IRAAS Fall 2014 Conference Call For Proposals


“Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality? Religion and the Burdens of Black Sexual Politics”

Columbia University
Institute for Research in African-American Studies
23-24 October, 2014

CFP deadline: 15 April, 2014.  Please submit a detailed abstract of your paper or panel to

On October 23-24, 2014, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University will convene Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality?  Religion and the Burdens of Black Sexual Politics, a two day critical dialogue among scholars and practitioners on two topics that have often remained marginal within the broader discourses of African-American Studies: religion and sex. The conference will take place in New York City; on the campus of Columbia University and with partnering community organizations.

We are living through a moment of tremendous changes taking place at the intersection of race, religion and sexuality; all of which have significant implications for activists, scholars and religious leaders alike.  In the summer of 2013, shortly after major state-level marriage equality decisions were achieved in Washington, D.C. and Maryland (and several others since), the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition Eight.  In the same breath, the Justices supported undoing parts of the Voting Rights Act and raised questions about the relevance of race-based affirmative action.  From the perspective of the nation’s highest court, it would seem that gay was, indeed, the new black.

As much as these rulings should alert us to the nation’s ongoing inability to imagine black same-sex couples, who could now marry and be legally disenfranchised, we must also take note of how the false opposition of “gay vs. black” (in which gay equals white and black equals heterosexual) has obscured the myriad issues that linger in the shadows of mainstream race and sexuality agendas.  And to these we might add religious agendas, as religious institutions-and especially black churches–have often been singled out as the primary agents of hostility and inhospitality towards LGBTQ persons of all colors.  Ultimately, in our popular conversations surrounding clergy scandals, LGBTQ youth homelessness, violence against trans* people, and social epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, race, religion and sex have been inextricably linked-even as those links are sometimes denied-and often to great harm.

With this in mind, Are The Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality? will bring scholarly and activist resources to bear on a range of historical and contemporary phenomena associated with religion, race and sexuality, as they coalesce and converge.  Yet it also seeks to theoretically interrogate the very categories-religion, race, sex-invoked to set the agenda for our gathering.  For instance, how does the study of religion in America look different, when one begins with race and, more specifically, blackness?  How does the study of African American religion shift if the conversation starts with sexuality?  And how might leading with religion and race alter the very questions that are brought to analyses of gender and sexuality?  Put simply, the task before us is not to address a single problem, but rather to unearth and engage with the often-unstated normative claims surrounding race, religion and sex that continue to inform our work as scholars and our lives as people within the United States and the African Diaspora, more broadly.

To this end, and in keeping with African-American Studies’ longstanding concern with the relationship between scholarship and social engagement, Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality? invites scholars and practitioners (i.e. activists, artists, journalists, religious leaders, writers, etc) to participate in a conference that will facilitate analysis, conversation and public engagement at the intersection of religion, race and sexuality.  We welcome proposals for presentations from methodological approaches that span the humanities, social sciences and the practical disciplines (i.e. public health, practical theology, education and social work), and formats that include traditional papers, creative performances, public dialogues and roundtable deliberations.  Theoretical and constructive proposals that interrogate the categories of race, religion and sexuality, as well as ones that address historical or contemporary phenomena that are illustrative of how these terms come together in time and space, are equally encouraged.

Potential topics to be addressed include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • The Specter of Oppositionality: Black Sexual Politics as American Religious History
  • Body and Spirit(s) in the Black Atlantic: Religion and Sexuality in the African Diaspora
  • What’s Marriage Got to do With It? The Sexual Politics of Intersectional Justice
  • All Politics Are Local: African American Religion and Sexuality in Harlem
  • Funding Politics: Resourcing Research and Activism on Race, Religion and Sexuality
  • Religious, Spiritual, Secular: Sources for a Sex-Positive Black Subjectivities
  • Sexuality and the Arts (i.e. literature, music, dance, etc) of Black Religion
  • Queering Racial Justice: Gender, Sexuality and the Limits of Religious Activism
  • Captive Bodies: Disciplining Race, Gender and Religion in the Carceral State
  • Heterotopias and Afro-Imaginaries: (En) Gendering the Sexual Futures of Black Religion

Individual paper proposals should be no more than 250 words.Panel proposals (including all paper titles and names of panelists) should be no more than 500 words. Additionally, please include a brief biographical statement or CV with your proposal.

Conference Organizer: Josef Sorett, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies, Columbia University (

Graduate Coordinator: Laura McTighe, Religion Ph.D. Student, Columbia University, (

Above adapted from CFP.