Sex and Religion in America


Spring 2013

Mary Beth Mathews                                                                                                  Krystyn Moon                                                                             

Office: Trinkle B46                                                                                        Office: Monroe 2220

Campus phone: x1354                                                                                  Campus phone: x1479

Office Hours: M 10-1, T 2-4,                                                          Office hours: T/Th 9-11,Th 2-   and by appointment                                                                                    3, and by appointment


 This course provides a broad survey of the interactions between religion and gender/sexuality in America.  Using a chronological approach, we will study such diverse groups as Native Americans, Roman Catholics, and the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming (the Shakers).   We will read both primary and secondary sources each week and engage in discussions of those texts.  In lieu of a final exam, students will prepare a 5-minute, video blog presentation.  This course satisfies requirements for both the American Studies and Religion majors.


Students who take this course will gain an understanding of the roles that sexuality has played in American religious history, as well as various religions’ expectations about what is sexually normative. Students will hone their textual interpretations skills by reading a variety of primary and secondary sources. Finally, students will be able to apply the knowledge they have acquired to current events and debates.

Because this course is Speaking Intensive, the following outcomes apply:

  • Students will understand and be able to explain the conventions and expectations of oral communication as practiced within the discipline of the course taken.
  • Students will apply theories and strategies for crafting messages (verbal, nonverbal, and visual) for particular audiences and purposes.
  • Students will be able to craft oral messages after a conscious process in which various options are reviewed and will be able to explain and support their choices.
  • Students will be able to metacommunicate about their own communication patterns.

Because this course is an American Studies course, the following outcomes apply:

  • Explore a theme across disciplines related to the U.S.
  • Think critically about the limits of disciplinary knowledge
  • Deepen student understanding of technology and multimedia, and
  • Further develop students’ speaking, writing, and analytical skills.

Religion courses seek to have students acquire factual information about different religious traditions, apply critical methods to interpret texts, communicate effectively both in writing and orally in the field of religious studies, and appreciate the diversity and richness of various religious traditions.


John Donald Gustav-Wrathall, Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex    Relations and the YMCA

Thekla Ellen Joiner, Sin in the City: Chicago and Revivalism, 1880-1920

Molly McGarry, Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of

            Nineteenth-Century America

Will Roscoe, Zuni Man-Woman

Additional readings posted on the course blog (


Week One: Native Americans and Sexuality (January 15, 17)

  • Produce one-minute informal talk of the subject of religion and sex in America on Tuesday
  • Reading assignments: Bruce Lincoln, “Becoming the Goddess” (Blog); Antonia I. Castaneda, “Sexual Violence in the Politics of Conquest” (Blog)
  • DTLT presentation on blog on Thursday

Week Two: Colonial New England: Sexual Challenges to the Status Quo (January 22, 24)

  • Reading assignments: The Trial Transcript of Anne Hutchison (; John Murrin, “‘Things Fearful to Name’: Bestiality in Early America” (Blog); “Eve” from Good Wives (blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Three: Anti-Catholic Nativism (January 29, 31)

Week Three: The Burned Over District: Lots of Sex or No Sex at All? (February 5, 7)

  • Reading assignments: “The Virgin Life” (; John Humphrey Noyes, “Male Continence” (Blog); Doctrines and Covenants 132 (Blog); Matthew Bowman, “The City of Joseph” (Blog)
  • Great Lives Lecture series: Attend Dr. John Turner’s lecture on Brigham Young (Thursday, February 7th, 7:30 p.m., Dodd Auditorium), and write a blog entry about the lecture.
  • Blog entries due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Five: Two Spirited People (February 12,14)

  • Reading assignments: Zuni-Man Woman
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Six: Moral Reform and the YMCA  (February 19, 21)

  • Reading assignment: Take the Young Stranger by the Hand
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Seven: Moral Reform, Evangelicalism, and Prostitution (February 26, 28)

  • Reading assignment: Sin in the City; Selected chapters from Out of the Mouths of Babes: Girl Evangelists in the Flapper Era (Blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Eight (March 5,7): NO CLASS—Spring Break (Whoo-hoo!)

