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Muslims and Sexual Diversity in North America  

David Rayside

In many respects, the sizeable Muslim populations in the United States and Canada have integrated well into the social and political mainstream. Most of them are first-generation immigrants, and face Islamophobic prejudice based on race as well as religious affiliation. Still, they are a comparatively well-educated population, and identify strongly with the countries they now call home. Exploring the response of these communities to sexual diversity, and to growing claims for recognition by queer Muslims themselves, goes to the heart of questions about the place of this growing community in North American settings. This inevitably raises questions about gender relations within those communities, in part because discrimination against Muslims is often justified with reference to their adherence to what are thought to be unchanging patriarchal values. Doubts about social and cultural integration are easily intensified by the racialized “otherness” of Muslim populations in the West generally, and these two North American countries in particular. The Pew Research Center in the United States and the Environics Institute in Canada have conducted surveys of the Muslim populations in their countries, permitting a comparison of attitudes in those communities with those in the general population, and in some cases also providing a view of cross-country differences. What this polling reveals is that Muslims are on balance more politically progressive than non-Muslim populations, and are strongly averse to supporting conservative parties. However, it also reveals relatively negative views of homosexuality, and this is echoed in the public statements, or silence, of the largest Muslim advocacy groups. The strength of such views owes much to the fact that the majority of North American Muslims have emigrated from regions of the world where such opinions are deeply embedded in social and cultural life. Traditionalist views of gender and sexuality are also reinforced by high levels of religiosity, which in other faith currents is also associated with what might be called traditionalist views of family. In the case of Muslims, their religious leadership in Muslim communities remains almost unanimous in its condemnation of homosexuality as an example of “Western” permissiveness. Mosque life, too, retains important elements of gender inequity. There are, however, important indications of change, induced in part by the urban environments where the great majority of Muslims live, and the increasing willingness of queer Muslims to assert their presence within their ethno-religious communities as well as in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) networks. Younger Muslims are more inclined than their elders to hold inclusive attitudes, particularly if they have been educated in North America. In the United States, too, the latest of the Pew surveys has shown an important overall shift toward more LGBTQ-positive attitudes. This is in part a result of Muslims’ recognition that exclusionary attitudes on issues related to sexuality are often held by those who are also harbor Islamophobic views, and that policies designed to protect one community are also necessary to protect them.

Article

Martin Luther's Views on the Body, Desire, and Sexuality  

Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth

In the 21st century, philosophy of biology and studies in sexuality are dominated by the contrasting views of idealist deconstructionism and materialist naturalism. Not unlike the nominalists and scholastic realists of Martin Luther’s day, contemporary philosophers, scientists, theologians, and sociologists debate whether human constructs form all that is known or if the material world gives rise to truths about bodies, desire, and sexuality. In the context of the medieval debate, Luther rejected philosophy as an adequate discipline in the most important discussions concerning human nature. He turned away from speculative philosophy to focus on evangelism of the Gospel. The heart of Luther’s reformation was his insistence on the truth of the Incarnation and the justifying grace of God given through Christ’s death and resurrection. Luther’s evangelical proclamation, rooted in the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and in the early fathers of the church, especially Augustine, reoriented many issues of the medieval church, including views concerning the body, desire, and sexuality. Luther’s understanding of the Incarnation had specific ramifications for his views concerning the body, sensuality, desire, and sexuality. From Luther’s reading of scripture and his pastoral and familial work in the world, he came to expound that humans are bodily creatures with physical needs, driven to provide for these needs by desire. Human need for relationship is also driven by desire. As Christ befriended, healed, fed, and washed the bodies of those he met, so too the Christian is called to human relationship with others and the bodily service of the neighbor. This is also true in romantic relationship, which has a bodily element for Luther, who rejected sexual abstinence as a human virtue. Luther’s understanding of justification is critically important to this discussion. Luther knew that sin wreaks havoc in all human relationship, including loving sexual relationships. Because sin, for Luther, is centrally a problem of unbelief, a problem that manifests in false pride or despair, the solution to sin is not the law but faith in God’s redeeming grace. What justifies desire and sexuality is not obedience to the law but faith, which allows God’s love to flow from the lover to the beloved. While a civic use of the law can aid lovers who seek to know how best to care for each other, it is by faith that the lovers’ desire is justified. Indeed, through faith, the lover’s desire for the beloved becomes utterly for the beloved’s sake, a desire that teaches the lover about the absolute love of Christ. In this way, marriage, including the mutual sexual desire of the spouses, is a schoolhouse of faith, which while ever sinful is also justified. Luther has no doctrine or treatise specifically on bodily desire and sexuality. An attempt to create such a doctrine would be wrongheaded. However, Luther’s theological claims concerning the Incarnation and God’s justifying grace through Christ reframed the discussion of these issues in his day. Contemporary discussion and debate about sexuality would profit from a careful examination of Luther’s re-formation of the discussion of these issues.

