Tag Archive for Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies

McAlister in The Conversation: For Some Catholics, It Is Demons That Taunt Priests with Sexual Desire

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, writes about a lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse of children uncovered in the Catholic Church: In some strands of Catholic thought, priests who abuse children have succumbed to temptation by demons. McAlister is also chair and professor of African American studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, professor of Latin American studies.

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, Wesleyan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ashraf Rushdy in The Conversation: The Art of the Public Apology

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains how lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th century until the 1930s.

Ashraf Rushdy

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Amid a flood of accusations against public figures for sexual misconduct and other improprieties, Ashraf Rushdy, the Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language, writes a piece exploring “the art of the public apology.” Rushdy is also professor of English, professor of African American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Read his bio in The Conversation.

The art of the public apology

Ashraf Rushdy, Wesleyan University

Just prior to his sentencing, former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar formally apologized to the more than 160 women whom he’d sexually abused. He joins a growing list. Over the past few months, many public personalities accused of sexual assault have apologized in public.

Many of us at this point are wondering what these apologies mean. Indeed, like others before him, Nassar said that an adequate apology was impossible. He stated,

“There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and convey.”

What, then, is it that he and other public figures are doing when they say sorry publicly?

In a forthcoming book, I look at different kinds of public apologies, including the kind of celebrity apologies we’ve witnessed in the past few months. What I argue is that public apologies are a type of performance and therefore should be understood as being different from private.

Lori Gruen in The Conversation: How Should We Decide What to Do?

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Lori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, has written a piece explaining how philosophers determine what is the right, or ethical, thing to doGruen also is professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, professor of science in society, and coordinator of animal studies. Read her bio in The Conversation

How should we decide what to do? 

How many times do we wonder, “What’s the right thing to do?”

Most of us are faced with ethical decisions on a regular basis. Some are relatively minor—perhaps your cousin makes a new recipe and it really doesn’t taste good, and you have to decide whether to tell the truth or a little white lie so as not to hurt her feelings.

Others are weightier—should you blow the whistle when you discover that your co-worker is behaving in ways that could jeopardize everyone at your workplace? Should you forego a relaxing vacation and instead donate the money to a worthy cause?

For thousands of years, philosophers have debated how to answer ethical questions, large and small. There are a few approaches that have withstood the test of time.

Doing the most good

One approach, which we often use in our day-to-day lives even if we aren’t aware that it is a type of ethical deliberation, is to figure out what the consequences of our actions might be and then determine if one course of action or another will lead to better outcomes. In the policy context, this is often referred to as a cost-benefit analysis.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. President Michael Roth publishes op-eds in The Washington Post titled, “We can’t let cynics ruin college,” and “What is college for? (Hint: It’s not just about getting in.).” He also sat for an “On Leadership” interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

2. The Conversation: “The dangerous belief that white people are under attack”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins writes about her research on perceptions of reverse discrimination in light of recent societal trends.

3. Marketplace: “Here comes the tax bill marketing”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about the proliferation of advertising campaigns focused on the federal tax reform law after its passage.

4. Hartford Courant: “President Trump Takes Page from P.T. Barnum’s Book”

Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and chair of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, writes about the legacy of circus creator Phineas T. Barnum in connection with the recent release of the film about his life. Tucker is also associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of science in society.

5. Association for Psychological Science: “Playing to Chronotype”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Tavernier is interviewed about her research on the topic of sleep.

Recent Alumni News
1. TheNetworkJournal.com: Majora Carter [’88, Hon. ’13]: Social Entrepreneur

This profile of the founder of Sustainable South Bronx details her newest venture, StartUp Box #SouthBronx, “a tech social enterprise designed to help residents of low-income communities participate in the tech economy.”

2. SFGate.com: 5 Lessons You Can Learn from Uber Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John [’99] [Also: Entrepreneur.com, RealwiseRealestate.com, Uncova]

Saint John offers common sense and inspirational keys that she says have helped her in business and in her personal life.

