Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel II: Religion, Violence and Sexual Identity

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 2:00 p.m.

1. Jay Poole: Being Gay in Rural Spaces: The Curriculums of Traditionalism, Conservatism and Fundamentalism and Their Influence on Identity as a Gay Male

2. Theresa Tobin: Spiritual Violence

3. Kathryn Poethig: Sexless Allies in Anti-Empire Interfaith Alliance

4. Raymond Aycock: Gay Evangelicals: Reconciling or Reforging Identity?

Jay Poole


Jay Poole, PhD is Assistant Professor of Social Work in the School of Health and Human Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Areas of research interest include identity studies with particular interest in sexual and gender identities. His recent work may be found in Erica Meiners’ and Therese Quinn’s Sexualities in Education: A Reader.


Being Gay in Rural Spaces: The Curriculums of Traditionalism, Conservatism and Fundamentalism and Their Influence on Identity as a Gay Male

Conservatism and fundamentalism are often linked to rural locations either geographically or epistemologically, or they denote value systems steeped in traditionalism, which is often associated with rural locations. Much of the debate over sexual and gender identities is contextualized in arguments that reflect conservative and traditionalists views and values versus liberal, fluid, and plural conceptualizations of how one can be sexual or express one’s gender. Questions emerge relative to how we are taught what we can and cannot be in terms of sexual and gender identities. The contention of the author is that traditionalism, conservatism, and fundamentalism create curriculums that denote what and how one can be sexual intertwined with gender roles constructed within the contexts of such a curriculum. Further, this curriculum becomes oppressive and leads to opportunities for degradation and internalized shame, particularly for males who are struggling with sexual identity. Here, rural is located geographically in the southern United States, particularly in areas that are steeped in conservative and fundamental religious tradition, e.g., small towns in North Carolina. The author, having grown up in such a place, explores the impact of fundamentalism, traditionalism, and conservatism as curricular elements that influence the identities of gay males who grew up in the southern United States by using a feminist inspired qualitative approach.

During the period from January 2009 to December 2011, eight males who have roots in rural spaces and who identify as gay engaged in in-depth interviews with the author, who used a semi-structured interview guide. Each participant was asked to discuss when he began to claim gay as an identity and the participants were asked to talk about the role of religion and religious doctrine in their lives. The interviews were recorded and transcribed by the author. The transcriptions were coded for themes, which were identified and used to discuss the complex role of traditionalist, conservative and fundamental religious approaches related to identity formation and maintenance of particular aspects of identity. The author particularly attends to how traditionalist, conservative, and fundamental religious teachings created opportunities for degradation as well as support as the participants struggled with sexuality and sexual identities. The participants were encouraged to speak freely about their experiences both positive and negative in church and with religion as an institution. The results of this work, presented as thematic categories supported with quotes from the participants, provide nuanced and detailed additions to the growing knowledge base of sexual identity studies and the struggles endured by those who do not or cannot conform to traditional sexual and gender roles. Limits and plans for future research will be discussed.

Theresa Weynand Tobin


Theresa Weynand Tobin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. She researches and teaches in theoretical and practical ethics, global ethics, and feminist philosophy. Her scholarship has explored the impact of gender, religion, and culture on moral reasoning and moral disagreement. Recent publications in this area include, “Using Rights to Counter “Gender-Specific” Wrongs,” in Human Rights Review, and “The Role of Trust in Moral Justification” in Social Theory and Practice. Her current research examines the phenomenon of spiritual violence, which is the use of religious teachings and symbols to damage a person in his or her capacity for healthy spiritual development. She focuses especially on cases of spiritual violence perpetrated against women and LGBTQ persons within Christian faith traditions.


Spiritual Violence

The paper I propose for this conference articulates an account of spiritual violence. ‘Spiritual violence’ refers to the use of religious teachings, symbols, texts, and rituals to damage a person in her capacity for healthy spirituality. It does not name physical harm perpetrated through the use of arms in the name of God or for religious purposes. Rather in spiritual violence, religious teachings and rituals themselves become weapons used to degrade, humiliate, or otherwise damage a person in her capacity for healthy spiritual development. Spiritual violence is a pervasive form of violence that, to my knowledge, has been grossly under-theorized. The term ‘spiritual violence’ has emerged in Christian women’s and LGBTQ groups, as well as organizations advocating for victims of clergy sexual abuse to name spiritual harms perpetrated against people by members of their own faith community. My project offers a robust analysis of the phenomenon these groups are naming, and develops a theoretical framework for examining the moral dimensions of this harm.

In ordinary usage, ‘violence’ typically picks out the use of pronounced physical force to inflict material harm, but this is not the kind of harm spiritual violence names. My working hypothesis is that spiritual violence is a form of violence insofar as it constitutes a violation of persons, which harms them by inhibiting their psychological capacity for spiritual development. It is distinctively spiritual both in terms of its typical means—religious teachings and rituals, for example—and in terms of its target—one’s spiritual identity. I understand spiritual harm to be a unique psychological harm, which affects the particular psychological capacity for self-transcendence and for establishing and maintaining a relationship with the sacred. I consider several examples in order to test, illustrate, and defend the account of spiritual violence I advance: victims of clergy abuse, use of religious teachings to disparage homosexual relationships, and a recent Vatican statement condemning attempts to ordain women as a crime against the sacraments. Victims of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy presents a particularly glaring example of spiritual violence. The use of religious authority and language, and sacred space and texts in perpetrating sexual abuse caused physical, sexual, and emotional damage but many victims also name spiritual damage as a devastating consequence.