Article

Martin Luther on Marriage and the Family  

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Marriage was at the heart of Martin Luther’s break with Rome and the Reformation that followed. He preached sermons praising marriage beginning in 1519 and several years later wrote his first formal treatise attacking the value of vows of celibacy and arguing that marriage was the best Christian life. In 1525 he followed his words by deeds and married a nun who had fled her convent, Katharina von Bora. What started as a marriage of principle and mutual esteem became one of affection and deep emotional bonds. Luther continued to attack the celibate life of Catholic clergy and nuns and to celebrate marriage as a godly estate throughout his career, in sermons, formal treatises, lectures, advice manuals, letters, comments on legal cases, and casual conversation. In all of these, he both praised marriage and family life and commented on its burdensome side, moving from theoretical speculations while he was a celibate monk to reflecting on his own experiences as he became a family man, though his basic theology of marriage did not change much after the early 1520s. His words were direct and blunt, even in formal treatises. Sexual desire was inescapable for all but a handful, he argued, so should be channeled into marriage. Vows of celibacy should be rendered void, and monasteries and convents should be closed or much reduced in size. He agreed with St. Augustine on the three purposes of marriage, in the same order of importance: the procreation of children, the avoidance of sin, and mutual help and companionship. He praised spousal love but asserted that the ideal of reciprocal love in marriage was not an ideal of equality. Proper marital households were hierarchical, for the wife was and had to be the husband’s helpmeet and subordinate. Bearing children was the “precious and godly task” for which women were created, he wrote, and death in childbirth and even the deaths of children were part of God’s plan, though he himself was devastated when his twelve-year-old daughter died. As cities and territories in Germany and then beyond became Protestant, they passed marriage ordinances and established institutions to regulate marriage, turning to Luther for advice on such issues as divorce, desertion, secret engagements, and parental consent. In making their decisions, judges slowly applied the new Protestant ideas about marriage, which people also learned about through sermons, artwork, and pamphlets. In general, however, other than clerical marriage, actual Protestant marriage patterns were not that different from Catholic ones. They fit with secular values as well, for rural and urban residents of all religious persuasions regarded appropriate marriages and stable families as essential to the social order. Recent scholarship has generally rejected earlier views that the Protestant Reformation by itself brought about dramatic change—for good or ill—in marriage and instead noted ways in which the reformers, including Luther, built on ideas and practices that were already there, especially in the middle-class urban milieus in which most of them grew up.

Article

Gender, Marriage, and Sexual Purity in American Religious History  

Seth Dowland

Throughout American history, religious people and groups have developed, sustained, or challenged cultural norms around gender, marriage, and sexual purity. Beginning with the earliest English Protestant settlers in the 17th century, American Christians have devoted consistent attention to the proper roles of men and women, and to the proper functioning of families. Throughout American history, religious leaders have assigned men as spiritual leaders of their families. Assessments of women’s piety—and its importance in maintaining social order—have grown more positive over time. Prophetic radicals and political activists have frequently challenged American Christianity by attacking its traditionalism on issues related to gender and sexuality. The ideal of a “traditional family” has, however, proven quite robust. Even as cultural attitudes around gender and sexuality have shifted dramatically in recent years, the presumption that typical American families are heterosexual, middle-class, and Christian has persisted. This presumption developed over time and has remained dominant owing in part to the contributions of American religious groups.

