Religion, the Body, and Sexuality

Is our body a temple of God, a sacred mandala channeling the energies of bliss and wisdom—or is it an impure vessel, a dangerous beast out of control, a prison for the soul? Are female bodies less conducive to spiritual attainments, or are they the most perfect images of the divine realities? Would having sex diminish your spiritual powers and religious standing or enhance them? If you’re looking for answers in the history of religion, the answer to all these questions is “YES!” Throughout human history religious traditions imagined, represented, and utilized human embodiment and sexuality in a variety of ways. In this course we will examine some of these diverse constructions through the study of texts, visual art, and ritual practices of selected religious traditions such as Tantric Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Graeco-Roman religions, and religions of the Aztecs and the Maya. The issues explored in this course include constructions of embodiment, sexuality and gender; theological and cosmological significance of human body; theories of erotic desire; relationship between sex and power; and transformative possibilities of sex and sexual renunciation.