Pagan Wins Human Rights Campaign Scholarship Award

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.”

Megan Goodwin

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.

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “The dissertation scholarship includes […] assistance […] in presenting their research at universities, conferences and LGBT gatherings.”

    Such a presentation would probably be worthwhile at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA has both pro-Pagan and pro-BGLT affiliates (CUUPS and Interweave) and an institutional Office of BGLT Concerns.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    They should get in touch with the HRC!

  • David Salisbury

    Totally, shoot us a message! Our Religion department does work closely with the UUA, but new ideas are always welcome.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I’ve sent a heads-up to the UUA via its website. I still think it’s a good idea for HRC to reach out to them.

  • Cara Schulz

    Congratulations to Ms. (and soon to be Dr) Goodwin. She demonstrates to the mainstream what many of us within Paganism know about our religions:

    we have a more open view towards sexuality, basing our sexual ethics on coercion vs consent rather than gender and specific act

    … also the sciences and spirituality go hand in hand in (ancient and) modern Paganism, quite unlike the adversarial relationship that many of the branches of Monotheistic religions seem stuck in.

  • Sonneillonv

    her dissertation sounds fascinating, I’d love to read it.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    I’m sure there will be ways once it’s done, in the meantime I’m hoping to
    have her do a guest post to talk about her work.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Congratulations to Megan! If there is any way I can assist you, Megan, please feel free to get in touch!

    I’m glad HRC is finally recognizing pagans as having something worthwhile to contribute to this question. In the past, they have not, and they have yet to return any e-mails that I’ve sent them on the activities of the Ekklesía Antínoou.

  • Raksha

    This is awesome! Congrats to Megan! Sounds like she’s doing interesting and valuable work.

  • Norse Alchemist

    “Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting American Religious Intolerance,” and “focuses on masculinity and religious intolerance in contemporary America.”

    You know, something about this strikes me as….off. Oh, right, the wording seems to indicate a causal link between Masculinity and religious intolerance. Huh. Well, so much for tolerance. It’s got to be the fault of that Evil Masculinity that people are intolerant (irregardless that intolerance belongs to both the Masculine and Feminine energies). Yeah…an article about tolerance that’s being intolerant. I would have expected better from a Pagan. :(

  • David Salisbury

    That’s not fair. You have no way of knowing what the paper is really about in that title. It could just as easily be about men feeling emasculated in religion sometimes, about men being blamed, about how masculinity played a role in a suppression of ancient Paganism (which it did, like it or not).
    Academics value criticism because it assists their further work, but you can’t criticize something you’ve never read.

  • Kayla Luckey

    In academia, particularly when doing a dissertation study, you must choose a very tight focus for your research. She could write a whole book (dissertations tend to be book-length anyway) on that particular laser focus. Another book could be written on femininity and religious intolerance. And yet another about how the interplay of masculine-feminine relations and religious intolerance.

    Choosing one angle to go at the wide worlds of religious, gender, and queer studies is not intolerant. Its called scholarship.

  • Fritz Muntean

    The relationship between the masculine and religion is more complicated than the quotes you’ve cited would allow. For a relatively easy-to-read scholarly approach to this question, let me recommend Sukie Colegrave’s ‘Uniting Heaven & Earth’ (Tarcher, 1989). Basically, the idea is that Creation, as we currently know and experience it, is classically set in motion by the divine (or archetypal) Masculine, dividing the chaotic pre-created universe into typical sets of polar opposites (light/dark, wet/dry, etc, etc).

    Millennia later, we now live (according to this worldview) in an overly differentiated universe. At this point in the ongoing work of creation, the divine Feminine comes into play. Her task is to re-integrate the original differentiations.

    There’s an evolutionary implication here. The masculine is not evil. On the contrary, its tendency to create by differentiating is a necessary phase the created universe needed to pass through. We also needed the process of differentiation in order to establish the ethical systems that govern our behaviour. But some elements of differentiation are now noticeably out of synch with our evolving consciousness — intolerance being one of many on that list.

    So the next stage of (ongoing) creation, in this worldview, relies on the divine feminine tendency toward reintegration. But what exactly IS the masculine and the feminine? It’s clearly more complicated than mere reproductive plumbing. Queer theory is (rather aggressively) exploring this — very important — question, particularly in its cultural context.

    Does that help?

  • Kenneth

    I would argue that MOST of the intolerance, particularly where it involves religious identity, is, in fact derived from unbalanced concepts of masculinity. Not that masculine energy is inherently corrupt, but the concepts of masculinity which have grown up around monotheism in the last few thousand years have everything to do with such oppression. These religions specifically envision a very domineering and vengeful father figure who knows what’s best for all of the world’s “children.” The priesthoods of these religions accordingly see themselves as the enforcer of this entity.

  • Cigfran

    Authoritarianism frequently expresses itself in terms of machismo, and in the demeaning/shaming as effeminate, of anything unworthy.

  • BlackCat

    Actually, if you click one of the links provided in the article, you will find this quote:

    “I examine three captivity narratives – Not Without My Daughter, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Michelle Remembers – as articulations of American Protestant anxieties about the challenges marginal religions pose to normative masculinity.”

    The challenges marginal religions pose to normative masculinity. Not “masculinity causes intolerance!”

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I checked that link, thanks BC.

    In my admittedly-imperfect recollection, a quick label for “Not Without My Daughter” would more likely be “Feminist” than “American Protestant,” especially in that (again iirc) the normative masculinity it challenges is that of Islam.

    But I’m not familiar at all with the other two works, other than having heard the titles at some time, so I may be missing a context provided by the collection.

  • BearDrummer (tTony)

    oh, to be able to assist with that dissertation!