Biko Mandela Gray

Mandela Gray’s research interests are primarily organized around the connection between religion, embodiment, and subjectivity, and how these different dimensions of our lives are both augmented and inflected through categories like race, gender, and sexuality. One particular site that is rich for thinking through this kind of work is the contemporary incarnation of a Civil Rights Movement, the #Blacklivesmatter movement. His dissertation project, entitled “Enfleshing the Subject: Race and Religion in the Development of Subjectivity,” was my way of thinking through these connections, highlighting how the lives and deaths of Jonathan Ferrell, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, and Michael Brown disclosed significant and critical dimensions of subjective engagement that ran counter to dominant philosophical conceptions of subjectivity. Drawing upon phenomenological, affect-theoretical, historical, literary, black-theoretical and poststructuralist approaches, he argued that these lives and deaths (as well as the movement that emerged on the basis of these deaths) exposed an inextricable bond between religion, embodiment, and subjectivity. 

His contemporary project returns to these site(s) of black life and death in order to highlight how the #blacklivesmatter movement operates as a site of religious subject-formation. Drawing upon phenomenological thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Sara Ahmed, and placing them in conversation with Toni Morrison, Mandela Gray examines the #blacklivesmatter movement as a “clearing,” as a religious space beyond the confines of the cognitive and conscious subject of mastery, wherein black flesh is revered, loved, and cared for despite the ever-present possibility of various forms of death. The clearing challenges traditional approaches to subjectivity, highlighting that subjectivity can–and does–extend far beyond “constitution” or cognition; instead, subjectivity should be understood as relation, ​as a constantly changing constellation of various modes of relational engagement.