Ambiguous Bodies, Ambiguous Readings: Reflections on James M. Murphy’s ‘Christine on the Cross'

I'm happy to say that Bound and Unbound: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Genders and Sexualities (Davy et al [eds.] 2008) will soon be available as an e-version from MyILibrary. My essay in this volume is entitled “Ambiguous Bodies, Ambiguous Readings: Reflections on James M. Murphy’s ‘Christine on the Cross’”. Meanwhile, you can buy a hard copy, or view a sample PDF including the contents page, here.


Christas, representations of female figures crucified in place of Christ, have been criticized for changing and de-historicizing Christ, and re-inscribing narratives of suffering and victimhood onto female bodies. One Christa sculpture, Christine on the Cross, is used to explore the ambiguities and indeterminacies around such figures. There is ambiguity over whether this depiction of a tortured female body is one of solidarity with suffering or mere voyeurism. The fact that the sculptor is a male adds to the indeterminacy. The contestation of boundaries in the sculpture opens a space of exploration for querying readings of other bodies. A project of liberation from the abjection and rejection of authentic bodiliness must also address norms of violence and control not inhering entirely in sex and gender norms. Limiting readings of Christ/a figures as “legitimate” representations of Christ does violence to them, delimiting and narrowing their meanings as sites of diversity and multiple meaning. If violence against bodies includes limiting what bodies may legitimately “mean”, then conceptions painting female bodies as legitimate only if they are “sexy”, or bodies as legitimate only if they are able or unambiguously sexed, are violent ones. This violence is done to the bodies of subjects and viewers limited by narrow constructions of “sexiness”, as in magazines aimed at the young male market, such as Zoo and Nuts. A notion of sexual freedom assuming the primacy of competition or violence will always be inadequate within non-violent theological frameworks which also question other potent, top-down, all-encompassing hegemonies.


  1. Do you know where "Christine on the Cross" is housed? Can you recommend a website or book in which I could view this piece? I've looked all over with no luck! Thanks! --Marissa

  2. Hi, Marissa. There are two photographs of the piece reproduced with my essay in the above book. There's a photo and brief discussion of it in Stephen D. Moore's book God's Beauty Parlor: And Other Queer Spaces in and Around the Bible (which you might be able to see at Google Books if you're not near an actual copy). You can also see a picture of it published with Julie Clague's essay "The Christa: Symbolizing My Humanity and My Pain" - depending on your permissions, you may be able to access this at

    Hope this is helpful, and thanks for stopping by.


  3. Thanks, Susannah! Enjoy the day.


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