On Monday the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, announced the winners in its second-annual Scholarship & Mentorship Program for Religion and Theological Study. The goal of the HRC’s Religion and Faith Program is “to ensure that no one should have to choose between their faith, their sexuality and their gender identity.” The 2011 Dissertation Scholarship was awarded to Megan Goodwin, a doctoral candidate in Religion and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Goodwin’s winning dissertation is entitled “Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting American Religious Intolerance,” and “focuses on masculinity and religious intolerance in contemporary America.”
I was able to briefly speak to Goodwin about the award, and here’s what she had to say:
“I’m honored to receive the award, and look forward to working with the HRC’s mentorship program. My research explores the crucial role sexuality plays in constructing American religious intolerance. As a queer Pagan scholar, I’m committed to writing about religious and sexual difference — I feel fortunate that the Human Rights Campaign wants to invest in that work.”
The dissertation scholarship includes a stipend of up to $15,000, free attendance to the HRC’s Summer Intensive, a mentor from outside their seminary, and assistance from the HRC’s Religion and Faith Program in presenting their research at universities, conferences and LGBT gatherings. This win for Goodwin is not only a boost for her academic career, but is a step in legitimizing perspectives and scholarship from religious minorities in the United States. Contemporary Pagan religions have often been at the forefront of recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of all individuals regardless of gender or orientation, and our theologies can be a vital part of the HRC mission to “cultivate a new understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and religion and effectively counter the repressive environment in which so many students are currently trained.”
News of Goodwin’s award has already started to spread through Pagan scholar networks, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Ph.D., the department Chair of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary, the premier distance-learning institution for professional Pagan ministry, released a statement on the occasion.
“It’s fantastic that the Human Rights Campaign recognizes the important role that non-mainstream religions are playing in our culture’s thinking about sexuality. Megan Goodwin’s research stands to make a valuable contribution, not just to academic Pagan studies, but to religion and sexuality studies in general.”
Academic scholarships by any number of organizations and institutions are awarded every year, but I think this specific award is significant for our communities. Not simply because Megan Goodwin is Pagan, but because her work was singled out by a highly visible and politically active organization that sees Goodwin as part of a larger mission to change our religious culture. The HRC is up front is wanting to change “how pastors, rabbis, and others of deep faith approach religion and LGBT Equality,” to create a paradigm shift in how they approach “sexuality and gender identity in their congregations and classrooms.” Her selection by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation LGBT Scholarship and Mentorship program for Religious and Theological Study sends a message that Pagan voices, and by extension Pagan theologies, are an important part of that process. My congratulations go out to Megan Goodwin. I’m hoping to spotlight her work here at The Wild Hunt soon.