In this presentation, I elaborate the relevance of Irigaray’s work for ecological feminism, animal liberation, and a practical expression of religious diversity. While other works regarding Irigaray have focused on her spiritual theology, this presentation points toward the outcome of this spiritual and sexually differentiated humanism—a refashioning of human morality and ethical relations. I suggest her work in religion has particular importance given the sometimes-perceived cultural clash between secularism and religion. Instead of privileging modern secularism and dismissing religion as parochial and anti-feminist, Irigaray offers a feminist re-reading of religion that bridges the concerns of secularism (tolerance) and religious communities (respect for the sacred). I argue that her work has an even broader impact and expand the scope of her work into the fields of ecological feminism, animal liberation, and the ongoing debate of how a multi-cultural and global public can understand the relation between the religious and the civic.
I suggest Irigaray’s philosophical contributions can be understood as an ethically enriched and deepened humanist extension of the philosophical tradition of phenomenology and French existentialism, as well as Feuerbach’s humanist project, with the sexual difference twist that is always her signature. I understand her religious writings to transcend any specific sacred tradition or text. Instead, she freely incorporates the ideas, themes, and motifs of the sacred in order to sustain her primary thesis of female subjectivity and human intersubjectivity in an ethically sensitized global context. Therefore, I read her as seeking the flourishing of humanity in its sexed fullness. This means that the ethico-spiritual flowering of a sexually differentiated humanity ought to be an integral component of female self-affection and self-representation, as well as a strategic and affirming self-limitation of the genders. Rather than being bound to a religious tradition, she tightly weaves her content as a critique and engagement with the Western philosophical tradition, unraveling the psychoanalytic symbolic and imaginary that malevolently secures a mono-sexuate culture. As her task is to exemplify the self-affection and self-representation that she seeks, I will note that her writings deliberately employ the psychoanalytic, phenomenological, and existential influences of Western culture. Yet she does seek not to reify these positions, but to engage them critically and extend them with a more inclusive sexuate ontology and ethics.
As historically woman’s identity has often been compared with the oppression of nature (Mother Nature) and the animal body, it is fruitful to take her work into environmental fields that so far are less analyzed. While some work on Irigaray and issues of ecology and sustainability are gaining traction, I would say it appears as a more recent application of her work. Ecological feminism and animal liberation can appeal and perhaps gain traction with Irigarayan theory in that both are seeking ways of liberation and flourishing that exceed Western subject-object relations, patriarchal domination, and hierarchical thinking. I suggest that her work also offers a theory of ethical responsibility beyond the framework of a social contract or rights language. I argue this ethical framework is vital insofar as “rights” language, when expanded toward the environment and animals often remains contingent upon the establishment of “personhood,” which Irigarayan theory may expose as a “neutered concept” meant to hide singularity of power and privilege. Her work demands that we recognize sexuate specificity and her theory most clearly offers effective critique of how we can rethink rights and responsibility in a sexually specific manner. I draw attention to how her philosophy provides a powerful and practical impetus toward an attention to self-limitation, the shared breath of beings who love, and the cultivation of civil society with global sustainability. I too understand the phenomenological tradition to provide a wealth of resources for theology, philosophy, and socio-political ethics, permitting mind and body to form a collective understanding of the self without bifurcation.
Additionally, I have training in counseling and am attuned to how the human self is more than mere rationality. Presently, I teach at an urban American two-year institution with students who are predominantly of color, come from low socio-economic communities, with rich local and indigenous sources of knowledge. I have discovered that students from diverse backgrounds can read and extend Irigarayan philosophy, and develop and articulate the need for difference to be cultivated globally and for dominant cultures to limit their ownership of power and the truth. Like Irigaray, I believe divinity is enigmatically revealed in the guarding of sacred ethically charged spaces between individuals and cultures. I suggest that Irigaray’s valuable contribution brings nature and culture together, the body in play with the mind, and the sexes together in wonder and felicity. Such a bringing together of difference forms a communion that resists facile or naïve associations. Rather, Irigarayan difference asks that we reveal the symbolic, historic, and socio-political areas of oppressions which cannot be essentialized, bringing to scale a fuller democracy for global sustainability that respects the multiplicity of differences in a changing and complex world.