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Anne Maabjerg Mikkelsen

Doctoral Fellow


Campus am Neuen Palais
Am Neuen Palais 10
Building 1, Room 0.15
14469 Potsdam


consulting hours
by appointment only

Dissertation Project

Legal Inscriptions of River Goddesses: Political Appropriations or New Stories of Divine Subversions?

 What happens when river goddesses flow into and infiltrate legal western discourses? In 2005, the Òrìṣà Ọ̀ṣun entered the UNESCO World Heritage list, as the Yorùbá Ọ̀ṣun-Òṣogbo Sacred Grove in Nigeria was inscribed. In 2017, the river Gaṅgā was declared as a ‘legal person’ by the High Court of Uttarakhand in India. Both Ọ̀ṣun and Gaṅgā, are understood as ever-flowing and ever-loving mother goddesses and earthly manifestations of divine feminine energy. This projects aims to convey a comparative analysis of the two inscriptions/translations into the different Western-dominated legal systems and discourses. Common analyses argue for the inscriptions as political appropriations for problematic post/neo-colonial nation building. However, within the spiritual and religious communities, the goddesses are understood as active forces themselves involved in the legal processes. I wish to convey second readings of the inscriptions, by reading the legal documents of the cases as literary texts rather than merely legal ones through the figures of the goddesses, inevitably linked to the various and many-levelled qualities and understandings of running water. The following questions occur: Can the legal inscriptions of Ọ̀ṣun and Gaṅgā be understood as ‘New Stories’ of mother goddesses? Do they adapt to modern forms and flow into Western-dominated legal systems in acts of subversion, repeating with difference, in a common fight for an ethical post-anthropocentric future? The locally embedded knowledges present different perceptions of rivers, nature, and reality, where not only the ecological and biological qualities of rivers but also their cultural and spiritual ones are governed. How can the inclusion of such narratives, borrowing the words from Ọ̀ṣun priestess and writer Luish Teish, contribute to a re-writing of “attitudes about our reality that is being shaped by some storytellers who may not have the right information, may not be telling the whole story, and who certainly have left out the sacredness of that job of telling the story?” 


I completed my bachelor’s degree in ‘History of Ideas’ at Aarhus University in 2014. Afterwards, I studied my master’s degree in ‘Anglophone Modernities in Literature and Culture’ at the University of Potsdam, where I took one semester abroad at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago with focus on gender theory and postcolonial literature. In my master’s thesis, Ọ̀ṣun-Òṣogbo Sacred Grove and UNESCO: A ‘New Story’ of Ọ̀ṣun?, I conveyed a double reading of the UNESCO declaration as well as engaged the complications of the life and role of the Austrian modernist artist Susanne Wenger (Àdùnní Olórìṣà), who spent her life fighting for the survival of the grove.