Friday, 25 July 2008

Religion and Sexuality – Dr Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip

A summary of the lecture...

Dr Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip is Associate Professor and Reader in Sociology at the University of Nottingham and has done considerable work on British Gay Muslims.

When we talk about religion what religion are we talking about? In Britain we generally think about Christianity. We must take into consideration inter-religious differences and also intra-religious differences. Although there may be a grand narrative there is always a silence or silenced narrative. Andrew is interested in how people manage, contest and digest the messiness of religion as a sociologist. The integral notion is that sexuality and spirituality cannot be separated. Sexuality has three components, which should exist, sexuality is connected to desire, sexuality is connected to identity and sexuality is connected to behaviour. Identity is more than a personal issue because it is also a social issue. Identity is about personal choices and social relationships. The family is based on people who are identified as heterosexual and are pro-creative.

Sexuality is more than personal choices but also based on the social. Sexuality is then closely related to gender and the body. The general notion is that religion and sexuality do not sit well with each other. The gender and sexual binarism: men (mind/public) vs women (body/private); heterosexual vs homosexual. The main themes when you explore sexuality and religion we see some general themes, power, control, domination, policing, and surveillance, legitimised by extra human sources. Religion will quite easily dismiss the dissident sexualities with the statement that ‘God says so’ and based on these assertions it becomes very difficult to create the discourse. It is this power that needs to be deconstructed and it is the feminist who have created that space for such a discourse to take place. Liberation theology is about liberation from the self and such discourses. Faith communities lag behind secular society in legitimising sexual difference and diversity.

Homosexuality is often genatilised but as human beings we are far more than that. It is about, passion, love, relationally, complimentarity. The sexual experience is then a truly spiritual experience. When a lesbian Muslim has internalised the fact that there are norms that she has to follow then she raises the question, who am I? Am I normal? She is not only questioning her sexuality but she is also questioning her spirituality and her place in that faith. The ontogeneric argument is an understanding that the sexuality of the individual is willed by the divine as opposed to being made in that way. This takes the question away from it being a genetic or mistake but much more than that. The two categories of theologies, theologies of sexuality which are based on the authority of the text and sexual theologies which are based on the self-directed interpretation of texts. The latter is based on the assertion of feminist and the former is based on the understanding of religious authority structures.

Queering religious texts is Andrew’s attempt to understand the lesbian and gay Muslim communities and the way in which they incorporate the texts as opposed to reject them. The first approach is the defensive approach which is about re-interpretation and re-contextualisation. The second approach is the offensive approach which is about the critiquing interpretive authority and this is infused through power relations. The final approach is the creative approach which is a way of uncovering, homoeroticism.

Amina Wadud states in her book called the Gender Jihad that gender jihad is gender mainstreaming which is to bring women into all aspects of Muslim practice. Separating heterosexist and andocentric cultural practices from essential principles of religion.

The concept of citizenship is highly contentious. The assumption that because everyone is British this gives everyone access to everyone to all resources. Sexual/intimate citizenship could be one point which denies individual access to the resources that the mainstream have. Andrew stated that the religious communities should not be expected to accept the secular methods but what they must do is have a discussion about how homosexuals of faith fit into the faith community.

Here are some of the questions that were raised in the discussion. Will society fall apart if there is diversity? ‘In my fathers house there are many mansions’ – this was also stated. Kinsey’s report (Kinsey was an American biologist 1894-1956) stated that sexuality is not fixed and that sexuality is not fixed. Andrew stated that it is then difficult to say that men who have sex with other men are gay because research shows us that one does not have to be gay to have sex with other men. It was raised by a Palestinian participant (Muslim) that in the ‘west’ it is more easy to be sexually liberated than in more conservative society and this must be accepted. The question was raised that if homosexuality is to be accepted then all other acts should also be accepted such incest. The discussion revealed a difference between rape/abuse and mutual sane consent.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree that a component of sexuality is identity or rather that one's sexual behavior is a determinant of identity. I agree that it can be, or that people are able to identify themselves by or with their sexual behavior (or desire), but I find this to be a terrible mistake. I think the point of religion (at least, for me Christianity—but I would read Islam and Judaism in the same way) is for one to view his identity in relation to God.

    For instance, my reading of Islam is that the center of it is indeed submission to God; therefore, the identity of a follower of Islam ought be one of submission to the divine, not one that submits to a part of an individual's nature, desire or cultural standing.

    Obviously I'm not authorized in any particular way to speak for or give any kind of authoritative reading of Islam and its textual traditions. So let me try my hand at Christianity instead. Christians in the orthodox tradition tend to view their relationship to God in terms of divine love and grace. Unfortunately their name doesn't seem to reflect this as directly as with Islam, but it is certainly at the core of both biblical and historical incarnations of the faith. Now then, if this is true that love is the center of the Christian's identity and nothing else, wouldn't it be wrong to add something to that identity or replace it with something else? One can only be a Christian, with no other adjective before that one word which has been chosen to symbolize our relationship to God. One cannot be an evangelical Christian, a heretical Christian, a black Christian, a Scottish Christian, or a straight Christian.

    If one's life is filled with grace, or in the case of Islam perhaps submission (and you can certainly correct me if this characterization is incorrect), then there is no room in the identity for anything else than that which is reflective of one's relationship to God.

    I can certainly see from the sociological standpoint how it is an appropriate statement to say that sexuality is a component of identity because people certainly do make it such. But this does not seem to make the distinction of what is true because it happens and what is true because it is necessarily the case. Obviously, from the historical or anthropological view it is not. Perhaps it is just as important to have a theologically informed sociology as it is to have a sociologically informed theology!

    In the end, of course, these are just a pile of my opinions. But I hope at least they are reasoned ones. Thank you as always for your informative and provocative writing.

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