Article

Gender and Public Religion in America  

Stephanie Y. Mitchem

With rapid development, academically and socially, in the past sixty years, gender and public religion in the United States have become a separate field, even as it is integrated into others such as politics, biology, law, philosophy, and cultural studies. As ideas about gender have expanded, potential conflicts with established religions have sometimes occurred even as new theologies, ethical constructs, and even new strains of religion occur.

Article

Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion in North America  

Anthony Petro

The history of religion in the United States cannot be understood without attending to histories of race, gender, and sexuality. Since the 1960s, social and political movements for civil rights have ignited interest in the politics of identity, especially those tied to movements for racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. These movements have in turn informed scholarly practice, not least by prompting the formation of new academic fields, such as Women’s Studies and African American studies, and new forms of analysis, such as intersectionality, critical race theory, and feminist and queer theory. These movements have transformed how scholars of religion in colonial North America and the United States approach intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. From the colonial period to the present, these discourses of difference have shaped religious practice and belief. Religion has likewise shaped how people understand race, gender, and sexuality. The way that most people in the United States think about identity, especially in terms of race, gender, or sexuality, has a longer history forged out of encounters among European Christians, Native Americans, and people of African descent in the colonial world. European Christians brought with them a number of assumptions about the connection between civilization and Christian ideals of gender and sexuality. Many saw their role in the Americas as one of Christianization, a process that included not only religious but also sexual and cultural conversion, as these went hand in hand. Assumptions about religion and sexuality proved central to how European colonists understood the people they encountered as “heathens” or “pagans.” Religion likewise informed how they interpreted the enslavement of Africans, which was often justified through theological readings of the Bible. Native Americans and African Americans also drew upon religion to understand and to resist the violence of European colonialism and enslavement. In the modern United States, languages of religion, race, gender, and sexuality continue to inform one another as they define the boundaries of normative “modernity,” including the role of religion in politics and the relationship between religious versus secular arguments about race, gender, and sexuality.

Article

Islam, Gender, and Sexualities  

Yafa Shanneik

Mapping a discussion on gender and sexualities in Islam needs to move beyond an understanding of Islamic law (shariah) and its interpretations that has traditionally been made by male religious scholars (ulamā). It is important to also pay attention to the lived experiences of people on the ground and move away from a homogeneous universal construct of what gender is and what sexualities are. It should include an examination of various power structures that highlights the experiences and voices of not only women but also other subjected and subaltern groups. What are the intersections and overlapping viewpoints and arguments on gender and sexualities in Islam? Who is talking on behalf of which group? The examination of gender and sexualities within Islam is a complex topic that needs consideration of socioeconomic and political shifts as well as ongoing processes of modernization and globalization. This includes the formation of nation-states, the codification of Islamic law, the shift in family relations and mobility, the increase in level of education and waged labor, and transnational migration. International organizations, such as the United Nations, also exert pressure on governments of Muslim-majority countries to adhere to established international human rights standards. This pressure has played a role in prompting changes in legislations particularly regarding the personal status law that affects women’s and other minority rights. The aftermath of the latest political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since 2011 has placed gender at the heart of not only religious but also political contestations. Displacement and the sociopolitical marginalization of minority groups have contributed to the changing understandings of gender orders within the MENA region and beyond. As a consequence, normative understandings of gender and sexualities have been renegotiated and readjusted and have resulted in new gender power relations. This disruption of conventional gender power relations creates tensions and causes divergences between what, for generations, has been perceived as traditional gender norms. This is primarily evident within familial structures and conjugal relationships where the lived realities do not always reflect current Islamic jurisprudence or the law set by the state.

