Queer(y)ing Religion and Spirituality: Reflections from Difficult Dialogues Exploring Religion, Spirituality, and Homosexuality

Article excerpt

This article describes a student affairs practitioner's experience with co-instructing a course entitled, "Queer(y)ing Religion and Spirituality". The ways practitioners can facilitate difficult dialogues with students about the intersection of spirituality and GLBT issues are explored.

Recently, the influence of spirituality affecting students' identity development as young adults has received more consideration in higher education (Parks, 2000; Love, Bock, Jannarone, & Richardson, 2005). Part of the challenge described in published literature pertaining to the study of spirituality is identifying whether or not spirituality is interconnected or separate from religion (Nash, 2001; Love, 2002). When issues of spirituality and the dimension of identity through sexual orientation overlap, conflict often arises for people of all sexual orientations (Love et al., 2005). Some mainstream religious denominations do not view homosexual orientation as "sinful", but may view homosexual behaviors as "sinful" making it challenging for people of multiple religious orientations to understand (Love et al.,2005; Nash, 2001).

Multiple Definitions of Spirituality and Sexuality

Confounding the challenge of understanding students' spiritual development is the multitude of definitions used to describe spirituality. Love (2002) uses examples from Palmer and Helminiak to try to differentiate between religion and spirituality. Religion is described as dogma and doctrine and spirituality is described as seeking "authenticity, genuineness, and wholeness" (Helminiak as cited in Love, 2002, p. 359). However, Nash (2001) describes how both religion and spirituality are complementary to one another because students should be able to combine both their heads and their hearts in making-meaning. Multiple interpretations of differentiating and combining spirituality and religion makes exploring how students see these constructs as particularly intriguing (Dalton, 2001) especially as it relates to sexuality. Recently, a study by Love, Bock, Jannarone, and Richardson (2005) explored spiritual experiences for lesbian and gay college students. In this study, the authors declare that in American culture there is no integration between sexuality and spirituality where heterosexuals can experience a sense of safety, even if this is not necessarily a healthy practice. In light of the current research exploring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students' interaction between spiritual and identity development, the course "Queer(y)ing Religion and Spirituality" provided students with a venue to try to understand spiritual and identity development for themselves, as heterosexuals, and for individuals who identify as homosexual.

Course Design

Context for the Course "Queer(y)ing Religion and Spirituality"

I co-instructed this two credit eight-week undergraduate course through the College of Education at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB), a Research I, public university with approximately 38,000 students (Indiana Campus Profile, 2005). The course was taught during two semesters, both the Fall of 2004 and Spring of 2005. My co-instructor and I were advised by the Director of the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered) Student Services office and the Director of Campus Ministries throughout both semesters of the course. The format of the course was similar each semester, but my experiences as a co-instructor each semester were very different because of the diversity of students enrolled.

The course material raised questions like: What do faith traditions and personal spirituality have to do with diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity? Might gender categories other than male and female inform our sense of the spiritual? Is 'gay marriage' a political, social, personal, religious, or legal issue? This course provided a safe space for any students (whether gay, straight, or somewhere in between, whether religious or non-religious) to raise their own awareness with regard to these issues and to deepen their understanding of the interrelatedness of sexuality and spirituality. …