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Men's Bodies, Men's Gods: Male Identities in a (Post) Christian Culture

with an Epilogue by James B. Nelson
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 342
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  • Book Info
    Men's Bodies, Men's Gods
    Book Description:

    Men's Bodies, Men's Gods explores the intersection of body, religion, and culture from the specific perspective of male identities. How are male bodies constructed in different historical periods and contexts? How do race, ethnicity, and sexual preference impact on the intersection of male bodies and religious identity? Does Christianity provide models to cope with the aging and ailing male body? Does it provide models for intimacy between men and women? Between men and men? And, how do men reflect the carnal dimensions of power, abuse, and justice?

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6361-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. PART I Male Gender and Religion

    • ONE Introduction
      (pp. 3-26)

      The depiction of man ashomo religiosusis not simply a semantic accident that excludes women. Rather, it reflects a social practice of Christianity in which male religious institutions, patriarchal authority, and masculine images of God have been dominant. The central Christian doctrines, rituals, and world views were formulated by men for men, and although not all men have enjoyed equal status within the Christian moral and political community, most were assured a privileged position within that universe or, at least, were rewarded if they were willing to conform. We cannot, of course, ignore class, religious, ethnic, or sexual differences...

    • TWO Three Arguments for the Elimination of Masculinity
      (pp. 27-40)

      The consideration of masculinity which I undertake here is a response to what I can only describe as the persistence of “masculinity” as a privileged, and maddeningly opaque, term in the overlapping discourses of contemporary men’s studies and certain contemporary men’s movements.¹ Both the academic field of men’s studies and the various politically and spiritually oriented men’s groups active today owe their existence, directly or indirectly (and in some cases, I suspect, reluctantly), to feminism, which opened up the whole terrain of gender for exploration, activism, and transformation. If Simone de Beauvoir’s famous declaration, “One is not born, but rather...

  7. PART II Male Bodies and the Construction of Religious Identity

    • THREE Growing Up Christian and Male: One Man’s Experience
      (pp. 43-64)

      To speak honestly of men’s bodies and men’s gods requires awareness of plurality and change. We need to ask: What men? At what time of life? Where, and when?

      We need also to recognize that the gods themselves are not immutable. Although they endure from generation to generation, they change as time passes, little by little adjusting (as how could they not?) to the transformations their devotees undergo in the course of personal and historical experience. “All things change—some faster than others” (Driver 1990 [1977]: xxii).

      In 1978, I wrote an autobiographical paper for a panel on the study...

    • FOUR Black Bodies, Whose Body? African American Men in XODUS
      (pp. 65-93)

      History sometimes flows in violent eddies and swirling currents. The historical stream of time that created a “New World” for European immigrants swept African American men and women into places of profound exploitation, sacrifice, and yet unquenchable love. While Europeans were fleeing from religious tyranny and oppression, they set themselves as masters and mistresses of dark-skinned slaves. Former peasants, outcasts, and even prisoners could become the rulers and dominators of black-skinned bodies in the “New World” of America. The domination that was achieved over the minds and bodies of enslaved Africans was never as complete as slavers imagined, but it...

    • FIVE Empowerment: The Construction of Gay Religious Identities
      (pp. 94-108)

      This chapter attempts to talk about gay religious identities as they were developed by some lesbian and gay American authors. The title uses the word “gay” in a sense not known thirty years ago. When I use the term I refer to men and women who have arrived at an acceptance of their same-sex sexual orientation and have integrated this orientation and preference of physical sexual expression into the whole of their lives. Compared to the identity of nations and peoples, like Jews, Americans, or Australians, the self-identity of gays and lesbians is relatively new. Because it is so relatively...

  8. PART III Male Sexual Identity and the Religious Body

    • SIX Bringing Good News to the Body: Masturbation and Male Identity
      (pp. 111-124)

      I masturbate. I do it often and in a variety of ways. I do it most often in the shower. As water flows over my body, rinsing away the grime of New York City and awakening me to another day, I feel refreshed and renewed. I touch my body, all of it, to wash, yes, but also simply to touch. Sometimes I linger. Sometimes my touch takes on an urgency that corresponds with a feeling of excitement inside that manifests itself in an erection. Then, I touch myself quite a bit. My penis catches my attention but I feel pleasure...

    • SEVEN Facing the Body on the Cross: A Gay Man’s Reflections on Passion and Crucifixion
      (pp. 125-146)

      I have a complicated history of bodily relatedness with Jesus which informs my gaze upon the man Jesus from the foot of the cross where his naked, dead body hangs. My relation with Jesus—body to body—is a curious mixture of desire and violation, of friendship and exclusion, of worship and fear. These ambivalences also are central components of my relationships—body to body—with other gay, bisexual, and transgender men. I want to explore some ways in which the very complicated relations between the bodies of men and the body of Jesus are reflections of the equally complicated...