Week Nine: Sex and Science (March 12, 14)

  • Reading assignment: Havelock Ellis, “The Sexual Impulse in Women” (Blog); Richard von Krafft-Ebing, “Fragments of a System of Psychology of Sexual Life” (Blog); Jonathan Ned Katz, “The Debut of the Heterosexual” (Blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Ten: Spiritualism and Sex (March 19, 21)

  • Reading assignment: Ghosts of Futures Past
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Eleven: Humanae Vitae: Just how good a Catholic are you? (March 26, 28)

  • Reading assignments: Reading assignments: MLK, “Advice for the Living,” (blog); “’An Instrument of Genocide,’”Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement (blog);  Humanae Vitae (; Paula Jean Miller, “The Theology of the Body” (Blog); Rosemary Radford Reuther, “Humanae Vitae—Twenty-Five Years Later”(Blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Twelve: Being Jewish and Being Gay (April 2, 4)

  • Reading assignments: David Schneer and Caryn Aviv, “Introduction: Heeding Isaiah’s Call” (Blog)
  • Watch: Trembling before G_d
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Thirteen: The Religious Right and the New Sexual Frontier (April 9, 11)

  • Reading assignments: Jerry Falwell, Excerpt from Listen, America! (Blog); Nicolas Dawidoff, “No Sex, No Drugs, But Rock ‘n’ Roll: (Kind of)” (Blog); Donna Minkowitz, “The Christian Right’s Antigay Campaign: Part Stealth, Part Muscle” (Blog); Kristin Luker, “The Emergence of the Right-to-Life Movement” (Blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Fourteen: Feminism, Evangelicals, and Jews (April 16, 18)

  • Reading assignments: Mary Daly, Excerpt from The Church and the Second Sex (Blog); Amy C. Wilkins, “Just Good People,” and “Abstinence” (Blog); Jean Hardisty, “Kitchen Table Backlash: the Anti-Feminist Movement” (Blog); Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “A Pail of Cream” (Blog)
  • Blog entry due Thursday, 8 a.m.

Week Fifteen: What did we learn? (April 23, 25)

  • Work session with DTLT
  • Brainstorm for presentations

Final Exam April 30, Noon to 2:30 p.m.

  • Produce second 5-minute presentations and post on blog by exam period


The following grading scale will be in effect for this class:

94-100             A

90-93               A-

87-89               B+

84-86               B

80-83               B-

77-79               C+

74-76               C

70-73               C-

67-69               D+

60-66               D

Below 60         F


The instructors believe that the Honor Code is an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience.  You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will be taken to the Honor Council.  So, do not do it.  On the other hand, we also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours).  If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to us as soon as possible.


If a student receives services through the Office of Disability Services and requires accommodations for this class, please make an appointment with the instructor as soon as possible to discuss his/her approved accommodation needs.  Bring the accommodation letter with you to the appointment.  The instructors will hold any information the student shares in the strictest confidence unless the student gives the instructors permission to do otherwise.  If a student needs accommodations (note taking assistance or extended time for tests), please consult with the Office of Disability Services (x1266) about the appropriate documentation of a disability.



Class Participation: Because this course is a seminar, students are expected to contribute to class discussions daily. Grades will be based on whether a student participated and the substance of his/her comments.

Lead Class Discussion: Each student along with a partner(s) will lead class discussion of at least one reading assignment during the semester. Students can lecture, do role-playing, have students analyze primary documents, or stage a debate about the reading assignment.

Reaction Blog Posts: Each week you will complete a blog post, providing your reaction to the week’s readings. The posts should be concise, well argued, and original. Blog posts are due on Thursday mornings at 8 a.m.  No late blog posts will be accepted.  Two blog posts—one from the first half of the semester and another from the second half—will be chosen by the student to be given a letter grade.

Video Presentation: At the end of the semester, students are required to make a 5-minute videotaped presentation in which they reflect on the relationship between sexuality and religion in the United States. This video will then be posted to the class blog so that faculty (and the students) can view it (NOTE: it will be password protected).


Lead Class Discussion—20%

Reaction Blog Posts—30%

Class Participation—20%

Video Presentations—30%


We expect all students to complete all assignments on the appointed days.  Extensions will be granted only in EXTREME circumstances and BEFORE the date of the assignment. All assignments will be marked down a partial letter grade for each day they are late, including weekends.

Students should remember that the class functions best without electronic interruptions.  You must silence cell phones and other electronic devices BEFORE class begins.

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