodies (most notably as it relates to the wearing of the niqab) to the recognition of religious family law, much of the debate in the West has centered on the appropriateness of state intervention in intersecting and contested cultural and legal spaces.

A dichotomous view of the relationship between religious law and secular law permeates the debates across the varied positions along the political spectrum. Those who perceive religion as a form of oppression towards women envision secular law as capable of ensuring gender equality. On the other hand, those who advocate the legitimacy of religion law claim that women use religious narrative as a form of identity and that this private and parallel sphere of normative expression should be respected as such in a multicultural state.

Drawing on her field research in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada, Dr. Pascale Fournier’s keynote address will explore interesting and unexpected patterns of women’s agency, religious critique, and navigation of parallel civil and religious structures. In doing so, she will assess different models of secularism that are developing in the Western world and that can be deciphered by examining each country’s approach to policing religious women’s bodies and to recognising religious family law. Throughout, Dr. Fournier will insist on the lived experiences of religious women as narrated by religious women interviewed in the context of her field research, in the hopes of contributing to a broader dialogue on the integration of minorities through recognition of their distinct religious normative orders.



Contested Authorities over the Body: The State, the Secular, and the Religious – Workshop

International Workshop Humboldt University Berlin, Department of Diversity & Social Conflict Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research October 16-17, 2017

Participation by invitation only, keynote lecture is public

Conflicts between religion and secularity (i.e., secular and religious discourses, norms, actors, and institutions) are shaped differently in differing socio-legal contexts in the Middle East and Europe. While current scholarship has often studied this tension by focusing on religious rituals (headscarf, minarets, animal slaughter, etc.), we believe that new light can be shed on the religion/secularity tension by exploring a broader set of examples concerning bodily politics, that is legal contestations over images of the body and authority over the body. Dilemmas concerning reproductive technologies, abortion, circumcision, end of life decision making, and organ donation are only a few examples in which this tension plays out in contemporary societies and regulatory regimes.

The two-day workshop will bring together leading scholars to discuss religious and secular tensions over body politics, and the regulation of the body in the Europe, the US, and the Middle East. Among the questions we hope to discuss are:

  • How do legislators, courts, and local regulators address religious and secular conflicts over the body?
  • What role do religious and secular values, ideologies, traditions, and practices play in the regulation of the body and authority over the body in different countries?
  • How do religions and secular worldviews envision differently the body and bodily authority?
  • Who has the authority to decide on what is permissible to do with the body, and how do authority power dynamics between social actors change in the contemporary Middle East, Europe and the US?
  • What are the gendered discursive formations in the body politics in national and transnational debates?
  • How has the growing presence of the Middle East in Europe and the US and the lasting presence of Europe in the Middle East shape these debates?
  • To what extent are secular discourses of the body as neutral and universal as they claim and to what extent are they grounded in local traditions including Christian conceptions and practices of the body?
  • Conversely, to what extent are contemporary religious discourses shaped by secular? What can conflicts over bodily authority teach us about the formation of the religious/secular divide in different localities and jurisdictions?



Contested Authorities over the Body: The State, the Secular, and the Religious

International Workshop


Monday, October 16, 2017

 09:30 – 10:00 Coffee

10:00 – 10:30 Welcome and introduction: Shai Lavi and Gökce Yurdakul

10:30 – 12:30 BIRTH

Moderation: Julia Teschlade (Freie Universität Berlin)

Tsipy Ivry (University of Haifa) “Divisions of Moral Labor Among Medical and Rabbinic Authorities”

Gala Rexer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) “(Fragmented) Bearers of the Nation? The Role of Reproductive Technologies and the Body in Israel and Palestine“

12:30 – 13:30 Buffet Lunch

13:30 – 15:30 LIFE

Moderation: Tsipy Ivry (University of Haifa)

Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv University) Male Circumcision (title tba)

Gökce Yurdakul (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv University), Shvat Eilat (Tel Aviv University), Gala Rexer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) “Contested Authorities Over Women’s Bodies: Religious / Secular Tensions in Abortion Debates in Germany, Turkey and Israel“

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 18:00 INSTITUTIONS


Hagai Boas (Van Leer Jerusalem Institute) “Brain Death, Organ Donation and the Limits of Liberal Bioethics in Israel”

Aysecan Terzioglu (Sabanci University, Istanbul) “An Ongoing Battle of Different Perspectives: Dominant and Alternative Discourses on the Syrian Refugees’ Health Conditions in Turkey”

19:30 Dinner at for workshop participants


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

13:00-15:00 DEATH

Moderation: Hagai Boas (Van Leer Jerusalem Institute)

Silke Schicktanz (Georg-August Universität Göttingen) “Dying in Modern Medicine as Political Litmus Test? Comparing Citizen’s Moral Opinions about End of life Decision in Israel and Germany“

Shvat Eilat (Tel Aviv University) Israeli Mass Graves for Stillborn Infants: Between and Beyond Halakhic and State Personhood

16:00 – 18:00 KEYNOTE LECTURE at WZB (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung)