3. BroadwayWorld.com: Eugene O’Neill Theater Center Will Honor Lin-Manuel Miranda [’02] with Monte Cristo Award! [Also:TheHollywoodTimes.net, CTNow.com]

4. Jewish Journal: Hello, Beanie: Feldstein [’15] Having a Moment With ‘Dolly’ and ‘Lady Bird’

In this profile, Feldstein discusses her roles in two award-winning productions, one on Broadway, one on screen and now in theaters. She tells writer Ryan Torok, “I loved Lady Bird so much because it [drew on] a much more vulnerable side of me than I was asked to bring forward [previously]. I was so nervous and excited to tap into that side of myself, after doing things more strictly comedic.”

5. TalkingBizNews.com: Reuters Names Five Global Industry Editors; including Jonathan Weber ’82

Weber, now based in Singapore, was previously West Coast bureau chief and later named technology editor. Reuters credits him for their “strong coverage of cybersecurity,” which “helped build the U.S. tech team into a competitive force.”

6. BostonGlobe.com: Lisa Chedekel [’82], 57, an Esteemed, Intrepid Journalist [Also: Courant.com]

After Chedekel’s death on Jan. 12, 2018, Vinny Vella of the Hartford Courant wrote of her career: “Chedekel had been a member of a team of Courant reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at the Connecticut Lottery Corp. . . . ‘Lisa was a fearless reporter and elegant writer,’ said John Ferraro, a Courant editor who worked closely with Chedekel. ‘She searched for truth wherever it led. She was an advocate for the powerless and a thorn in the side of the powerful.’”

 

Pitts-Taylor Wins Merton Book Award for The Brain’s Body

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, left, was presented with the Merton Book Award by Mary Frank Fox of the Georgia Institute of Technology, a council member for the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Professor of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Victoria Pitts-Taylor, pictured at left, received the Robert K. Merton Award for her book, The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics (Duke University Press, 2016). The award was presented at a meeting of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association in Montreal, Canada on Aug. 14.

The Merton Award is given annually in recognition of an outstanding book on science, knowledge, and/or technology published during the preceding three years.

The Brain’s Body previously won the 2016 prize in Feminist Philosophy of Science given by the Women’s Caucus of the Philosophy of Science Association.

Pitts-Taylor also is professor of science in society, professor of sociology.

Rubenstein Discusses Theories of the Multiverse on Studio 360

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein was a guest on WNYC’s “Studio 360” recently, in a show titled, “The Theoretical Physicist Wore a Toga.” She addressed existential “what if” questions and the idea of multiple universes—an idea, she explains, which “is about 2,500 years old.”

“For the ancient Atomist philosophers [in Ancient Greece], the most desirable thing about what we’re now calling the multiverse was that it got rid of the need for a god. If it is the case that our world is the only world, then it’s very difficult to explain. How is everything so perfect? How is it that sunsets so beautiful?” she said. “What the Atomists believed was that religion and the belief in these kinds of benevolent gods actually caused people to behave terribly to one another, so they wanted to find a different explanation. So their explanation was that it’s not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so it was just perfect the way it is, but that actually that our world was just one of an infinite number of other worlds that looked totally different from our world, and that worlds were the product just of accident, of particles colliding with one another and randomly forming worlds.”

“It sounds a lot like modern physics,” she added.

What are the practical effects of such theories?

“Every major development in modern Western science since Copernicus has been advertised as this radical de-centering of our importance. […] As science progresses, we learn that we are less and less important than we thought we were. That’s one argument. But of course, it doesn’t seem to be the case that these purported decentralizations of the importance of the human have in any way contributed in any way to our feeling like we’re insignificant. We still tend to think that we run the planet.”

Rubenstein is also professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Environmental History Class Produces Radio Program

This year, students in Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker’s class, Seeing a Bigger Picture: Integrating Visual Methods and Environmental History, had an opportunity to share what they learned in an unusual format. They produced an hour-long radio program, which debuted on WESU 88.1 FM on Memorial Day. It will air again on the station this summer, and can be heard on wesufm.org or on SoundCloud.

Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), teaches Phie Towle '20 and Alea Laidlaw '20 about radio program development. 

Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), teaches Phie Towle ’20 and Alea Laidlaw ’20 about radio program development.

