Report Sexual and Gendered Moralities Conference

Both the organisers were very pleased with the conference which was a success in terms of both logistics and scientific content. We were also congratulated by the board of IARG.

Some 51 paper proposals were sent in after an open call for papers was published on the website of the conference and circulated to institutions and networks who could be interested in this conference. The scientific committee (prof. Longman, prof. Coene, prof. Paternotte, prof. Auga, prof. Korte, prof. Motmans, prof. Claes, prof. Withaeckx, prof. Lechkar) made a selection of 39 accepted papers.

Over the course of two days, a master class for PhD students (Prof. Sinha) took place followed by an welcome and introduction of the main theme at the conference (prof. Longman); presentation of IARG (Prof. Aune); launch of the new IARG edited book series Routledge Critical Studies in Religion, Gender and Sexuality; and keynote lecture (Sinha).

On day two after the second keynote (prof. Nynäs) in the morning, 3 consecutive sessions with 3 parallel workshops (between 3 and 5 papers) took place followed by a concluding debate and closure.

The introductory lecture explored the key connections between sexual and gendered moralities in the interdisciplinary study of religion and secularism.

Keynote 1 – prof. Vineeta Sinha

Professor Vineeta Sinha is Head of Departement at the Departement of Sociology as well as at the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore.

In her keynote lecture, prof. Sinha elaborated on the ubiquity and inevitability of commodification processes. Scholars of religion and sexuality have queried not if, but how commodification processes and the allied practices of consumerism and consumption have mutually impacted each other. Markets and marketplaces certainly precede modernity and industrial capitalism. Historicizing the relationships between religion, sexuality and commodification processes would help to tease out the ways in which these are intertwined. A critical analytical move in rethinking consumption processes in the domains of religion and sexuality rests in recognizing their interface with material and visual culture. The turn to visuality, materiality and popular culture –particularly in acknowledging what has been called the ‘agency of materiality’ and problematizing the binary of ‘ materiality’/’non-materiality’ itself – open new research vistas. These conceptual shifts are crucial in problematizing the regnant reductionist moralising strains of consumer culture and consumption discourses and their destructive and immoral effects on domains of sexuality and religion.

Keynote 2 – prof. Peter Nynäs

Peter Nynäs is Professor of Comparative Religion Abo Akademi University (Finland) and Director for the Centres of Excellences in Research Post-Secular Culture and a Changing Religious Landscape in Finland (2010–14) and Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective (2015–18).

In his keynote lecture, he brought to the surface some observations about how gender and sex on the one hand, and religion, secularity and spirituality on the other hand, come together among young adults globally. In the Centre of Excellence in research “Young adults and religion in a global perspective” (YARG), he and his research team have explored forms of religiosities and spiritualities in universities and colleges in thirteen locations around the world. Their mixed method approach has included a range of ways of being attentive to gender and sex, but with a sensitivity for religion and spirituality this presentation centers around the question “What is the place for gender normativities among young adults globally today?”

Panel session 1 ‘Religious, Secular and Humanitarian Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Rights’ – dr. Van Raemdonck

This first panel session was chaired by dr. Van Raemdonck. The first presentation was given by Katarzyna Wazynska-Finck who questioned whether if it were possible to have a morally neutral sexual education. Jelle Wiering dedicated the second presentation to the concept of the secular body within the field of sexual health. The third and last presentation in this panel was given by Anna B Ninsiima, who talked about religion, gender, and agency in Uganda.

Panel session 2 ‘Gender and Sexuality in Movements of Spiritual Renewal and Religious Conversion’ – dr. Plancke

The panel explored the link between gender and sexual empowerment and agency, on the one hand, and the entrance into a new spiritual movement or (de)conversion to/from orthodox religion, on the other. It sought to complicate the often assumed association of religion and oppression of women and LGTBQI by showing the diverse ways religion or spiritual (dis)engagement helps to deal with conflicting gender-related societal demands, reject or renegotiate gendered or sexual moralities and/or challenge or recast exclusion based on gender or sexual orientation. ​

Panel session 3 ‘Sexual Identity and Agency’ – prof. dr. Motmans

The third panel session was chaired by prof. dr. Motmans and explored the relationship between sexual identity and agency. The first presentation was given by S. Jonathon O’Donnell on the subject of gendering social action and self-actualization in spiritual warfare. Ali Yıldırım reconsidered the negotiation among marginalized identities at the intersection of sexual diversity and faith in Istanbul. Clara Marlijn Meijer talked about Religious coping and identity integration of Ghanaian LGBTQ identifying young adults. The fourth and last presentation of this panel, by Christine Jackson-Taylor, described LGBTQ women’s experiences of faith and religion.

Panel session 4 ‘Embodied and Contested Sexual Moralities’ – dr. Rahbari

The panel was organized by Ladan Rahbari and consisted of three presentations. The first presentation ‘There Is Nothing In It For Women: Pretending Orgasms and Gendered Sexual Moralities of Women in Iran’, by Ladan Rahbari and Zeinab Mahmudabadi discussed women’s sexuality in Iran, focusing on the topic of fake orgasms. This presentation unfolded how pretending orgasms was related to perceptions of female responsibilities and marital self-sacrifice, lack of sexual education and knowledge, and sexual performance ideals. The second presentation by Stella Andrada Kasdovasili ‘Do Robots Pray? Contesting race and sexuality in the era’ discussed the notions of gender and citizenship in the case of the robot named ‘Sophia’ receiving Saudi Arabian citizenship, by using the posthuman moral theory. The third presentation ‘Engendering Morality: Women’s Naked Curse As Political Protest In West Africa’, by Laura Grillo discussed the performance of Female Genital Power is a spectacular form of recollection – embodying collective moral memory – and resisting state power. The panel raised questions about the challenges of individual and collective embodied resistance against mainstream moral discourses as well as different ways in which gendered and patriarchal moralities and nationalist discourses are contested through embodiment. 

Panel session 5 ‘Religion, Masculinity and Sexuality’ – prof. dr. Lechkar

This panel was chaired by professor Iman Lechkar and consisted of three presentation. Line Nyhagen discussed findings from her qualitative study of twenty-one white, middle-class, heterosexual, lay Christian men in the East Midlands of the United Kingdom and how they viewed the relationship between femininity and masculinity in their churches. Debadrita Chakraborty examined the relational, emotional and intimate dimensions of South Asian Muslim men’s lived experiences post 9/11 within the private spaces of home and family from a religious standpoint. Finally, Yaron Schwartz analyzed dilemmas relating to religious homosexuality arising in the context of a religious school based on ethnographic research.

Panel session 6 ‘Moral Discourses on Reproduction, Parenthood and the Family’ – prof. dr. Coene     

This panel was organized by professor Gily Coene and focused on gendered moralities of reproduction. Lise Eriksson analysed how Finnish surrogate mothers discuss surrogacy in terms of moral actions, altruism and controversies relating to intersections between religious and secular moralities. Michiel De Proost examined the emancipatory value of social freezing and provided a new angle to this moral discussion by combining descriptive and normative analysis. Seppe Segers reflected on the future possibilities and related normative issues of same-sex reproduction and genetic relatedness. Drawing on qualitative interviews with mothers and voluntary childless Christian women, Dawn Llewellyn laid out the primary personal, social, and institutional factors that women take into account when narrating their reproductive choices.

Panel session 7 ‘Sexual Moralities, Harmful Cultural Practices and Gender-Based Violence – dr. Withaeckx

The second last panel of the day was chaired by postdoctoral research Sophie Withaeckx and consisted of 3 presentation. Hanneke Pot analysed an international NGO project aiming to reduce teenage pregnancies by keeping girls in school and showed how ‘culturalism’ flows through this project. Sandra Fernandez described how an anti-sexual harassment group in Cairo deployed practices and techniques geared towards urging people to reflect upon their roles and impact upon others in public space, and in so doing push people to either change behaviours which contributed to harassment in the street or lend support to those who experience harassment. The last presentation by Kristin Aune and Rebecca Barnes, described church responses to domestic abuse in northern England and elaborated on the UK church’s reluctance in addressing domestic abuse

Panel session 8 ‘Love, Sex and Care’ – dr. De Graeve

This panel was chaired by Katrien De Graeve and consisted of five presentations. The first one was on using secrecy to manage kinship relationships among individuals with an African background in the Netherlands, by Amisah Zenabu Bakuri. Maria Silvério talked in her presentation about polyamorous relationships in Brazil, and asked whether they are destabilizing or reproducing normative patterns of gender, sexuality, and identity. In the third presentation, Paul Reynolds elaborated his presentation on the question whether non-consenting sex can be ethical. In the fourth presentation, Bo Zhang spoke about her PhD study, in which she conducts a comparative study on the roles of Confucianism Ren Ethics and feminist care ethics. The last presentation was given by Eline Huygens, who discussed the meaning of intimacy and intimate relationships among Roman Catholic women in Flanders.

Screening ethnographic documentary

Additionally, participants of the conference had the opportunity to attend the screening of the ethnographic documentary ‘Marrying Before Allah – Personal Stories of Converts’, with an introduction of the maker Vanessa Vroon-Najem and followed by reflections of prof. Iman Lechkar


The conference was ended by a closure discussion between prof. Tom Claes (Ghent University) and prof. Auga (Humboldt University Berlin) who shared their insights and remarks with the audience, moderated by prof. Coene. They summarized the main findings of the keynote lectures and the panel sessions, and suggested some interesting topics for further research and collaborations in the field of religion and gender.