Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Fernando Abstract

Rethinking Religion v. Gender/Sexuality

This panel’s title comes, I think, from a particular context: if secular democracies are supposed to protect both the right to religious freedom and the right to sexual freedom, and if the two are inevitably opposed – if religion is the site of norms that can only constrain sex and sexuality – then which comes first? Religious freedom or sexual freedom? Our right to religion or to sex and sexuality? I understand why religion and sex and sexuality and framed in this way. But I want to pause and interrogate an undergirding premise in this framing: that religion is the site of norms about sex and sexuality, while secularism is the site of freedom from such norms. This seems to make some intuitive sense in the American context, where conservative Christian evangelicals themselves have posited secularism as the absence of norms and values. It makes very little in the context of French secularism, or laïcité, and in the debates about Muslim practices (most recently the burkini), where secularity is explicitly posited as the site of sex and gender norms that define Western civilization. The first part of my paper tracks the sexual normativity of French secularity. I want to use the French context to ask whether we might push a little harder at the notion that American secularity is non- or a-normative with regard to sex and sexuality. My goal in so doing is to think about the ways that secular modernity itself – with a lot of help from Christianity, I think – has constructed religion and sex/sexuality as opposed domains.