Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Queer Christianity: The Medieval Orientations of C.S. Lewis


"There is no safe investment. 
To love at all is to be vulnerable. 
Love anything, and your heart will certainly 
be wrung and possibly be broken. "


C.S. Lewis
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Course Overview

We live in a moment when the relationship between queerness and Christianity is being reconsidered and hotly debated. To better understand this debate, as well as the differences and potential common ground between members of the queer and Christian communities (including those who belong to both!), this seminar examines the history of Christianity and its relationship to queerness. Is Christianity a force for domination or liberation? Orthodoxy or creative multiplicity? Normativity or queerness? To answer these questions, we will read literature that explores how Christianity has both suppressed and in some sense created queerness, as well as how it has been reclaimed by queer communities. We will also look closely at how these historical tensions are being played out locally today. Special attention also will be given to the range of intersecting identities and communities that have responded to the meeting of faith and sexuality in various ways, drawing from diverse contexts of race, ability/disability, gender, and class. Readings include selections from the Bible, books about theology, and documentaries and memoirs attesting to the experience of LGBT Christians. In particular, this semester we explore the "Medieval Orientations of C.S. Lewis." In this four part course, we interrogate the long dialectical history between LGBTQIA persons and the Christian Church. At this intersection stands C.S. Lewis, a pillar of Christianity to be queered, as well as a representative of many queer medieval orientations towards gender and sexuality. So grab your copy of Mere Christianity and a pack of rainbow markers!

The seminar begins with a queer reading of scripture, focusing on key sections of the Jewish and Christian Bible which address gender and sexuality. We begin by considering the meanings and purposes of the Creation myths from Genesis I and II, as well as how God as Creator has been understood and represented within later Christian thought; such as the singing into being of Narnia and Middle Earth in the fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. What happens when we look as Creation not as a fixed made object but rather as a dynamic sometimes rhyming, sometimes dissonant ever changing song? Next, the books of Law are read within their historical and cultural context alongside the concepts of moral philosophy: are there true ethical ideals, natural laws which inform social justice, or true selves which deserve honor and respect? The person, preaching and practices of Jesus - from the sermon on the plains to his summation of the law and the prophets - will be added together in order to assess their implications for LGBTQIA persons. Finally, students will consider to what degree the legacy of Jesus in the Christian Church was affected by the various interpretations of the Apostles such as their Acts and the letters of St. Paul.

Following the eras in which scripture was being composed and compiled, we turn to the traditions of theology which have influenced how Christian churches have related to gender and sexuality. Influential early theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas will be queried and queered as they are put into conversation with various queer saints from St. Hildegard to St. Marinos and St. Joan of Arc. Modern queer theology will also be considered for its content and style, demonstrating how different theologians and eras approach questions of identity and embodiment in different ways. A running theme of this section is the philosophies of love and desire which run from Plato and Augustine to C.S. Lewis and Mr. Rogers. Next, the Queer Christianity seminar will move from Philosophy to Art and Literature to consider the ways in which afterlives figure into Church doctrine and into the LGBTQI community. How do trans women deal with the hells into which they are placed and imagined? Where does Dante locate queerness in his vision of Purgatory? How does Queer Christianity walk between the roads towards the shadowlands or to the bright country from C.S. Lewis's Great Divorce? The semester ends by leveraging the skills in exegesis, theology, and imagination against the institutions of ex-gay ministries in the films The Transformation, God Loves Uganda, and the Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course you will be able to

  • Think critically across multiple perspectives
  • Engage with thinkers who passionately disagree with you
  • Argue according to the dialectic method
  • Compose your thoughts in clear and engaging writing
  • Honor differences as important to propelling your thinking forward

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Selections from the Reading List


Queer Scripture

  • The Bible
    • Creation Myths
    • The Law
    • Jesus
    • The Apostles

  • Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, Westminster John Knox Press (2018), 978-0664263102
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652920
  • C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (Space Trilogy, Book 2), Scribner (2003), 978-0743234917


Queer Theology

  • St. Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions
  • St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
  • St. Hildegard Von Bingen, Primary Sources
  • St. Marinos the Monk, The Vita
  • St. Joan of Arc, Primary Sources

