The Concept of Identity and Subjectivity in an Individual's Religion

Categories: Religion

Humans are complex individuals shaped and molded by the acquirement of life
experiences. Through this accumulation arises an identity, or a way to group one’s self in
relation to others based on shared experiences (Cranny-Francis et al. 33). One interesting
feature of the human identity is in order for it to become legitimized, it must be repeatedly

The basis of individual identification is recognition from others through this performativity. The more the particular identity is self-presented, the more society begins to associate you with that distinction, and the more repeated confirmation you receive.

Because we choose the features of our identities that we wish to perform, identities are partial and strategic, and have the ability to modify depending on the circumstance.

Identities also have the power to create alliances and empower individuals in the minority or inferior position the more inclusive they remain. (Cranny-Francis et al. 35). However, just because two people claim the same identity does not mean they experience that identity in the same way.

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addition to this variance within a category of identities, a vast level of multiplicity and fragmentation exists within a single individual, for no individual is defined by a single

We are not only formed by our experiences, but we become a product of our environment as well; an environment that is more often predetermined than self-selected. Humans are subject to the surroundings we are born into; we are subject to the institutions and power structures that preceded and now validate our very existence.

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These two ideas, our identities and subjectivities, are in immediate conversation, for they constantly develop and evolve around each other.

In the examination of Zitkala-Sa’s “Why I am Pagan” and chapter four of Gene
Robinson’s book God Believes in Love, it is clear that the authors’ identities and multiple
subjectivities are in conversation. For Zitkala-Sa, a female member of the Sioux tribe around
the turn of the 20th century, her purposeful identification as Pagan and resulting rejection of
the Christianity is not only a presentation of herself to the reader, but a reflection of how her life and personal experiences resulted in her identity.

As for Robinson, the first elected openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church, his open exhibition of his identity as well as his reinterpretation of the Bible in an attempt to reverse the perspective of condemnation of homosexuals is indicative of both his experiences and his beliefs.

Both of these works are a reflection of religious experience in conversation with their authors’
multiple subjectivities, and both result in unique cultural formations that differ from the
social “norm” and the pressures to conform to the mass majority of collective beliefs. It is
important to recognize the overt identities that the authors put forward in addition to their
multiple subjectivities in order to fully understand how the works themselves came about as
well as their intended effect on the reader.

In her short essay “Why I Am a Pagan”, Zitkala-Sa clearly intends to immediately
establish her identity with her audience from the title. She explicitly identifies as Pagan, or
poly-theistic, as emphasis for her undoubted rejection of the increasingly Christian norm. By
identifying as Pagan Zitkala-Sa also accentuates her connectedness with Sioux culture with
an emphasis on spirituality in nature as well as her native origin and traditions. The
prevailing use of her Sioux name and pagan beliefs reflects the part of her identity that is an
intrinsic product of her Sioux origin.

However, Zitkala-Sa is comprised of a multiplicity of these subjectivities, and not all of them are in such accordance. She is not only a product of her Sioux culture with which she primarily identifies, but a product of the American culture that she has been continually subjected since she was a child. In declaring Paganism, the traditional culture of her Sioux tribe, she simultaneously rejects Christianity, the religion deemed socially acceptable by the dominant United States government that barred the traditional practices of the Sioux.

By taking on these identities she is in turn contrasting herself with other identities, implying the reverse of the ideals she embodies. In her opening paragraph she states, “I lie small upon the Earth…” (Zitkala-Sa). This is clearly an attempt to contrast her small existence on the Earth with the implied power of the US, the domination of Christianity, and their extensive efforts to convert the Sioux Indians. In many cases, Christian missionaries have been successful, for she writes about one of her “own” who fills his mouth with the “jangling phrases of a bigoted creed” (Zitkala-Sa).

To contrast this Sioux’s effort to convert her she writes, “I prefer to their dogma my excursions” (Zitkala-Sa) revealing her affinity to an unbounded nature rather than an adherence to an unnegotiable law. As a young girl, Zitkala-Sa attended an American boarding school that imposed
assimilation into Anglo-American culture in order to replace Sioux culture with white
Christian American values and ultimately gain control of the Native American population.

Despite her justified adversity toward American culture, she is still subject to its powerful,
dominating existence in her world. The photo of her signature at the conclusion of this essay
is evidence of the exchange between these seemingly incompatible subjectivities of the
United States and the Sioux Tribe.

The photo includes both her Sioux name “Zitkala-Sa” written in a modified English alphabet with English letters and her assigned name “Gertrude Bonnin”. These two converging identities, Sioux and American, naturally create tension and conflict in the nature of their contrasting cultural ideals, but also manage to cohabitate in Zitkala-Sa resulting in a unique combination of clashing cultures that creates this piece of work to begin with.

Despite the animosity she may feel towards boarding school, she cannot shed it from her past, so she makes it known who she is: a product of both worlds. The dual signature is a visual pointer of how identity converges in so many aspects. All of these examples represent the tense and harmonious existence of Zitkala-Sa’s multiple subjectivities (Zitkala-Sa).

Gene Robinson’s work God Believes in Love is also a religious reflection of the dual
role of identity and subjectivity within a subject. Robinson, the first elected openly gay
bishop of the Episcopal Church, reinterprets several passages in the Bible that for centuries Christians have used to support God’s condemnation of homosexuality. To understand his
intent and motivation for this reinterpretation, Robinson is forthright about his experience
with faith as a child.

He grew up in a rural area, and considered himself a devout Christian with a solid foundation of faith, even from a young age (Robinson, 61). As his knowledge expanded into his adolescence, he began questioning the Bible, especially as he came to realize his own sexuality and how it fell out of accordance with the beliefs instilled in him from a young age.

Contradictions arise with how God is presented to the reader throughout the text. On one hand are the frightening accounts of Gods wrath, yet in immediate contrast is the infinite love of His son, Jesus. Robinson even admits that while growing up, “I had difficulty reconciling these two visions of God” (Robinson 62).

Historically, Christianity and homosexuality do not mix; however, Robinson insists that it is possible to combine these conflicting identities, and that they do not have to always exist in opposition. In the end, Robinson believes that “context is the central key in understanding these texts” (Robinson 64). “We may know the actual meaning of the words, but without understanding the context and figurative meaning of the words and phrases at the time they were written, we may in fact misunderstand the author’s intent” (Robinson 65).

Through passage analysis within its historical context, the reader can grasp the structure of thought at the time of the texts’ conception. Robinson’s interpretation of the scripture is clearly reflective of his personal beliefs and life experiences, which originate from his various subjectivities throughout his life. In this way, Robinson’s multiple subjectivities come together and create a unique
analysis for other Christians to model.

Identities and subjectivities within an individual remain in continuous dialogue.
Although both Zitkala-Sa’s and Robinson’s works differ in their respective religious
perspectives and time periods, they still manage to serve as a reminder of the complex
formalities of human identities, and their ability to produce completely unique cultural formations that differ from social expectations.

Both authors undoubtedly express the tension between their inner multiple subjectivities, but ultimately accept that they will always persist as part of their identity. For Zitkala-Sa, it was her dual signature at the conclusion of her essay that reflected the acknowledgement of her two conflicting subjectivities: Sioux and American culture.

In Robinson’s work, he recognizes his conflicting Christian and homosexual identities, and as a result offers a reinterpretation of religious scripture to help them coexist. Realizing how various personal subjectivities and identities coincide is essential to the reconciliation of internal conflicting subjectivities, and thus the evolution of unique identity and cultural formation.

Works Cited

  1. Cranny-Francis, Anne, Wendy Waring, Pam Stavropoulos, and Joan Kirkby.Gender Studies:
    Terms and Debates. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.
  2. Robinson, Gene. God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. New York: Knopf,
    2012. Print.
  3. Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin). “Why I Am a Pagan” The Online Archive of Nineteenth
    Century U.S. Women’s Writings. Ed. Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted: Winter 1999.

Cite this page

The Concept of Identity and Subjectivity in an Individual's Religion. (2021, Oct 05). Retrieved from

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