The course introduces students to key landmarks in the visual history of environmentalism and environmental science, from the 18th century to the recent past. The class studies the power and the limits of visual representations, addressing how images of nature have changed as well as how the nature of images has been transformed in the past 250 years, according to Tucker, who is also associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of science in society, and associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. The students received training in radio storytelling from Rosie Dawson, a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Tucker and Dawson first met two years ago, when Tucker contributed an essay to a BBC series that Dawson was producing

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Tucker Comments on Victorian Pseudoscience, Romance

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

The pseudoscientific myths about love and sexuality that abounded in the Victorian era, many of which seem “cruel and oppressive” by today’s standards, could also offer women relief from the era’s “rigid gender politics,” according to Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who comments on the topic for a Broadly article.

For much of the 19th century, the Western world was fascinated with a variety of pseudosciences, or theories that lack a basis in the scientific method.

“Definitions of science were malleable and hotly contested in the 19th century,” said Tucker, who is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor of environmental studies. “Far from being on the sidelines of intellectual life, spiritualism and other unconventional forms of knowledge often provided a means for Victorians from a variety of different social backgrounds to question scientific authority and to ask what counted as a proper science, or as a ‘scientific practice.'”

“One of the great myths about the Victorian age [was] that it was sexually repressive; on the contrary, Victorian society was obsessed with sexual reform, heterosexual and homosexual love, lust, and sex (as well as of the policing of sexual desires),” added Tucker. “Love and sex were both controversial and politicized.”

Pseudoscientific theories included phrenology (which was used to explain the different propensities of men and women toward love and sexual desire); the use of love potions made of dangerous ingredients such as arsenic and belladonna; beauty face masks made of raw beef; cures for low libido such as bull testicles; and vibrators used to treat “hysteria” in sexually frustrated women.

According to the story, “Victorians were also surprisingly progressive on what would eventually evolve into more enlightened views on gender.

“Theosophists [occult philosophers] believed that life in male and female bodies taught different lessons; for some, this meant that it was necessary for the Ego to incarnate many times as both female and male,” Tucker explains. “Many theosophists believed, for example, that in their evolutionary progress men reincarnated as women, and women as men. Therefore at any given time, as one believer in this theory said in 1892: ‘We have… men in women’s bodies, and women in men’s bodies.'”

Crosby Authors Essay on Injury and Grief

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby's memoir, "A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain."

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby’s memoir, A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of an essay on injury and grief in a special issue of Guernica magazine on “The Future of the Body.”

Titled, “My Lost Body,” Crosby’s essay explores the grief she has experienced since a bicycle accident 13 years ago, just after her 50th birthday, left her paralyzed. The accident was the topic of her memoir, A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain (NYU Press, March 2016).

She writes, “Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism ‘bodymind’ and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

I recognize in that alienation the force of grief. Grief is a current running below the surface of my unremarkable days, sometimes drawing me into eddies where I spin round and round, sometimes pulling my mind insistently away from the day’s work and rushing me downward. Stiff-minded resistance is of little avail. We are counseled to surrender ourselves for a time after loss to the sheer force of grief, because only by giving yourself over to it will the pain lessen.”

Grabel Warns of Threat to Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Op-ed

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, warns in a new op-ed that the progress of embryonic stem cell research in this country, always subject to the ups and down of politics, is currently under threat.

Co-authored with Diane Krause of Yale University, the op-ed in The Hartford Courant notes that Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is on record opposing embryonic stem cell research. They write:

As stem cell researchers, we fear that this appointment would endanger human embryonic stem cell research in the United States and reverse the substantial progress made in recent years. There are promising clinical trials underway for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury and diabetes with more possible, including for Parkinson’s disease.

The authors explain what has made this research so controversial, and argue why it is singularly valuable in its potential to treat life-threatening diseases and injuries.

Grabel also is professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Alumni Discuss Reproductive Rights with Students, Faculty

Dr. Blackstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice America Board for Connecticut. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district. 

On Oct. 10, Amy Breakstone ’79 and Matthew Lesser ’10 returned to campus to discuss reproductive rights and abortion politics with the campus community. The event was sponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and the Wesleyan Doula Project. Dr. Breakstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut board, an affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut. (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)