Religion and Powerlessness

Mieke Bal

in Powers

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780823231560
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235537 | DOI:

Series: The Future of the Religious Past

Religion and Powerlessness

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  • East Asian Religions


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This chapter looks at the function of religion as a way of offering release and consolation. It presents a half-hour conversation between Elena and her son Simion, who left Romania for Canada, providing a running commentary in an attempt to understand what is going on in this interaction. “Elena” is an episode from the video work Nothing Is Missing, a multiple-screen video installation where visitors are invited to sit in armchairs and talk about their children who have migrated to other places. During the conversation between mother and son, Elena invokes God and considers Holy Mary to be the force behind her son's talents. Over and over she expresses her powerlessness, and the role of religion in the empowerment of Elena is ambiguous. At the end of the conversation with her son, Elena wishes him well and ends by acknowledging the solace his temporary return has given her. There is no excess of emotional outburst. This is Elena's version of the “nothing is missing” of one of the other mothers in the project.

Keywords: religion; powerlessness; release; consolation; God; empowerment

Chapter.  12380 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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