The Project

"An investigation into the practices of non-hegemonic queer spiritual communities using case studies."

Funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council UK, and by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), Religion and Society Programme, 2007 - 2009.

Research Team

Principal Investigator
Professor Sally R. Munt, University of Sussex
Research Co-Investigator
Dr Andrew Yip, University of Nottingham
Research Collaborator
Dr Kath Browne, University of Brighton
Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Amna Khalid, Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies
Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Sharon Smith, Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies
Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Heather White
Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Liz Dinnie
Digital Media Project, Research Assistant
Patrick James

Objectives

This project seeks to investigate Queer Spiritual Spaces in contemporary Britain and the United States. Its principle aims are to explore:

The significance of the religious and the spiritual in society has been resurgent in the British and North American (USA and Canada) media since 'September 11th'. Debates upon marriage and civil partnership legislation for same sex couples in both countries and continents have also raised the profile of religious approaches to homosexuality, as has popular curiosity with anti-materialistic beliefs. This project aims to engage with the topical question: what place is there for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people in spiritual Spaces?

Blake Faeries

LGBTQ peoples who wish to affirm both their sexual/gender identities and their membership of a faith/spiritual community, are faced with articulating their relationship to the faith mainstream. LGBTQ relationships to spirituality and spiritual space are complex because homosexuality and gender 'deviance' have been both historically and contemporaneously subject to punitive sanction within many majoritarian religious contexts.

The Principal Investigator is a practising Unitarian and an ex-Evangelical Christian. The Project Researcher has been active in queer and Neo-Pagan community for the past eight years. She was also raised as a Quaker. Both are committed to producing robust academic research, through a process of consultation, of benefit to queer religious/ spiritual communities and their understanding in broader culture.

A significant aim, in partnership with scholarly investigation, is to represent LGBTQ religious/spiritual voices as research participants. The project hopes to promote LGBTQ inter-faith discussion, particularly around experiences of creating/negotiating queer spiritual space. It intends to co-create, in partnership with participants, a queer inter-faith website (QUIFSS / Queer Inter-Faith Spiritual Space) as a lasting resource/project outcome.

The project will take place in several phases. It is intended to organise a LGBTQ inter-faith encounter where queer spiritual practitioners from different paths and traditions come together to discuss their understandings of queer spiritual space. During these encounters, it is intended to think collectively, in pan-faith community, about how this website can also become user-led and function effectively as a space and a resource for LGBTQ inter-faith dialogue, networking, education and exchange. The next phase of the project will involve a more in-depth engagement with specific LGBTQ groups, networks and individuals. The groups selected are ones with which the project leader and researcher already have established links. Our project is planning to work in-depth with LGBTQ Quakers, Muslims, Buddhists, Neo-Pagans Unitarians and the non-aligned spiritually curious. This means sustained encounters with specific 'non-traditional' forms of both Christianity and 'beyond Christianity', with LGBT Muslim and Buddhist organisations, and with various Neo-Pagan traditions. We will also be inviting LGBTQ people who do not regard themselves as belonging to a particular religious or spiritual group but who are nevertheless concerned with the place of the sacred in their lives to take part in the research (Non-Aligned Spiritually Curious).

We shall conduct one-to-one semi-structured video/audio interviews with LGBTQ individuals from these groups, sampling for diversity across age, ethnicity, LGBTQ identifications, social background, class etc., in total between six and twelve such 'deep' interviews from each group. Research will involve attending relevant meetings and gatherings, notably Findhorn in Scotland, Michigan Womens’ Festival and queer Muslim conferences in the USA. In the tradition of action-oriented research (research actively designed to promote social change) it is the intention of the project that each one-to-one interview takes place as a two-way process where interviewees feed into the methodology and suggested outcomes of the project.

Queer Spiritual Spaces is a project in which university researchers already involved in LGBTQ historical and cultural scholarship, themselves spiritual practitioners with diverse faith histories, seek to engage in consultative and collaborative research with LGBTQ faith and spiritual groups. Because the project is designed to be as consultative as possible, other material may emerge. The proposed project on Queer Spiritual Space draws together existing and interdisciplinary strands of research on spiritual space, queer space, LGBTQ cultures and religion. It extends them by considering the ontology of queer spiritual spaces, across a spectrum of spiritual practices and beliefs. It breaks new ground by exploring the various strategies and embodiments related to imaginative, spiritual and physical inhabitations of queer spiritual spaces as text, community, virtual, physical, fixed and mutable architectures. This project would therefore explore questions of spiritual space' within Cultural Studies, queer spiritual space (in diverse faith/ tradition contexts and promote dialogue) and spiritual space in relation to Western LGBTQ identities (including re/constructive practices).

LGBTQ peoples in Britain, Canada and the United States who wish to affirm both their sexual/gender identities and their membership of a faith/ spiritual community, are faced with a question of 'spiritual immanence' - how to relate to and how to create 'spiritual space'? Whether to:

  1. Come out within a broader faith community and struggle therein if necessary for LGBTQ acceptance
  2. Gather together in a specific space, and from that space maintain a relationship with the faith mainstream
  3. Create a separate community and therein an entirely LGBTQ-centred spirituality

This project seeks to explore each of these strategies, including their inter-relationships as ontological modalities. It intends to do so in clearly defined contexts achievable within the scale and time frame conceptualised by the Small Research Grants scheme. However, we expect our intellectual and collaborative engagements within these defined contexts to contribute to further work, in what is identified as a major area of significance within the study of contemporary Religion and Society / namely the place of Queer Spirituality and Religion in culture.

Queer spiritual space is an emergent space. What is the role of this space/these spaces in contemporary religious and spiritual cultures, as both 'knowledge and action' (Lefebvre, 1974)? We intend to investigate how queer spiritual spaces are formed, conceptualised and embodied, and how they are located, textually, geographically and imaginatively. These questions are at the heart of our enquiry, which will be conducted collaboratively in consultation with LGBTQ faith practitioners across a range of religious and spiritual paths and beliefs. In the first instance we aim to engage in an inter-faith consultative process. We want to ask LGBTQ people who practice religion/faith/spirituality in its many diverse forms and paths: What does queer spiritual space mean to you? In the second instance we want to look at different approaches to creating queer spiritual space via more in-depth case studies:

  1. Within the broader faith communities
  2. Specific organisations in relationship to the faith mainstream - (Islam and Buddhism)
  3. Land-based communities and an LGBTQ specific spirituality (Neo-Paganism and Beyond)

Our research on queer spiritual spaces extends the field of academic enquiry in several, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary directions, yet remains focused upon one area and theme. We aim to engage research participants collaboratively and reflexively within the research design and purpose. The main outputs of the research will be a co-authored book, a community website, an inter-faith group conference, and a series of articles.