Islamic Sexualities

Sophomore and above—Fall

The relationship between Islam and sexuality has been the subject of much curiosity and misunderstanding. On the one hand, Islam is viewed, in the United States, largely as a sexually repressive religion, one that controls women’s bodies and persecutes sexual minorities. On the other hand, in Muslim societies, sexuality is predominantly a taboo topic that is rarely the subject of open discussion. Importantly, the historical record indicates that the Islamic debates on sexuality are far more limited in the contemporary period than they were in the past. Moreover, Islam has several schools of thought that provide both distinct and overlapping interpretations of scripture and approaches to sexuality. Hence, Islamic beliefs pertaining to topics such as homosexuality, cross-dressing, transsexuality, and sex reassignment vary by sect, culture, and regional and national laws across the Muslim world. While dominant discourses conceal the diversity of thought and practice within Islam, homogenizing forces from within Muslim societies seek to obliterate it. This interdisciplinary course offers a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between Islam and sexuality from several analytical positions, including the location of sexuality and gender in Muslim-majority countries and cultures, the multiple interpretations on the place of non-normatively gendered and sexed individuals within Islam, the lived experiences of LGBT Muslims and sexual minorities in diverse cultural contexts, queer readings of Islamic doctrine, and transnational discourses that influence the ways in which Islam is perceived in relation to sexuality. We will also assess the role of orientalism, colonialism, global inequalities, war, and terrorism in shaping representations of sexuality and gender in Islam. Through historical, anthropological, autobiographical, and theological literature, students will gain an understanding of the various Islamic viewpoints pertaining to sexuality, the vast diversity of belief and practices within queer Muslim communities, how people reconcile their religious and sexual identities, and the transformations occurring within Islam that both constrain and facilitate efforts to create acceptance for alternative genders and sexualities.