A Reflection of What Influences and Controls My Ideologies: An Examination Of Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

 Michele Stopera Freyhauf:  Feminist scholar, activist, and graduate student in religion and biblical studies at John Carroll University, Michele is the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS) and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia.”  Her research interests involve Feminism, Sexuality, the influence of Goddess imagery, Myth, and Rhetoric especially in the Old Testament, Ancient Egypt and Early Christianity.  She also focuses her research in feminism, migration studies, and genocide as it relates to women, especially in the Middle East and Latin America.

Exploring the new world of historiography this semester has been an adventure.  In my studies, I came across an interesting person named Louis Pierre Althusser.  He is considered a structuralist Marxist and in 1970, he wrote an essay titled Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation).  The basis of his argument explores how various institutions control the working class.  We have our ideas taken from or given to us because we were essentially molded by various institutions that are being controlled by an agency of power, like government or church.  Someone has told us what it is to be moral and ingrained that definition.  Someone has influenced our idea of what it means once you graduate from high school then college.  Someone else has defined the benchmark for wealth and happiness or when we have enough “stuff.”  Ideologically we are controlled by so many outside factors.  It is this point that I want to reflect an explore as a Feminist, a mother, a graduate student, and part of the proverbial 99%.

Althusser suggests that the following are ISA’s or the powers that mold and control us: religious, educational, family, legal, political, trade-union, communication, and culture.  There were quite a few items that caught my attention in this article, but the most disturbing was the way he defined schools as an ISA.  This is the most powerful because, according to Althusser, we entrust our children to the care of the schools essentially 7-8 hours a day, 5 days a week for the better part of 9 months or so.  This does not include the outside work that is required from home.  Because the time in which a school has a child, the child is a captive audience and are being taught subjects and ideas put into place to meet State and Federal guidelines.  In fact more and more the school’s job is to hit ratings and have begun to “teach to the test” in order to obtain those rates of Excellence, which result in financial gain.  This issue really hit home because the timing of this article was read around the time of “Columbus” Day, a day that is celebrating a man’s act of genocide on Native Americans for their land.  What my children were being taught at school was so sanitized; it hailed Columbus as a hero. In fact, it is a federal holiday; banks and governmental agencies are closed to celebrate this so-called American hero who supposedly discovered America.

In higher education, we can also see this control.  For many of us that are graduate students accumulating debt and loans to pursue the dream of a life in academia, we want to believe that we are free thinkers.  I think that can be true to a point.

What I want to point out that it is not the professors that are the controlling agency; it is the provost and the president who want to treat universities as businesses – looking to turn a profit.  They strip funding from academic departments because they are not producing enough profit.  The eliminate programs because they do not bring in the most students.  They support athletic programs more then the educational system itself.  Look at some of the sport stadiums that universities have built and then compare it to their classroom.  Better yet, look at the salary of tenured college professor and look at the $2.2 million contract signed by OSU’s new football coach to affirm where the priorities of are.  The person graduating with a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies or Women’s Studies will not be held in acclaim, but the running back who acquired so many yards and the victories that he helped lead his team to will.  T-shirt, posters, autographs, and other memorabilia will be grabbed by parents, students, alumni, and fans alike.  The work of the Anthropology Major in Africa examining graves in cities and revealing actions of genocide will neither be recognized, but will struggle to find funding to complete his or her work.

Althusser gives a extensive illustration of a Christian Religious Ideology.  The congregation of believers is subjects of the hierarchy.  The purpose of the church lies in transformation (since we are all sinners, we need parameters that will provide us with salvation).  So the church controls us – sets up protocols and procedures that will give us a holy life.  For Catholics there are protocols established that allow us to participate or receive sacraments, something we are told that is rooted in a long tradition by the hierarchy.  They translate these rules to ordination, marriage, divorce, etc.

What I think resonates with me the most right now are the mass changes. This new translation is being marketed as a truer translation of the original Latin because the version that we have used for the last 40+ years was a sloppy interpretation.  While there is a comedy spoof performed on the ludicrously of the statement by  Stephen Colbert, the point is – the original was not in Latin.  Moreover, was the language causing the problems of pedophilia, lower enrollment of seminarians, increasing numbers of former or non-active Catholics (and the list goes on).  Simply the answer is NO!  This step is not healing the church and its members, but is going to cause more of a divide.  The language is so archaic and nonsensical the only people that will really appreciate it are the ones that still have their St. Joseph Missals.  What disturbs me, though, is that most will be obedient and comply with what they are told; very few will protest or leave over a change that can be the cause of alienation.  For the sake of our soul, we will buy into this and do what the church tells us to do thus, our ideologies are once again being controlled.