  9. PART IV Male Friendships

    • EIGHT Men and Christian Friendship
      (pp. 149-180)

      We live in complex societies, interweavings of blood relationships, marital relationships, extended family relationships, business and professional relationships, formalized fraternal relationships, and a whole host of informal relationships loosely referred to under the heading of “friendships” (cf. Cicero 1913: 57). Julian Pitt-Rivers (1968; cf. Herman 1987: 32) has attempted to systematize a portion of this complex spectrum of relationships within which we live and work, understanding social relationships such as kinship and friendship to be expressions of the common principle of “amity.” In Pitt-Rivers’s schema, godparents would be one example of “ritual kinship”; college fraternity brothers and fellow Rotarians would...

    • NINE “The Manly Love of Comrades”: Mythico-Religious Models for an Athletics of Male-Male Friendship
      (pp. 181-202)

      That we are living in a time of crisis with respect to masculinity is affirmed repeatedly. A corresponding crisis with respect to male-male friendship may not be as obvious, but it is real and pervasive—I am following Karl Kerényi (1983: 9) in defining “crisis” as “a situation in which no values are of uncontested validity, no behavior indisputably correct.” Both crisis and critical are derived from the Greekkrinein(to separate, choose, judge), so perhaps the problem of values can provide a turning point (another meaning of “crisis”) and lead to new criteria (also fromkrinein).

      In the midst...

  10. PART V Men’s Bodies in Contemporary Culture and Religion

    • TEN The Confines of Male Confessions: On Religion, Bodies, and Mirrors
      (pp. 205-234)

      When we confess, we have already lived a life that we are now willing to abandon, and whose changes we are willing to share with a public. To a certain degree, confessors have already detached themselves from a lived past. Confessions are a pouring out of personal memories and thoughts, and may originate in a state of being confounded, of being disturbed by the way we have arranged ourselves with our lives. Etymologically, the termconfusionderives from the Latincum(together) andfundere(to pour), and carries the meaning of “pouring out together,” “mingling,” of being “overwhelmed” and “perplexed.”...

    • ELEVEN Can Men Worship? Reflections on Male Bodies in Bad Faith and a Theology of Authenticity
      (pp. 235-250)

      The Greek expression from which we have gained the term “enthusiasm” isentheos. Theosis the Greek word for a god or God.Entheosliterally means to be filled or entered by a god or God. To be enthused is to be imbued with a god, to be open, to be “entered” by a spirit. My purpose in beginning with this etymological exercise is to raise the following concern. If a man were to regard himself as a closed being, while enthusiasm, a possible precondition of worship (which from the old Englishweorthmeans also to value), requires an “open”...

    • TWELVE The Masculinity of Jesus in Popular Religious Art
      (pp. 251-266)

      Popular American piety from the second half of the nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth explored different experiences of Jesus as a male ideal, constructing his ministry and life in terms of his appeal to men. Some viewed Christ as a gentle, effeminate, occasionally even homoerotic friend; others portrayed him as an ethereal, mystical ideal; and still others saw in him a rugged, violent revolutionary. Conceptions of what Jesus was like and how he might have appeared constantly underwent redefinition and could even embrace the same visual portrayal. In a recent study of popular response to the...

    • THIRTEEN Baring the Flesh: Aspects of Contemporary Male Iconography
      (pp. 267-308)

      Ecological theorist Leslie White observes that the earliest scientists looked as far away from human experience as one might look, namely at the stars. However “eventually, as researchers learned more about things at a distance, and as the social sciences matured, scholarship turned to studies ever closer to the self and the essentials of human experience” (quoted in Burroughs and Ehrenreich 1993: 2). Among the attention to those “essentials,” we may now note the recent proliferation of writings on the human body, and indeed several volumes on women’s bodies have already appeared. Kenneth R. Dutton studies “the perfectible [male] body”...

  11. PART VI Concluding Overview

    • FOURTEEN Epilogue
      (pp. 311-318)

      The title of this volume is well-chosen. As the editor stated in the introduction, it is impossible to speak of men’s relations to God without speaking at the same time of their own body perceptions. He reminded us that, in spite of the spirit-body split in classic dualism, the male body was not rendered insignificant by men. It remained an important spiritual battleground. Indeed, men’s understandings of their bodies have been part of their claims for divinely-conferred preferential status. Men’s gods are inseparable from their interpretations of their bodies.

      Thus, this book attempts to dobody theology(see Nelson 1992)....

  12. Index
    (pp. 319-325)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-327)