New Diversities • Volume 24, No. 2, 2022

Special issue: Theorizing Sexuality, Religion and Secularity in Postcolonial Europe

Guest Editors: KIM KNIBBE (University of Groningen) and RACHEL SPRONK (University of Amsterdam)


List of Contents

Kim Knibbe (University of Groningen) and Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)
Introduction: Theorizing Sexuality, Religion and Secularity in Postcolonial Europe

Brenda Bartelink (University of Groningen), Kim Knibbe (University of Groningen)
Why the Dutch (Think They) Break Taboos: Challenging Contemporary Presentations of the Role of Religious Actors in Narratives of Sexual Liberation

In contemporary approaches to sexual health in the Netherlands, religion and culture are often framed as a source of taboos that need to be broken in order to create more openness around sexuality. This view is often projected onto migrants with a religious background and onto other parts of the world that are ‘still’ religious. In this article, we suggest that one element to developing a more inclusive approach is to question existing narratives of ‘sexularism’ and to acknowledge that both religious and secular actors have historically been
involved in the search for better ways of approaching sexual health and sexuality in the Netherlands. In contemporary characterizations of Dutch culture, the sexual revolution is referenced as a time in Dutch history when religious small-mindedness around sexuality was dismantled through a series of transgressive media events. Iconic moments in the sexual revolution have become ingrained in a collective memory of the 1960s as liberation from the firm grip of religion on peoples’ intimate lives. In this article we argue that the contemporary Dutch equation of secularization with openness around sexuality obscures a more complex dynamic between conservative and progressive forces within Dutch religious history. Based on existing research, we show that openness around sexuality was taking shape from within Catholic and Protestant communities and being materialized in new discourses, services and practices around sexuality in the 1950s and 1960s. Frictions between Protestants and Catholics, the clergy and the people, and liberal and conservative circles were part and parcel of some of the iconic moments that are now considered to have shaped Dutch culture.

Keywords: sexual health, religion, secularity, taboo, the Netherlands

Amisah Bakuri (University of Toronto) and Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)
Piety and Pleasure: Religion, Sexuality and the Cultivation of the Self among Ghanaian-Dutch and Somali-Dutch Women

This article focuses on how religious piety and sexual pleasure go hand in hand, rather than mutually excluding each other, as is often articulated in the Dutch public sphere. The hegemonic idea of Dutch sexual progressiveness presents female sexual pleasure and satisfaction as being in conflict with religion. As a result, women from religiously inclined ethnic minorities are often seen as being suppressed or at least sexually restrained. In contrast, we found that, from a religious perspective, female pleasure is important to
conjugal happiness and to women’s well-being. While religious doctrine thus provides a space for the pursuit of sexual pleasure, this space is circumscribed by moral prescriptions, such as a prohibition on premarital sexuality. As a result, women need to craft a way of becoming sexually knowledgeable. Women’s trajectories to do so show how piety and sexual pleasure are central to the cultivation of the self. We argue that the term ‘sexual well-being’ articulates how sexual pleasure and religious aspirations are interconnected, rather than
being in tension: in the process of subject formation of piety, they mutually reinforce one another.

Keywords: sexuality, religion, gender, pleasure, piety, self-cultivation

Jasmijn Rana (Leiden University)
Muslim Piety as Emphasized Femininity in Women-Only Kickboxing

Martial arts and combat sports scholars have demonstrated how the gym or dojo can be a site for renewed articulations of gender subjectivities. Through my study of Muslim women in kickboxing, I have found that articulations of emphasized femininity take different forms than previous studies have demonstrated. In this article, I analyse narratives on sexualities and gendered subjectivities in two kickboxing gyms in the Hague, the Netherlands. I argue that Muslim women in kickboxing emphasize their femininity based on a Muslim, pious ideal, in which they apologetically claim space in sport vis-à-vis men and non-Muslim women. In doing so, they counter Islamophobic and racist stereotypes of ‘the Muslimwoman’ by playing with traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. The strategies and choices with regard to sexuality and gender found in women-only kickboxing reveal how Muslim women contest and negotiate the grammars of secularity underlying sports by performing a pious femininity in a masculine space.

Keywords: piety, femininity, Islam, sport, Europe

Jelle Oscar Wiering (University of Groningen)
‘Why Aren’t You a Woman?’; Gender and Secular Affect in the Dutch Field of Sexual Health

This article draws on anthropological fieldwork among Dutch sexual health professionals to explore the ways Dutch secular sex education classes are gendered. By investigating how the discourse of liberal secular sexuality becomes reified in the concrete setting of sex education classes, the article brings together two theoretical fields within the study of the secular: secularity and its entanglements with gender and sexuality; and scholarly inquiry into secular bodies and affect. The article argues that these sex education classes communicate a binary heterosexual understanding of sexuality, which ascribes feminine sexuality the role of
sexuality managers, and masculine sexuality the role of passive observers. The promotion of these gendered roles in sex education classes implies that feminine sexuality is cultivated to be burdened with a challenging and pressuring responsibility, whereas masculine sexuality is subtly exempted from taking up a responsible role in thinking about sex. This gendered differentiation, cultivated through sex education, helps to sustain secular associations of femininity with responsibilities and roles in managing the private sphere, as opposed to the association of masculinity with roles and responsibilities in the public sphere.

Keywords: sex education, gender, secularity, secular body, sexuality

B. E. Bartelink (University of Groningen)
Queens in the Kings Business: African Pentecostal Female Leadership in a European City

This article explores ethnographically how African Pentecostal leaders in the city of The Hague in the Netherlands navigate patriarchal structures and create a space for female leadership. It argues that the female Pentecostal leaders make a gender paradox visible, in which they model Christian womanhood in order to then go legitimately beyond it. The article demonstrates that this becomes particularly visible in how female leaders engage with women in their congregations around matters of gendered and sexual well-being. The article challenges a double bias in research and policy: a secular bias that tends to explain the challenges around gender and sexuality primarily in religious and cultural terms; and a gender bias that only considers religious women’s leadership in terms of their agency as women in male-dominated institutional contexts.

Keywords: sexuality, religion, secularity, gender, leadership

Marian Burchardt (Leipzig University)
Contesting Queer Secularity: The Spiritual and the Sexual after Secularization

Queer and social science scholarship has amply demonstrated how contestations over sexual diversity in the public sphere are structured by antagonisms between heteronormative public religion and progressive politics, even as processes of secularization advance in most European societies. In this article, by contrast, I explore how the progressive decoupling of notions of national belonging from both religion and sexual identity has accompanied the proliferation of new subject positions around queer spirituality and religiosity. Engaging
with theories of secularization and belonging, as well as Jasbir Puar’s notion of ‘queer secularity’, I examine emergent entanglements between queer emancipation, religion and sexual citizenship as they are taking shape through the biographical trajectories of queer subjects in Spain. The article argues that emancipation from queer secularity and access to these subject positions of queer spirituality are mediated through situated biographical trajectories. They depend on but also expedite the unmaking of antagonisms between queer secularity and heteronormative religion.

Keywords: Sexual freedom, homosexuality, religion, secularity, sexual liberation, Spain