Spirituality and Childbirth Book


Routledge’s Spirituality and Childbirth book will be published within the next few months.  It is a beautiful book, edited by Susan Crowther and Jenny Hall, both midwives and professors of midwifery.  A chapter I’ve written, Ritual, Art, and a Philosophy of Birth, is part of the publication and it includes many images of pregnancy and birth, some of which have been covered here on the blog.

Once the book is published, I will provide more information here on the artworks used in my chapter. For the time being, here is a partial abstract of the chapter contents:

Ritual, Art, and a Philosophy of Birth

The topics of gestating and being born, as well as those of being pregnant and giving birth, involve complex queries that branch into all areas of philosophy. Yet while canonical philosophers have historically focused on universals in the human experience, including the universal of death, they have given much less attention to birth. This same underrepresentation of the birth topic persists in other areas of the humanities, as well as in the arts. This chapter looks at one particular juncture of philosophy, religion, and art as they converge around the topic of birth. The point of convergence occurs during contemporary rituals of birth, when the ontology of art and material culture about birth alternates between sacred, secular, and re-sacralized spaces. “Ontology” in this context refers to the “being” of the objects, but in their social sense – their social meaning. In preparation for labour and birth, as well as during childbirth itself, pregnant women across cultures are using a diverse range of images to support them and provide mental and physical safety during birth as a rite of passage. An understanding of childbirth as a sacred or spiritual act, often of a nonreligious or humanistic nature, permeates these rituals of birth and material culture is an integral part of these rituals. Religious objects and rituals involve beliefs and practices related to a superhuman reality, and they are also sacred in the Durkheimian sense of separation from the profane or mundane world. But in many cases, the realm of the nonreligious, often the case in contemporary birth rituals, is also rich with sacred rites and objects. The chapter also takes into consideration artistic treatments of infertility, medical intervention, and menopause, demonstrating that representation of these topics is also part of birth’s spiritual dimension.