Religious Studies | Studies in Religion in American Culture: Religion and Sex in America
R532 | 27588 | S. Johnson

Sex has been a primary category for imagining American religion.
Pueblo religion employed meanings about sex to demarcate boundaries
of sacred order and to explain cosmic origins.  Puritan settlements
emphasized rigorous discipline over the body through discourse about
sex.  Utopian societies of the Shakers and Oneida defined religious
identity through regulating sexual practices.  Movements of
religious renewal among Jews, Africanists, Goddess spiritualists,
and the Christian Right in twentieth-century America have
demonstrated the sheer variety of complex means whereby Americans
have discovered ‘authentic’ roots, origins, and tradition by
appealing to purity laws, polygamous marriage, abstinence, and
sexual freedom.  How did sex come to serve such a productive
function in Americans’ invention and maintenance of religious
identities?  What is the history of marriage in America?  Is
marriage a religious institution?  Is it secular? Why is religion in
America so deeply wed to a love-hate relationship with sex?  How
have religion and sex become intertwined in the American exercise of
ideological and political power?  And why does the U.S. secular
state invest in religious authority in order to regulate sex and
marriage but not other cultural domains like banking and
healthcare?  It is in rejoinder to such problems that this course
will examine the cultural history of sex as a central means of
imagining and performing American religion.  This course of study
will equip students with a rigorous knowledge of the history of
American religion and sex while cultivating keen analytical skills
to enable their understanding of the complex relationship between
the forceful issues of religion and sex in contemporary American
The course will follow a chronological sequence to examine the
cultural history of American religion and sex from the early modern
era to the present.  The course emphasizes readings in critical
historiography and cultural theory examining American religion and
sex.  Students will also read primary texts in the form of early and
contemporary literature, missionary documents, theological tracts,
and legal documents from early and contemporary periods concerning
the regulation of marriage and sex.  In addition, this course
requires students to undertake a major research project, for which
students will be encouraged to utilize the archives of the Kinsey
Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.   Meets
with R391.