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Contextualizing the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis Seminar

Call for Proposals

Sexual Abuse and New Approaches to Religion and Sexuality

This year’s seminar seeks papers that use the problem of sexual abuse as a point of critical engagement for (re)thinking broader landscapes of religion and sexuality, both in relation to Catholicism and beyond it. To that end, we especially seek papers that are comparative in their approach, or explore this theme in relation to non-Catholic religious traditions.

Within Catholic Studies, the problem of clergy sexual abuse has made clear the need to attend to lived Catholic forms of sexuality. Scholars have tended to take canon law regarding clerical celibacy, or prohibitions against extra-marital sex, as a stand in for Catholic behavior. The study of clerical abuse now makes it clear, however, that clerical and lay Catholics, over time, have engaged in varied and complicated sex lives. Abusive behavior constitutes only a corner of these lives.

For this seminar, we seek papers that will help us to theorize and disentangle the “sex” and the “abuse” in clergy sexual abuse, via scholarship on the history and anthropology of Catholic sexuality. Areas we need to know more about, to this end, include: children’s sexuality, moral and aesthetic understandings of “good” and “bad” sex, LGBT+ and queer Catholic cultures, and the sex lives of nuns and priests. 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?

We are further aware that the study of religion and abuse has opened up parallel horizons of inquiry, regarding religion and sexuality, in relation to non-Catholic traditions. Thus we propose this year’s seminar as an opportunity to open up the discussion of abuse, religion, and sexuality beyond the Catholic tradition. To this end, we seek papers exploring these types of entanglements across different religious traditions, with a preference for projects that engage research in other fields.

For possible co-sponsorship:On religious sexual abuse more generally, with attention to legal issues (including courtroom performance of religious expertise, the role of expert witnesses in court, and media framings of the religious).

Accepted proposals will lead to 10-15 page papers due October 15, 2023, to be pre-circulated to our seminar mailing list one month before the AAR annual meeting in San Antonio.

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