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

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


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


1 comment:

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