Althusser brings up some additional points that are quite disturbing, points worth pondering.  For example, what has molded each of us, our ideologies, and if we have broken out from that mold – if so, what influenced that?  I think we only need to look at the Occupy movement to see a group that is trying to break out of this mold, stand up to oppression, and create their own ideology – but are they?  In class we discussed that the interesting component of this group is there is really no leader and no group of demands.  They seem to be making a statement against the very structures that Althusser implies controls us.

I guess what I am trying to discern in this article is what controls me and the way I live my life and raise my children in a particular manner.  Am I living in an ideological mold that has been engrained into my being?  Or am I developing a different set of ideologies and how were those ideologies became influenced? Advent is defined as a season of reflection, though this is another ideological construct, I think it would be appropriate to ponder some of these same questions and hope that you will share your thoughts on this topic.

Author: Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013). Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+.

4 thoughts on “A Reflection of What Influences and Controls My Ideologies: An Examination Of Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

  1. I once ran across a little exercise wherein you write “I am _____” in one column, here you put some part of your identity, and in the next column you write “I am not _____ because”, and here you put your own definition of those pieces of your identity. It helps with the task of self definition and the goal is to become more free of baseless interpretations of self.

    Likewise one could put certain things one believes in using this model and then do an accurate examination of conscience. It helps to break free of other’s imposed beliefs on you and it helps you make sense of your ethical moorings.


  2. Very disturbing thoughts Michele.

    As Judith Plaskow pointed out in her AAR Presidential address as members of the academic community, we have pretty much sat by passively while the conditions of employment in universities were changed radically so that now 30% or so of faculty are on part-time no-benefit contracts whereas in the 1960s almost everyone was full time and on a tenure track. I don;t know what the normal salary is at CGU but when I taught there is 2004, I got probably about 20% of what I would have been paid for teaching the same course as a tenured professor.


  3. Equally disturbing is the thought that our dialogue on feminism and religion is being severely restricted by conditions of study and employment. I don’t think it is true that the majority of the women who would like to be part of this dialogue are all Christians. There probably are at least as many thoughtful pagans and Goddess-worshippers out there as there are feminist Christians. But conditions of employment in the field of religon which dictate the constructive thinkers are welcome primarily in seminaries, means that the dialogue gets skewed in favor of Christianity. Feminists in religion have told me that they prefer to keep the dialouge “in house” (Christian) because when post-Christians are brought in, their ideas are attractive… but as students and faculty they cannot be too attracted to post-Christian ideas, because in order to get a job you have to be a Christian and if you are a feminist you will be questioned closely on your Christology, doctrine of authority of Bible, etc. So too much dialouge with the likes of me is not a good idea for those who want to be hired. This is one of the great disappointments of my life. And it is dictated by capitalism and religion.

    So much for the community of scholars seeking the truth!


  4. How to identify ideological control has always been of interest to me. Where we are born and what language we are born into sets the stage. Men and women are programmed to be good reproducing heterosexuals. Schools teach children patriarchal creation myths… Columbus sailing the ocean blue, Pilgrims dining with Indians, no mention of Columbus’ second voyage of destruction… It’s deliberate and calculated.

    More Fortune 500 corporations hire psychiatrists and psychologists to study how to sell stuff to people than hospitals hire to cure people.

    And colleges make it impossible for large numbers of women to teach goddess and non-pariarchal spirituality. I actually think women’s studies departments are more confining, no one tells me I can’t address alternative economic strategies, or tell plainly that women are being robbed and
    underpaid everywhere in the world.

    It kind of solves the mystery of why we have thousands of women in ministry, but so little sold spiritual resources for lesbians. Tellingly, if I want lesbian only spiritual space, it is non-ordaned women who fill this role. So in my mind, all these M.Div’s, etc. are pretty worthless in building lesbian nation for those of us who don’t want to fuel the hetero machine …. I’d say the big issue in always money… who gets paid to do what… what jobs are controlled, and why feminists have to get degrees within christian contexts and serve the hetero worship machine, meanwhile brave women who refuse to submit to male sexual colonization are still left with meager resources, reading the work of those who still serve men, still provide aid and comfort to womanhating institutions becase they have to pay the rent.

    Clearly, the next step is a feminist university, and jobs systems that pay women well…. well otsid the male structures. If that economic alternative existed you’d have a worship environment where 200 lesbians could show up on any given Sunday, and have a service devoted 100% to lesbian si
    spiritual needs and such a place would be easy to find, in a safe space…. now that would prove te maturity of feminism…..


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: