In recent years the role of religion in Australian sexual politics has come under increasing scrutiny. As social and cultural attitudes about marriage, family, and sexual identity have shifted, ostensible conflicts have emerged between religious liberty and sexual discrimination. Simultaneously, it has become apparent that the relationship between religion and sexual politics in Australia is not well understood. Models used to explain the nexus of religious and sexual discrimination in other places, such as Europe and the USA, are not well suited to the Australian context. Further research is needed to explain religious sexual politics in this country’s recent history.
The workshop will specifically address the secularist assumptions of Australian history and most histories of sexuality. For a long time, Australia’s secular self-image, and religion’s depiction as a repressive force in histories of feminism and sexuality has meant that faith, spirituality and institutional religion have not been given a central role in understandings of sexual change and sexual politics. Recent scholarship in the sociology of religion suggests that we need to attend more closely to the dynamics of religious change in modern history. As Charles Taylor (2007) reminds us, secularisation is not simply a `subtraction process’, the world minus religion: the current secular world derives from, and is shaped by, very particular religious frameworks. And as the global politics of Islamism and the war on terror have made evident, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe are exceptional, rather than normative, in being predominantly secularised societies. Furthermore, the past three decades have also seen a resurgence and polarisation of conservative religion within Australia (Lohrey 2006). The combination of exceptional secularisation and resurgence of religion has prompted some to describe Australia as `postsecular’ (Habermas 2008). Despite the manifest global and local relevance of religion, Australians, both within and without the academe, are still often reluctant to take religion seriously. This relegation of religion to the private deprives us of an analytical language through which to understand religious difference and negotiate religious conflict.
The proposed workshop will respond to this problem by bringing together current scholarship at the intersection of the religious and the sexual in contemporary Australia. It will be interdisciplinary, with researchers from a range of disciplines including history, politics, law, sociology, education and religious studies. And it will consider a range of religious groups, including Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity, Islam, new religious movements and secularist groups. This matrix of disciplines and religious contexts will be focussed on five areas of political contestation: (1) the politics of reproduction; (2) religion and political representations of women; (3) the relationship between debates about religious education and sex education; (4) the relationship between religion, masculinity and sexuality; and (5) religion, pornography and censorship. Papers will consider the relationship between Australian and global debates in these areas, delineate the place of religion in so-called postsecular Australia, and reveal the contribution of religious ideas, individuals and institutions to sexual knowledge and sexual culture in Australia. They will also be discussed in the light of public policy development processes, gaining insight from representatives of government agencies. It will thus contribute to significant new knowledge in two fields: contemporary cultural and sexual politics in Australia and the relationship between organized religion and sexual discrimination.
- Habermas, Jurgen. ‘Notes on a Postsecular Society.’ Sign & Sight, 18/06/2008.
- Lohrey, Amanda. ‘Voting for Jesus: Christianity and Politics in Australia.’ Quarterly Essay 22, 2006.
- Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press, 2007.