Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Current Projects

Organizing Fellows: Lois Dubin (Religion) & Alice Hearst (Government)

In all societies, marriage is a serious business. How intimate relationships are defined and regulated by political and religious authorities has powerful effects on both private lives and on public order. Both the practice of intimate relationships and the terms of their dissolution are highly regulated because societies apportion resources, private and public, for the costs of dependency and socialization, and seek to ensure a measure of continuity for dependents when unions are dissolved. These days we are more acutely aware than ever of the dynamic relations between love, marriage, society, and state as new forms of intimate unions, domestic partnerships, and families are recognized—and contested. This year-long Kahn project sought to explore the changing meanings and practices of marriage and divorce in different societies and cultures, both past and present.

This project raised myriad questions about the complex realities and constructs of intimate relationships, and about the intersection of politics, religion, culture, and economics in changing practices and norms of marriage and divorce. For example, how have family relationships been reflected in various forms of artistic and philosophic expression? How have religious and civil authorities cooperated—and clashed—over definitions of marriage in different cultures and societies? How have states exercised authority over marriage and divorce to reinforce state building and foster the emergence of particular forms of citizenship? How have different forms of marriage affected shifting gender roles? To what extent might state regulation create new opportunities for personal emancipation or strengthen existing forms of social and cultural constraint? How are minorities of various kinds affected by state entry into this domain, and how do they make claims that allow them to enact their own traditions of marriage, divorce, and family in the face of state and religious authorities that uphold the practices of a dominant culture? How do states and supra-national bodies juggle different, and often competing, norms of marital and family law?

The project benefited enormously from the shared efforts of scholars working in a wide range of fields in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, while emerging research on the biological bases of intimate behavior gave those in the natural sciences the opportunity to make significant contributions to the project as well.


Final Project Report

DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z