  • Barbara Sukowa (dir.) Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen, Zeitgeist Films (2011) 
  • Morgan Neville (dir.) Won't You Be My Neighbor? Universal Studios (2018) B07D591ST1

  • D.J. Lee, Rescuing Jesus, Ch. 8: Femmevangelical  
  • K. Lochrie, Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t 
  • M. Althaus-Reid, Queer God, Ch. 3: Trinitarians and God the Orgy 
  • Plato, Symposium on Love, “Aristophanes,”
  • Hedwig & the Angry Inch, “Origin of Love”   
  • C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, HarperOne (2017), 978-0062565396


Queer Afterlives

  • Leelah Alcorn, Transgender Queen of Hell, Tumblr
  • Marguerite Bennette, Angela: Queen of Hel, Marvel Comics (2016) 978-1302900014
  • Dante, Purgatorio, Anchor Press (2004), 978-0385497008
  • C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652951




(Ex-)Queer Ministries

  • Aiken and Aparicio (dir.), The Transformation (1996) 

  • Roger Ross Williams, God Loves Uganda (2013) 

  • Desiree Akhavan, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

  • C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652944

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Eugenic Monsters: A Seminar on Race and Disability


"Perhaps the immutable error of parenthood is 
that we give our children what we wanted, 
whether they want it or not. 
We heal our wounds with the love we wish we’d received,
 but are often blind to the wounds we inflict."

Andrew Solomon
Far from the Tree
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Course Overview

Why are monsters so ubiquitous in literature and art? How do they, and other literary villains and anti-heroes, reinforce cultural values and anxieties? Who or what are the monsters of our own cultural moment? In this seminar, we will explore the history and representation of monsters in western culture. Using Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, well as other texts from disability, critical race, and post-colonial studies, we will examine monsters not merely as otherworldly creatures, but as figures that stand in for a wide range of "undesirables" and "others." This semester, we will concentrate on the themes of race and disability as they have been constructed by the philosophies and practices of eugenics, slavery, colonialism and freak shows. The very invention of race theory in the modern age hinges around eugenic beliefs in fundamental differences marked by skin color, facial and skull shapes, bloodlines, and aptitude. These theories created the concept of a “white race” and marked non-white races as inherently disabled, thus excusing and even endorsing the institutions of sterilization, extermination, captivity, colonialism, and exploitation. 

The first section of the course will concentrate on the wider concepts of eugenics as it came into being in the modern era. The benefits of technologies which offer power over your body will be connected to the racist and ableist philosophies which generated them. The genetic framework will then be interrogated throughout the rest of the semester through the film and book, Far From the Tree, which considers the relationship between parents and children, specifically those ways in which the fantasies of reproduction (preserving the purity of parentage) breaks down in the mutation, evolution, and divergent identities which arise among children who are born with Down's Syndrome, Autism, Dwarfism, and other conditions. This section ends with a science-fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet, which imagines the eugenic and colonialist project in the context of space exploration in order to test the desire for genetic control against the joy of discovering the beauty of difference. The second section turns towards the way in which captivity in its various forms makes monsters out of the captors and captives, beginning with the animated film, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The film Beloved follows up on the ways that slavery in the United States created trauma and monstrosity in the lives of formerly enslaved people, who experience this captivity still through the ghosts and isolation of a haunted house, representing the specters of slavery which live on across generations. The Green Mile follows the way in which slavery reinvented itself through the rise of the prison industrial complex which routinely caught men of color and people with disabilities in their cages, embodied by the film's central figure. Good Kings, Bad Kings explores how nursing homes adapt models of captivity from prisons and slavery, forcing people of color, poor populations, and people with disabilities into lives of abused isolation.

