Coming conference: Beyond ‘Gays in the Church’

On 25-26 September, the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London organises a conference “Beyond ‘Gays in the Church’: New Approaches to the Histories of Christianity and Same-Sex Desire”. Besides a keynote lecture by leading scholar of religion and sexuality, prof. Mark Jordan (Harvard), two members of the Contested Privates project will present papers: David Bos and Marco Derks.

The relationships between diverse forms of religious and sexual identities have been widely contested in the media since the rise of the lesbian and gay liberation movement in the 1970s. One of the key images that often appears in public debate is that of ‘gays in the church’ as a significant ‘problem’. On the one hand many members of faith communities have remained hostile to physical expressions of same-sex desire, whilst on the other hand many lesbian and gay activists have been suspicious of various forms of religion. The compromise that has been reached over church exemptions from the obligation to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in England indicates that many people do continue to find interactions of religion and homosexuality to be highly problematic.

The conference is organised by Prof. Dominic Janes (Reader at Birkbeck, University of London and Professor of Cultural and Visual Studies, University of the Arts, London) and Dr. Mark Chapman (Reader in Modern Theology, University of Oxford). With this event, they aim to approach these issues from a different viewpoint. John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (1994) created considerable controversy because these books argued that the early and medieval Church was not inherently hostile to same-sex desire and that this was a development of the later middle ages. Inspired by the challenges of such works, Janes and Chapman want to invite discussion on new creative approaches to the histories of Christianity and same-sex desire.

The main speaker at the conference is Prof. Mark Jordan (Harvard), author of many important studies including The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism. His work provides eloquent testimony to the many problematic issues that have developed over the centuries of Christian history. He will be joining debate on how best to engage with challenging aspects of the Christian past as an opportunity for creative thought and expression. Dr. David Bos (VU University Amsterdam) will present a paper on “Religion and the Mobilization of Dutch LGBs, 1977-1996”, and Marco Derks MPhil (Utrecht University) on “Mixed Messages: Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis on Homosexuality”.

For more information and registration, go to the Birkbeck Institute’s website.