“A Sacred, Powerful Woman Housed in a Man’s Body”: Complexities of Gender and Religion in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” – The Sixth Annual Georgia Harkness Lecture, delivered by Dr. Melissa M Wilcox.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a non-religious order of self-proclaimed “twenty-first century queer nuns” with active houses on four continents, have been unsettling both religion and gender since their first stroll through the Castro with retired nuns’ habits and a toy machine gun. Opened to women a few years after their 1979 founding, the Sisters have grappled with challenges to the focus and goals of their work from both cisgender women members and transgender members. They have aroused the ire of conservatives, straight and gay, by promoting a sex-positive message for queer communities through the image of the nun, and their explorations into gender and religious imagery reveal important insights about popular perceptions of religion, gender, and embodiment. This lecture will explore some of the ways in which the Sisters trouble religion and gender through their efforts to fulfill their mission of promulgating universal joy and expiating stigmatic guilt.
Melissa M. Wilcox is Associate Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Whitman College. She has taught in the Gender Studies Program and the Religion Department at Whitman since 2003, and has spent several years as director or chair of each department. Professor Wilcox has spent her career investigating religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and identities in LGBTQ communities, both in the U.S. and internationally. In addition to publishing numerous articles on gender, sexuality, and religion, she has written or edited several books including Queer Women and Religious Individualism, Sexuality and the World’s Religions and Coming Out in Christianity.