Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Boswell: Historian of gays and lesbians in Christianity

John Boswell

John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born 65 years ago today on March 20, 1947.

Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).

Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.

A linguistic genius, he used his knowledge of more than 15 languages to argue that the Roman Catholic Church did not condemn homosexuality until at least the 12th century in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century.

Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.

Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBT Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms the value of queer people in Christian history.

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Boswell’s books include:
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
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Related links:

John Boswell Page at Fordham University

John Boswell profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network

John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
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This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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6 comments:

David K. Popham said...

Thanks for sharing about this important figure in LGBT Christian circles. No doubt his research will be used for many years to come.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, David. I often quote Boswell when writing about LGBT saints, and suddenly I realized that he belonged among them! I hope this piece helps keep his memory alive and introduce his excellent scholarship to new people. I enjoyed learning more about his life while researching this profile.

Narcissus Nick said...

I love your blog. Thank you very much! I am trying to create my own blog for Saint Sebastian.

www.gaysaintsebastian.blogspot.com

Please follow.

Nick

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Nick, for introducing us to your Gay Saint Sebastian blog. I enjoyed seeing all the classic gay male art when I visited. You’ve got a lot more there than St. Sebastian!

Anonymous said...

An essay that examines "some sleep with men" (Gospel of Judas) in the context of similar accusations brought against early Christian sect(s) by Celsus and Epiphanius can be read here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/178452567/DID-EARLY-CHRISTIANS-PRACTICE-SAME-SEX-RITUALS

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Robert, your paper “Did Early Christian Mystics Practice Same-Sex Rituals” based on the Gospel of Judas looks interesting and well researched. You might also like the work of gay anthropologist Will Roscoe. I interviewed him about his book “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love” at this link:
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2013/06/author-discusses-jesus-and-shamanic.html