I am a philosopher and so have not conducted empirical research. However, my analysis brings together the philosophical literature on violence, research from psychology on spiritual formation and the impact of abuse on this process, and research from theology on God and trauma.

Kathryn Poethig


Dr. Poethig is currently Associate Professor of Global Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay. She writes and teaches courses on gender violence and religion violence and peacemaking. She has written on the Dhammayietra, the annual peace walk in Cambodia, and Filipino feminist theologians' frameworks for 'just peace' for both Communist and Muslim insurgencies in light of the U.S. war on terrorism.

She is advisor to Peace Institute of Cambodia, and the Applied Conflict Transformation Studies MA program also in Cambodia. She a co-founder of the new Muslim-Christian Feminist Alliance that promotes a “revolutionary spirituality” with an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist analysis. She has served on the boards of Peace Summer Interfaith Institute for Justice, Peace and Social Movement in Vancouver, Canada and the People's Forum on Peace for Life, a Global South-based Muslim-Christian initiative resisting Empire and militarized globalization. Dr. Poethig currently on the Presbyterian Church (USA) Peace Discernment Steering Team with a mandate to design and implement a participatory four-year process for church-wide discernment on current matters of peace and violence.


Sexless Allies in Anti-Empire Interfaith Alliance

As a U.S. scholar activist, a progressive Christian and an out lesbian, I want to reflect on the challenge of "sexless allies" in alliance work with Global South interfaith networks. This reflection is based on my interaction as a founding member of a Muslim-Christian South-based anti-Empire network that argues that “religion propagates the dogma that justifies the rise of empires as divine inevitability..." where imperial politics “is the real force behind violent religious conflicts, not differences in doctrine and belief systems.”

But if contemporary religious violence is less religious than ideologically marked, this ideological violence is also sexualized. And religious communities’ violence against women and sexual minorities is particularly egregious. Since September 11th, the West has singled out Islam as the ground for dangerous, misogynist and anti-democratic movements that must be contained everywhere - in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Outside of the West an anti-Western response often plays out against minority Christian communities. In both traditions women are at the brunt of the conflict as elites often claim religious legitimacy by promoting policies that control women as the keepers of the religious tradition.

I will review the sexual analysis of Empire and religious violence and reflect on how sexuality is implicated in its absence among this interfaith anti-Empire network.

Raymond Aycock


Raymond Aycock was born in the southern United States, and spent formative years on both the east and west coast of the U.S. which has had a major influence on his love for exploring formation and conflicts of identity both at an individual and societal level. He received a degree in Arabic studies from National University in 2010. He moved from San Diego, CA to Monterey, CA where he is currently a Master’s candidate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies focusing his studies in the field of conflict resolution. Cultural/identity conflicts are of special interest particularly within the context of religion.

He is also a research intern at the Center for Conflict Studies where he has conducted research regarding the identity conflicts between religion and sexuality in the evangelical Christian sects.


Gay Evangelicals: Reconciling or Reforging Identity?

The religious identity of most evangelical Christian groups is rooted in the fact that the Bible is the ultimate authority on various matters in life. This includes a moral code that governs their sexual identity and practices. There are many examples of evangelical Christians making public statements that separate individuals from their group based upon their beliefs and traditions regarding sexuality. So, the idea of having a gay evangelical church seems a real paradox.

In the US there are a variety of groups that have formed over the last several years that have sought to include elements their sexuality as well as their evangelical Christian belief system in to their identity. It seems that there is a push for a more tolerant view and acceptance of alternative sexualities within the context of the dialogue of exclusion that surrounds the religious doctrine.

Dan Savage, a well-known gay rights activist, has been very outspoken against religious sanctioning of the bullying of gay individuals in society, but has recently stated that he considers gay Christians to be separate from “mainstream” Christians. So there is some indication that there is a shift towards acceptance of a religious identity on some levels within the gay rights movement. There are also evangelical churches that accommodate and “affirm” the identities of gay men and women, but they are increasingly marginalized from the larger evangelical population.

I seek to offer an introductory look at whether gay evangelical Christians are a part of this larger cultural transformation, or whether they are a double marginalized group in both the evangelical religious world as well as the gay community at large.

This paper is the result of research conducted through the summer and fall of 2012 among individuals who identify themselves as gay evangelical Christians. It explores how two seemingly polarized worldviews are accommodated in order to embrace both the ideas of tolerance as well as a religious identity, which based upon a “we” vs. “they” construct. Anonymous interviews were conducted with former evangelical Christians who have abandoned their religious identity, with self professing gay evangelical Christians who have seemingly embraced both identities, and with religious leaders who believe there can be no merging of the identities.