Pascale Fournier (University of Ottawa) “Regulating Bodies & State Recognition: Jewish and Muslim Women in Contested Spaces in the West”

Introduction and moderation: Gökce Yurdakul (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Discussants: Yofi Tirosh (Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Sapir Academic College) and Anna Korteweg (University of Toronto, Department of Sociology)

18:00-19:00 Reception



Divisions of Moral Labor among Medical and Rabbinic Authorities

Tsipy Ivry, Deptartment of Anthropology, University of Haifa


Who has the authority to decide on whether or not a pregnant woman should undergo prenatal diagnosis, and whether or not to terminate a pregnancy after a diagnosis of fetal anomaly? My paper is an exploration of the negotiations, surrounding this question, as they take place among religiously observant Jewish couples, experts in reproductive medicine, and rabbis who position themselves as experts in both rabbinic law and reproductive medicine.

Based on my ethnographies of prenatal diagnosis among non-religious and religiously observant Jewish communities in Israel I identify two models of decision-making about medico-moral issues: the first associated with secular-liberal societies, the second with traditional communities. I suggest that the differences between the models are less about conceptions of fetal subjectivity and more about how the labor of decision-making and the weight of moral responsibility can be divided.

The liberal model individualizes decision-making, assuming a scientifically literate “autonomous patient” that receives “non-directive” medical counseling. Physicians providing prenatal-diagnosis are especially threatened by lawsuits and tend to leave patients to practice “moral pioneering” (in Rayna Rapps idiom) on their own.

Observant communities tend to see post-diagnostic decisions as requiring the moral expertise of Tora scholars. The scientifically literate rabbis I observed offer consultation to pregnant women and their partners; they urge consultees to transmit unbearable moral responsibilities onto the rabbi. I explore the configurations that divisions of moral labor take among doctors, patients, and rabbis.  Rather than discrete and separate entities, medical and rabbinic authorities emerge as interconnected and mutually constituted through divisions of moral labor.   I proceed to explore the attractiveness of bio-religious authority in late modernity.

How moral responsibilities are divided, who can afford to shoulder them and how, I suggest, are important questions to ask if we opt to understand the transformations underway in authority power dynamics in the middle-east and beyond.



(Fragmented) Bearers of the Nation? The Role of Reproductive Technologies and the Body in Israel and Palestine

Gala Rexer, Department of Diversity and Social Conflict, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Reproduction has been studied extensively as an entry point into the study of social life in research considered with the relationship between assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and societies. Reproduction holds a crucial place in Israel and Palestine where a “demographic race” is one of the key issues between two national projects in one and the same land. Against this background, this paper is looking at the construction of a specific “chosen body” (and its “chosen” micro subparts, such as gametes) at the intersection of ARTs, nationalism and reproduction. In order to understand how legislators and local regulators in Israel and the West Bank address religious and secular conflicts in the regulation and implementation of reproductive technologies, I will examine the practices of sperm smuggling of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and sperm freezing of Israeli soldiers in Israel – both with the aim of subsequently enabling in vitro fertilization for their (prospective) partners. I will ask how religious and secular values and (gendered) practices shape the regulation, implementation and use of these reproductive technologies. I intent to illustrate how the involved bodies (sperm “donors”, mothers and their “in vitro” children or subparts of these bodies) are constructed as “bearers of the nation”. In order to do so, I will draw on my own interview data with the wives of Palestinian prisoners, legal data and media documents on sperm smuggling. I will furthermore explore the case of sperm freezing by examining media documents, websites and law cases (interviews are planned after the workshop takes place) to compare the two cases. By doing so, I will show how bodies and their technically assisted reproduction hold a distinct function in a biopolitical sense in these two national projects.



Male Circumcision, title tba

Shai Lavi, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University and Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

Abstract tba



Contested Authorities Over Women’s Bodues: Religious / Secular Tensions in Abortion Debates In Germany, Turkey and Israel

Gökce Yurdakul (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv University), Shvat Eilat (Tel Aviv University), Gala Rexer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


In this paper, we are concerned with how abortion is regulated in everyday level in three secular countries with mainly monotheistic religions. We examine how secular abortion laws are interpreted differently by institutional authorities who act as gate keepers of abortion practices and interpreters of abortion regulations for women. In order to understand how authority functions on an everyday level, we turn to keystake holders in abortion decision-making, such as medical staff, abortion consultants and representatives of civil society organizations. We argue that regulations are interpreted by the authorities who navigate secular-religious tensions. In each country, we conducted ten face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. We attempt to understand how abortion is governed and what kind of secular-religious tensions arise when deciding for or against abortion. All three countries, Germany, Israel and Turkey are allegedly secular states with monotheistic religious traditions, but each has its own understanding of the relationship between secularity, religion, and state law.  In none of these countries can one simply contrast the secular state with religion because the particular variety of secularism in each was shaped not only by social, historical, and political forces, but also by religion – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Hence, three-way-comparison is necessary in understanding contested authorities over abortion. In our findings, we show how wedical staff, abortion consultants and representatives of civil society organizations act as authorities of abortion regulations for women. They embody the tensions between secular and religious interpretations in their everyday practices and discourses.