Article

Religion and the Body  

Robert Fuller

The relationship between religion and the body can be viewed from two very different perspectives. The first perspective emphasizes culture’s role in constructing human thought and behavior. This approach illuminates the diverse ways that religious traditions shape human attitudes toward the nature and meaning of their physical bodies. Scholars guided by this perspective have helped us better understand religion’s complicity in such otherwise mysterious phenomena as mandated celibacy, restrictive diets, circumcision, genital mutilation, self-flagellation, or the specification of particular forms of clothing. Newly emerging information about the biological body has given rise to a second approach to the body’s relationship to religion. Rather than exploring how religion influences attitudes toward our bodies, these new studies investigate how our biological bodies exert identifiable influences on our religious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Neural chemistry, emotions, sensory modalities, pain responses, mating strategies, sexual arousal systems, and genetic personality predispositions all influence the personal salience of religious beliefs or behavior. Attention to the biological body unravels many of the enigmas that formerly accompanied the study of such things as the appeal of apocalyptic beliefs, the frequent connection between religion and systems of healing, devotional piety aiming toward union with a beloved deity, the specific practices entailed in ascetic spirituality, or the mechanisms triggering ecstatic emotional states.

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Queering Buddhist Traditions  

Bee Scherer

Buddhist traditions intersect with queer lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer/querying (and more) subjectivities and belongings in a multifaceted way. Queer theory (QT) can enrich Buddhist thought and practices as well as Buddhist studies by inserting a challenging method of deconstruction, troubling and resisting oppressive and harmful socioreligious scripts with regards to, and beyond, sexuality and gender. There is a nascent reception of the queering impulses within Buddhist traditions, yet QT and foundational queer theorists lack comprehensive Buddhist appraisal: Queer “dharmology” has yet to be systematically developed. When discussing perspectives and practices regarding sexuality/ies and sex/gender in Buddhist thought and cultures, a distinct genealogy of nonheterosexual desires and sex/gender diversity emerges. Buddhist views on sexualities anchor on the psychology of desire and attachment in terms of religious philosophy and soteriology; at the social level, biopolitical regulations of Buddhist life focus on the dichotomy of celibate monastic vs. householder lay contexts. The variety of sex/gender subjectivities in Buddhist traditions include the historical stigmatized third and fourth sex/gender categories of the paṇḍaka (“gender-deficient,” usual thought of as “male-deficient”) and the ubhatobyañjanaka (“both-sexed”). However, neither category maps neatly onto contemporary queer and trans* subjectivities, leading to confusion, debate, and discretion in contemporary Buddhist cultures. The complex picture of both surprisingly pragmatic and inclusive as well as discriminatory and hostile paradigms emerges from Buddhist thought and practices in the divergent traditions of Theravāda, East Asian Mahāyāna, Tibetan Buddhism, and in ecumenic or demi-/post-denominational forms of Buddhism and Neo-Buddhism in the Global North (“Western” Buddhism), both historically and in contemporary global-glocal-local traditions. Queer (post)modern Buddhist subjectivities are increasingly emerging as powerful voices within constructive-critical and reflective emic modes of Buddhist thought and practice. A contemporary queer Buddhist “theology” or queer (/trans*-affirmative) dharmology can be successfully developed in a framework of five parameters: (1) reflexivity, (2) hermeneutics, (3) conceptualization, (4) signification, and (5) application. Focusing on the parameter of conceptualization, QT-immersed queer dharmology can start with the specific, “messy,” complex, contextual, ever-changing and conditioned human experiences, and interactional negotiations or be(com)ing and interbe(com)ing. A “this-worldly” (socio-saṃsāric) focus also averts the danger of spiritual bypassing and “dharma-splaining.” Instead, complex Buddhist notions such as karma and interdependence become powerful instruments of Buddhist queering, that is, challenging any normative societal script that causes suffering.