You are here

Contextualizing the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis Seminar

Call for Proposals for November Meeting

Sexuality, Violence, and Marginality

For our meeting in San Diego, the seminar seeks papers (re)thinking the study of religion and sexual abuse with attention to sexuality, violence, and marginality. Proposals engaging any of these three areas will be appreciably considered, including papers that are comparative in approach, papers that theorize one or more of these key terms, or papers that consider their entanglements. We also invite research exploring these terms within or beyond Catholic contexts, across multiple religious traditions, or by drawing upon interdisciplinary methodologies. To elaborate on the importance of each of these terms to our seminar:


Sexuality. Early research on clergy sexual abuse has made clear that we need to attend more broadly to gender, sex, and sexuality. Abuse cases are embedded, for example, in the sex lives of both religious leaders and laypersons. Abusive behavior constitutes only a corner of these lives, and they are more varied and complicated than acknowledged in extant literature. Areas we need to know more about include: children’s sexuality, moral and aesthetic understandings of “good” and “bad” sex, LGBT+ and queer religiosities, and the sex lives of religious leaders. We also ask: what are the consequences of using “abuse” as our entry point for considering sexuality and sex in these rich and varied forms?


Violence. Sexual abuse is entwined with other forms of violence. It converges with these other forms of violence in the realm of theology, and in places, bodies, and practices. Within Catholicism, for example, theologies of suffering have imagined and inscribed violence onto certain bodies (e.g. women, children, martyrs, Indigenous populations), while ascribing power over those persons’ bodies to others (e.g. men, priests, missionaries, the state). These theologies have also produced certain spaces as sites of violence (e.g. seminaries, Magdalene laundries, orphanages, boarding schools). Whether in a Catholic or non-Catholic setting, how do other patterns of religion and violence intersect with sexual abuse?


Marginality. As the 2024 AAR Presidential Theme recognizes, “The use of violence is directly related to the hierarchical understanding of beings and valuation of their lives.”  Towards this end, is religious abuse more acute in marginalized communities? How should studies of abuse incorporate the margins into future research? Does the value of studying within and even advocating for marginalized communities outweigh the risks these communities take on when opening up about their experiences of sexual violence?

Accepted proposals will lead to short papers (approx. 10 – 15 pages) due by October 30, 2024.


If you have additional questions about next year’s seminar, please reach out to the seminar co-chairs.

Statement of Purpose

Contextualizing the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis is a five-year AAR seminar (2019 - 2024) working towards greater understanding about clergy sexual abuse and the range of questions that it raises. Attention to clergy abuse must become normative for any treatment of modern Catholicism to not itself be complicit in the abuse and its concealment.

Please note the following guidelines on our values and norms:

  • Seminar presenters are required to submit their full papers by the middle of October, to be pre-circulated to all attendees via the AAR Papers system. This allows for more conversation and deeper reflection at the conference.
  • Proposals should be made with an eye towards publishable work.
  • The seminar seeks collaborative and multidisciplinary research, including through historical, ethnographic, theological, legal, political, psychological, and ethical frameworks.
  • We are especially interested in proposals that press consideration into new anti-racist, anti-colonial, feminist, or queer directions.
  • We encourage methodologies that uplift the voices of survivors, especially victims from African American, indigenous, and non-Anglo parishes.
  • Over the full five years of sessions, the seminar will also examine sexual abuse in contexts beyond the Catholic church, both in other religious communities and secular institutions.
  • We are committed to supporting research from scholars at all career stages, including doctoral candidates and independent scholars.
  • The seminar encourages all of its members to participate in and propose papers to related program units, including Roman Catholic Studies, Religion and Sexuality, Childhood Studies, Ecclesiological Investigations, Religion and Violence, North American Religions, Religion in Europe, and Ethics.


Steering Committee Members


Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs and steering committee members at all times