The third section the seminar concentrates further on the systems of colonialism which were already figured in the first two sections, carrying institutions of eugenics and captivity into Asia, the Americas, and Africa. Beginning with Animal's People, the book follows up on the ecological and human environmental consequences of global industries which introduce dangerous chemicals into the land and bodies of impoverished foreign countries. The film, Eclipse, from the Twilight series, considers the ongoing effects and consequences of colonization in the Americas through the monstrous figures and fighting of werewolves and vampires, each representing the native peoples of the Americas and the colonizers (at least one of whom fought on the side of Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War). Then the seminar turns to the world of Marvel super-heroes to contrast the film Black Panther -- which imagines an isolated nation in Africa that is free from colonization but also (seemingly) free of disability -- and the comic of the street-level hero Echo -- a native American woman with deafness who explores her place in the United States as a disabled colonized body at odds with the figure of Daredevil, a white American lawyer with blindness who literally represents the law of the colonizer. The final section of the seminar explores the history and legacy of the Freak Show. The film The Greatest Showman will be viewed alongside the book Bunk which tells the true histories of the scams and hoaxes which exploited and contributed to American racism and ableism in order to turn ethnic minorities and people with disabilities into profitable freaks. The racist, ableist, and transphobic effects of the Freak Show will then be considered in the way trans women of color are still exploited by sex work and conversion therapy which displays these pathologized, racialized, and queer bodies for a paying public. At the end of this section and the semester, we will watch the film Ray in order to interrogate the ways the blind man of color fought for personal liberation in an entertainment industry which sought to exploit him.

Course Objectives

By the end of the seminar you will be able to TEACH the course material:

  • Think critically across multiple perspectives
  • Engage with thinkers who passionately disagree with you
  • Argue according to the dialectic method
  • Compose your thoughts in clear and engaging writing
  • Honor differences as important to propelling your thinking forward

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Selections from the Reading List


The Monsters of Eugenics
Genetics, Mutations, and Diversity

  • Michelle Ferrari (dir.), American Experience: The Eugenics Crusade: What’s Wrong with Perfect?, PBS Distributions (2018), B07F83JZYF
  • Rachel Dretzin (dir.), Far From the Tree, MPI Home Video (2019), B07J356J56
  • Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, Scribner (2013), 978-0743236720
    • Including chapters: "Son," "Down's Syndome," "Dwarf," "[Intellectual] Disability," "Prodigy," "Crime," "Schizophrenia," "Deaf," and "Transgender."
  • James Tynion IV, Eugenic, BOOM! Studios (2018), 978-1684152063
  • C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book 1), Scribner (2003), 978-0743234900


The Monsters of Captivity
Pariahs, Slaves, Prisoners, and Patients

  • J. Demme (dir.), Beloved (1998) (AW)
  • Frank Darabont (dir.), The Green Mile, Warner Home Video, B01GWCBR24
  • Trousdale and Wise (dir.), The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Walt Disney Animation (2002), B00005TN8K 
  • Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings, Algonquin Books (2013), 978-1616203252
  • R. Garland-Thompson, Staring: How We Look
    • Including chapters: “Social Relationships” and "Beholding"
  • J.B. Bouson, “The Dirtied and Traumatized Self of Slavery in Beloved” (PDF) (2000)


The Monsters of Colonialism
Asia, Americas, Africa

  • Ryan Coogler (dir.), Black Panther, Marvel Studios (2018), B079FLYB41
  • Indra Sinha, Animal’s People, Simon and Schuster (2009), 978-1416578796
  • David Mack, Daredevil: Vision Quest, Marvel (2015), B016P0QCQE
  • David Slade (dir.), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Summit Inc./Lionsgate (2010), B0042MEQVG 
    • Twilight & Psychology, “Bella’s Motivations for Risky Behavior” (PDF)         
    • Twilight & History, “Alice and the Asylum” (PDF)      
    • Twilight & History, “Jasper Hale, the Oldest Living Confederate Veteran”        
    • Twilight & Psychology, “Prejudice in Twilight” (PDF)
    • Twilight & Philosophy, “The Moral Hazards of Being Edward” (PDF)
    • Twilight & History, “Why Team Jacob Is Doomed to Lose” (PDF)       

    The Monsters of the Freak Show
    Differences, Hoaxes, and Exploitations

    • Taylor Hackford (dir.), Ray, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2006), B000FVQLRU
    • Michael Gracey (dir.), The Greatest Showman, 20th Century Fox (2018), B077R2WHSB 
    • The Transformation (1994)
    • Eli Clare, Exile & Pride: “The Mountain, Freaks & Queers”
    • Janet Mock, Redefining Realness, “Ch. 15-17"
    • Kevin Young, Bunk: the Rise of Hoaxes (AW)

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