Brain Death, Organ Donation and the limits of liberal Bioethics in Israel

Hagai Boas, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute


This paper introduces analytic contours of the brain death and organ donations controversies in Israel. It suggests that the Israeli case manifests a radical politicization of these issues that runs counter to the logics of liberal western bioethics. Against the liberal effort to address brain death and organ donation as two distinct ethical issues, in Israel the two are coupled together not only in the ethical discourse but also in legislation. Second, In Israel both the science of death and the ethics of organ donations are politicized to the degree that they translated into the secular-religious split of Israeli politics.  In this paper I will discuss the implications of this process and will argue that the Israeli case is not an exception that lies outside of Western liberal bioethics, but rather is a vantage point that allows critical reflection on the naked roots of the liberal bioethical regulation of brain death and organ donations.


An Ongoing Battle of Different Perspectives: Dominant and Alternative Discourses on the Syrian Refugees’ Health Conditions in Turkey

Ayşecan Terzioğlu, Cultural Studies, Sabancı University


This article aims at discussing the social and medical discourses on the health condition and health care access of Syrian refugees in Turkey. It explores how the political, legal, economic, social and cultural factors lead to victim-blaming, discriminatory discourses against the Syrians in Turkey, and how these discourses are reflected and reproduced in the health sector, particularly vis-à-vis the Syrians’ high rates of reproduction.  The Syrians’ presence is often seen as a political and social threat, and their health problems are evaluated as an extra burden for the health care providers.  Accordingly, the Syrian bodies are also conceptualized differently than the “Turkish” bodies. The article also explores whether the religious and secular NGO’s can provide alternative, more inclusive discourses on the Syrians and their health condition, and how can they be more effective in challenging the dominant discourses.


Dying in Modern Medicine as Political Litmus Test?  Comparing Citizen’s Moral Opinions about End of Life Decision in Israel and Germany

Silke Schicktanz, Department for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, University Medical Center Göttingen


National legislation, as well as expert positions in Germany and Israel represent opposite regulatory approaches and bioethical debates concerning end-of-life care. This study analyses how these positions are mirrored in the attitudes of lay persons and influenced by religious views and personal experience of those being affected. We qualitatively analyzed 8 focus groups in Germany and Israel, where lay persons (religious, secular, affected, and not affected) were asked to discuss similar scenarios involving withholding/withdrawing treatment, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. In both countries, respect for patient autonomy and wishes to die with dignity found broad consent. Lay people argued in favor of the acceptance of wishes put down in an advance directive. Based on the respect for autonomy, lay persons in non-religious groups in both countries argued for possibilities of euthanasia in severe cases, but at the same time cautioned against its possible misuse. National contrast was apparent in the moral reasoning of lay respondents concerning the distinction of withholding and withdrawing treatment. Especially the modern religious lay persons in Israel argued strongly against allowing the withdrawal of treatment based on a patient’s wish, by referring to the halakhic tradition. We conclude by discussing the emergent notion of shared responsibility and views of professional responsibility, connecting them with relevant cultural themes such as religion and national culture.



Israeli Mass Graves for Stillborn Infants: Between and Beyond Halakhic and State Personhood

Shvat Eilat, Department of Anthropology, Tel Aviv University


Administrative apparatuses and juridical systems are powerful authoritative bodies which both define and mediate between the individual and the state. These encounters are determined within the boundaries of meaning designated by the sovereign. From the early days of the state of Israel, both secular and Jewish religious (halakhic) law merge together and clash with one another, and are thus interdependent, although fraught with tension. The complex relationship between state and religion is most evident in the governance of bodies including burial, male circumcision and marital life. Within these contexts, bureaucratic practices are governed by a separate religious authority that operates under the secular state. In Israel, the Jewish burial organization known as the chevra kadisha is comprised of hundreds of local municipal societies.  All of these follow the general principles of Jewish burial, but each retain some customs affiliated with a specific diasporic tradition. In the case of stillborn babies, different chevra kadisha societies have formulated different burial solutions over the years. More recently, over half of Israeli hospitals have shifted from local companies for this purpose to using a single contractor company, Chesed ve’Emeth (“Charity and Truth”), which buries all stillborn infants in a mass grave. For my research, I interviewed a group of Jewish-Israeli women whose deceased babies were interred in such a grave. These women appealed to the District Court, demanding that the court denounce mass burial and also that it recognize the wrongs inflicted upon the mothers. Within this context, I will present the conflicting justifications of the burial society, on one hand, and the mothers, on the other. The aim of this paper is to elaborate upon the “Jewishness” and “humanness” of this mass grave for stillborn infants. Furthermore, I analyze the different connotations associated with the “secularization of the body” in this context.  In light of the fact that “the religious” and “the secular” concepts are interacting with each other, I will contemplate the specific constellation of personhood in the case of stillborn babies and explore the questions which arise concerning the mass grave.