Academic Programs 

Varieties of Gay and Lesbian Religious Life in the United States (RS-638)
Fall 2007

It has taken decades for the most liberal of religious groups to open their arms and welcome gay and lesbian believers as full participants in their congregations or as their pastors. Much of the rest of the religious world remains far from the adoption of an open and affirming position toward homosexuality. Controversy over this issue divides many denominational groups. Yet within this context many lesbian and gay persons of faith have created thriving independent and innovative counter-institutional forms of religious life as alternatives to the forms that excluded them. This online course will examine the history of the tension between homosexuality and religious organizations and explore the multifaceted methods adopted by gays and lesbians to meet their spiritual needs in modern American society.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:

Scott Thumma
Professor of Sociology of Religion

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9571


Course Syllabus

Please note: The following syllabus is an early draft and may change to accomodate the needs of the course.

Course objectives:

To gain a better understanding of the diversity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)  religious life in the U.S.

To explore the actual and future potential alterations these religious expressions can make to the American religious context.

To understand how LGBT religious expressions and organizations are affected by and respond to contemporary cultures pressures and societal shifts that are taking place.

To gain a appreciation of one LGBT religious group through firsthand social research.


Course Overview:

The majority of the course will be conducted through online reading and conversation on a web-based discussion board.  We use a web site service called Blackboard as our online classroom. There will be a participant/observation direct research component to the course which will include visiting an actual LGBT religious organization or expression such as an Open & Affirming church, a MCC congregation, or some other LGBT religious reality.  The course is somewhat lighter on required readings, but will heavily emphasize student interaction and participation in the weekly class discussion.  There will be short book review paper for a chosen book, a class presentation on one’s research project and a final 15 page research paper.  There may be some live chat - through the Blackboard software - but it will not be mandatory to attend. Technologically, students will only need a connection to the Internet and email, and probably Adobe reader and other common Internet add-ons.

The course will be oriented toward an affirming gay liberationist perspective but as with all Hartford Seminary courses, open to a diversity of opinions, nevertheless the conversation in the course must be strictly non-offensive.  This course will not engage in ethical or theological debate, but rather sociologically and culturally explore the diverse ways that the LGBT persons and groups are religious, even given the relative unwillingness of US religious organizations to allow them to participate fully.  Differing opinions are absolutely acceptable; however, personal attacks and a lack of consideration of the feelings of others (whether on the right or the left) will not be tolerated. 


Required Texts: 

Gay Religion  Scott Thumma and Edward Gray eds., AltaMira Press 2004. You can read a bit about it on the Alta Mira web site and see the table of contents.

One book of the student’s choice from a bibliography provided on the course web site.

Various journal articles, chapters and web publications will be scanned and made available on the course web site.  Students are responsible for printing their own copy of these texts if they want them in text format.

*You can visit the pages I've set up on the Hartford Institute web site about Homosexuality and Religion which includes one of my articles on Gay Evangelicals that we will read.


1) Each student is required to complete the weekly reading assignments that will include both the assigned texts for that week and also the professor’s written introduction to the topic (lecture) and the postings of fellow students (see next requirement).

2) Each student is required to post at least one substantive response to the weekly discussion topic and one substantive response to another student’s posting for that week.  This is considered the participation criteria, much as coming to class and being engaged in the conversation would be in a face-to-face course.  It is absolutely crucial that students take these posts seriously if they want to receive full credit for the participation component of the course, and a good grade!

3) Each student will write a two to three page review of a book they choose to read from the course bibliography that will be available the first week of class.  This review will be due in late October.  Details of this assignment will be posted on the course web site after class begins. 

4) Each student will be required to choose a local expression of a LGBT religious life to examine and research firsthand (such as an Open & Affirming church, a MCC congregation, a LGBT play with spiritual implications, or some other LGBT religious reality – students are encouraged to be creative in thinking about this research).  Material will be presented in class about how to do participant observation and interviews with this group, its leader if any and members.  If it is impossible to engage in firsthand research, an online religious reality may be substituted but only with the permission of the professor.

From this experience and research, each student will write a “class presentation” (an informal reflection and summary of their research project). 

5) A final 15 page research paper on an issue arising from the course will be due several weeks after the end of class.  The topic for this paper must receive prior approval by the professor.  It can be somewhat theological, ethical or historical in nature but it also must show relevance to the aims of the course and the material covered, as well as have a sociological/cultural theoretical sensitivity.   I would suggest that students consider using their observations and research, as material for their final paper but this isn’t a requirement.  It may be possible for students to have their papers posted to the Hartford Institute web site if the professor and student negotiate this after the course ends.


Class participation – reading, posting and responding to others’ posts – 40%

Book review – 10%

Class presentation of research experience and findings – 10%

Final paper – worth 40%

Tentative Session Outline:


Week 1  ---  Introduction to the topic, the professor and the course format

Week 2  ---  Scripture and Theology

Week 3  ---  History of Gays in Religious Organizations and questions of gender and religion

Contemporary Denominational Organizations

Week 4  ---  Supportive,  O&A  and other such groups

Week 5  ---  Conflicted – debates and tensions within certain religious traditions

Week 6  ---  Hostile religious groups and the Ex-gay and Ex-Ex-gay movements

Sectarian Religious Organizations

Week 7  --- Metropolitan Community Church movement

Week 8  ---  Other Sectarian Religious Groups – Unity, Radical Faeries, etc.

Week 9  ---  Catch up/ reading/ research week – no reading assignments or postings due

Cultural Expressions

Week 10  ---  A Sect of One’s Own – Individualism and spiritual seeking

Week 11  ---  Diverse LGBT cultural expressions – Are they religion?

Week 12  ---  Online Chats, Support groups and the role of the Internet

Week 13  ---  The Implications of LGBT spirituality and the future of religion

The weekly class format:

On Tuesday of each week I will post a mini-lecture of my introduction to that week’s topic along with one or two discussion questions related to the readings assigned for that week.  The assigned readings and my posting should be read by Thursday or Friday of that week.  A student’s response to the reading and my discussion question should be posted by Friday or Saturday at the latest. The student’s reply to another student(s)’ posts should be on the discussion board by Sunday or Monday of the following week.  It will be inevitable that the conversation from one week will carry over into the next week, but we will try to keep that to a minimum. 

Assigned readings will be available online except for the two books all students are required to purchase.  Also, students can get remote access to Hartford Seminary’s library holdings and use of internally licensed resource material.  All seminary administrative staff and the course professor are available by email and phone.  More information about distance education courses at Hartford Seminary can be found at

Course Language and terminology:  This course, like the larger LGBT community, will struggle with terms.  I will attempt to use as inclusive LGBT language as possible in our course.  However I realize that homosexual, gay, orientation, queer, LGBT, GLBT, hir, etc. are as contested politically as they are difficult to work easily into writing and the spoken word.  I am sensitive to these issues but it will also be an issue that we will continue to deal with throughout the course.

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