Expansive ways of knowing and loving: Theology at the intersections of sexuality, community, performance, and trauma.
Religious Institute’s Seminary Spotlight with Indhira Udofia
What’s your theology of sexuality in 10 words or fewer?
A: Sexuality should draw you closer to God and community.
Q: Growing up, what did you learn about sexuality in religious spaces? And how, if at all, has that influenced your approach as a scholar?
A: In religious spaces, the most I heard about sexuality was not to do it until marriage. There was always a weird tension between sex being this corruptible thing for children and singles but openly celebrated and discussed among couples. For most of my religious experience, marriage was viewed as salvific. (Heterosexual) marriage was the way in which Christians received some sort of actualization or wholeness. As a queer-identified single woman, I am constantly interrogating how ways of becoming are intrinsically linked to matters of sexuality and gendered performance. In addition, sexuality continues to be a communal phenomenon that is negotiated and performed outside of the bedroom, and we see it in our ecclesial practices.
Therefore, most of my theological work utilizes sexuality and performance to talk about spiritual trauma, queer performativity, and liturgy.
Q: Tell us about your research/project: why sex and sexuality? What draws you to work at the intersections of sexuality, gender, and religion?
A: My current research project is looking at Black Evangelicalism’s investments and performances of purity culture. Centering the experiences of Black queer women (especially within the South), I am looking about how performance and relationality gets negotiated and performed among women in general. Given that my experiences within church spaces as a black queer woman have left me on the margins of the margin, I find it’s important to constantly consider how sexuality, gender, and religion often work as a site of healing and violence for those who live in marginal identities.
Q: What do you wish every graduate theological student knew about religion and sexuality?
A: The ethics, rhetoric, and philosophies you create or prescribe to in seminary will have deep and abiding implications on your approach to addressing said issues in your ministry. If you don’t begin to unpack and deal with your own “stuff”, it will do more harm than good when you begin to journey with others.
Q: As you know, our newsletter is called “Sexuality: From the Seminary to the Sanctuary”. How do you make connections between your theological education and your practical life and ministry? (How is your research/project connected to the day to day realities of life and ministry?)
A: My current work dealing with purity culture and queer relationality has been deeply tied to the realities of many individuals who are wrestling with faithfully attending to desire and partnership, especially those in their mid-to-late 20s. When I was in seminary, I was a part of a group of women who weekly discussed sexuality, trauma, relationships, and their ministerial vocations. Most of the trauma was tied to undoing the lessons they learned in classes like “True Love Waits” or “The Promise Keepers”. The messages they learned about who they were as women and their desires deeply impacted their ability to discern callings, engage in healthy relationships, and be comfortable in their relationships with God. The process of undoing these messages impacted more than simply who people partner with but also how they perceive themselves in the world. The tensions of achieving spiritual perfection through these idols constantly reemerges in church pews and other places. The work of interrogating and imagining new ways of being and relating will matter even more in the years to come as more people seek and achieve partnership in heteronormative ways.
There have to be expansive ways of knowing and loving in this world, and I aim to give voice to other ways in my own research.
Lastly, three quick-fire questions.
Book/activity/article that has had the most impact on your thinking about religion and sexuality: It changes from week to week but right now, it is “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde.
Favorite self-care practice: Netflix and cooking
What you’re currently reading: I am a multiple book reader: Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Jack Halberstam, God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Indhira Udofia is currently pursuing an STM at Boston University. She has an M.Div. from Duke University and an MSW from UNC-Chapel Hill.
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