Academic Programs 

Varieties of Gay and Lesbian Religious Life in the U.S.   (RS-638)
  Fall 2005

It has taken decades for the most liberal of religious groups to open their arms and welcome gay and lesbian believers as full participants in their congregations or as their pastors.  Much of the rest of the religious world remains far from the adoption of an open and affirming position toward homosexuality.  Controversy over this issue divides many denominational groups.  Yet within this context many lesbian and gay persons of faith have created thriving independent and innovative counter-institutional forms of religious life as alternatives to the forms that excluded them. This online course will examine the history of the tension between homosexuality and religious organizations and explore the multifaceted methods adopted by gays and lesbians to meet their spiritual needs in modern American society. 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 

Edward R. Gray
Adjunct Professor of Religion and Society and Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Emory University. Gray is executive director of YouthPride, a community based youth service and advocacy organization in Atlanta.  

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus

Stories highlighting debates over the place of gays and lesbian believers in American religious life fill our lives: discussion over the viability of homosexuality as a Christian “lifestyle,” a denomination’s acceptance of gays and lesbians as clergy or bishops, or the protests of a gay rights group at a major denominational gathering, are only some of the frequently repeating stories that enter our lives.

These reports give us some indication of the varieties of religious phenomena experienced by lesbians and gay men in diverse religious traditions. Many hold a deep alliance to these traditions. Others follow a more sectarian impulse. Still others pursue new forms of spiritual practice outside easily recognized religious structures in popular culture.

This course will give students an appreciation of the variety of religious life among lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender persons of faith.

Course objectives:

  • To gain a better understanding of the diversity of “gay” or “queer” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender [LGBT]) religious life in the U.S.

  • To understand how LGBT religious expressions and organizations relate to contemporary culture and society

  • To become expert on at least one LGBT religious group through direct ethnographic research.

Course Overview:

This course is conducted through an online learning community requiring regular and dedicated commitment to self and community learning goals. The course is facilitated through Blackboard. However, there is an important “live” component: your ethnographic (participant/observation) research of a LGBT religious organization or expression.

The weekly class format:

Posting of the “Lecture/presentation” introducing topic of the week along with discussion questions each Monday by 5pm.

Posting of responses to readings each Wednesday by 12 noon.

Required Texts:

Gay Religion Scott Thumma and Edward Gray eds., AltaMira Press 2004

Course reader (online)

Choice of supplemental reading from bibliography



Regular, informed engagement in our learning community as evidenced by:

  • Completion of weekly reading assignments including online introductory materials.
  • substantive response to those materials
  • substantive response to at least one student’s posting
  • book review (chosen from the bibliography)
  • Ethnographic research on local LGBT religious group presented in class and in a 10 page paper.


Schedule of Readings & Assignments


Week 1 (Sept 12): What do we mean by gay religion? How will we be a learning community?


Gay Religion: Introduction; Part I, Introduction, Part II, Introduction, Part III Introduction; Conclusion: Gay Religion as a Cultural Production

Week 2 (Sept 19) A look at Scripture and Theology


Dale B. Martin, Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences,;  Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: Biblical Texts in Historical Contexts, by Mary Ann Tolbert, November 20, 2002

Week 3 (Sept 26)  A glance at gender

Gay Religion: “Queering the Dragonfest: Changing Sexualities in a Post- Patriarchal Religion,” Mary Jo Neitz; “A Religion of One's Own: Gender and LGBT Religiosities,” Melissa Wilcox

Denominational Varieties

Week 4 (Oct 3) Making room: Find acceptance in traditions


Gay Religion: “No Longer an Oxymoron: Integrating Gay and Lesbian Seventh-day Adventist Identities,” René Drumm; “Negotiating a Religious Identity: The Case of the Gay Evangelical,” Scott Thumma; “Why Join A Gay Synagogue?” Moshe Shokeid

Week 5 (Oct 10) Family Feuds: Conflict, debate, and tension

Case study: Marriage

Week 6 (Oct 17)  More traditions

Gay Religion: “Latter-Day Saint Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Spirituality, Richley Crapo; “Sexuality and Gender in Santería: LGBT Identities at the Crossroads of Santería Religious Practices and Beliefs,” Salvador Vidal-Ortiz; “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Buddhist Practitioners,” Wendy Cadge

Sectarian Varieties

Week 7 (Oct 24)  Metropolitan Community Church movement

Gay Religion: “Pluralism and Diversity: Music as Discourse and Information in a Gay and Lesbian Congregation,” Bernard Lukenbill

Week 8 (Oct 31)  Sectarian Religious Groups

Gay Religion: "St Gerard Teaches Him That Love Cancels That Out" Devotion to St. Gerard Maiella Among Italian American Catholic Gay Men in Newark, New Jersey,” Peter Savastano; “Liberation in Truth: African American Lesbians Reflect on Religion, Spirituality, and Their Church,” Aryana Bates; “Utopian Imaginaries and Faerie Practice: Mapping Routes of Relational Agency,” Jay Hasbrouck

Non religious forms of religion in popular culture

Week 9 (Nov 7)  A Sect of One’s Own

Gay Religion: “The Gospel Hour: Liminality, Identity, & Religion in a Gay Bar
Edward R. Gray and Scott Thumma; “Intermediaries: Spirit and Transcendence in a Sample of "Third Gendered" North Americans,” Ingrid Sell; “The Harvey Milk Show: Violence, Desire, and Gay Popular Culture,” Edward R. Gray

Week 10  (Nov 14) Exploring the Queer Religious Fringe

Gay Religion “The Spirit Within: Gay Male Culture as a Spiritual Venue,” Donald Boisvert;  “Rite to Party: Circuit Parties and Religious Experience,” Paul Gorrell; “Gay Men's Spiritual Experience in the Leather Community,” Thomas Peterson

Week 11 (Nov 21) READING WEEK.

No specific class assignments.  

Explorations & Conclusions

Week 12  (Nov 28)  Implications of Queer spirituality for the future of religion

Student presentations

Week 13 (Dec 5) Implications of Queer spirituality for the future of religion

Student presentations

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500