Skip to main content


Tutor: Rosie Doyle

Religious institutions typically attempt to impose control over sexuality and, particularly historically, to impose patriarchal norms on society. Faiths (and the interpretations of their texts and traditions) change over time, but all are historically concerned with policing the boundaries of gender and sexuality. In this seminar, we will look at a particular moment in early modern European history, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, to see how this control was exerted and altered. What changes to expected roles were there before and after 1500? Were there significant differences between how Protestant and Catholic communities policied gender and sexuality?

Seminar questions:

Did the role of women within marriage and the family fundamentally change after 1500?

Some historians have argued that the Protestant Reformation marked an improvement for women - does the evidence support this interpretation?

Why is the issue of clerical sexuality so important for sixteenth-century theologians?

Is there significant difference in the way that Protestants and Catholics deal with what they considered 'deviant' sexuality? Why?

Why is it important for religious institutions to police the boundaries of gender and sexuality?

Core readings:

Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice (London, 2000), chapter 1 ('Christianity to 1500')

Mary Laven, 'Sex and Celibacy in Early Modern Venice,' Historical Journal 44 (2001), 865-88.

Thomas Fudge, 'Incest and Lust in Luther's Marriage: Theology and Morality in Reformation Polemics,' Sixteenth Century Journal 34 (2003), 319-345.

Jeffrey Watt, 'Women and the Consistory in Calvin's Geneva,' Sixteenth Century Journal 24 (1993), 429-39.

William Monter, 'Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland,' Journal of Homosexuality 6 (1981), 41-55.

Further reading:

For a general overview, see the rest of Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice (London, 2000). Each chapter has excellent lists for further reading.

For more specific topics, see:

P. Renée Baernstein, A Convent Tale: A Century of Sisterhood in Spanish Milan (New York, 2002)

John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago, 1980)

Judith Brown, Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Oxford, 1986)

Sylvia Monica Brown, Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe (Leiden 2007)

Lynda Coon et al (eds), That Gentle Strength: Historical Perspectives on Women in Christianity (Charlottesville, VA, 1990)

Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins (Cambridge, MA, 1995) (particularly chapters 1 and 2)

Francis Dolan, Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture (South Bend, IN, 2005)

Catalina de Erauso, Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World, trans. Gabriel and Michele Stepto (Boston, 1996)

Joanne Ferraro, Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice (Oxford, 2001)

Stephen Haliczer, Sexuality in the Confessional: A Sacrament Profaned (Oxford, 1996)

Scott Hendrix and Susan Karant-Nunn (eds), Masculinity in the Reformation Era (Kirksville, MO, 2008)

Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex, and Marriage in England 1570-1640 (Cambridge, 1987)

Susan Karant-Nunn and Merry Wiesner Hanks (eds and trans.), Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge, 2003)

Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Women and Religion in Golden-Age Spain: The Permeable Cloister (Burlington, VT, 2006)

Ann Loades (ed), Feminist Theology: A Reader (London, 1990)

W. Merle Longwood and Mark Muesse (eds), Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities (Louisville, KY, 1996)

Marilyn Migiel and Juliana Schiesari (eds), Gender and the Italian Renaissance (Ithaca, NY, 1991)

Stephen Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, MA, 1983)

Mary Elizabeth Perry, The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain (Princeton, 2006)

Ute Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church (New York, 1990)

Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (Oxford, 1996)

Lyndal Roper, Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Religion, and Sexuality in Early Modern Europe (London, 1994)

Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (New Haven, 2004)

Anne Schutte, Aspiring Saints: Pretense of Holiness, Inquisition, and Gender in the Republic of Venice, 1618-1750 (Baltimore, 2003)

Kimberly Schmidt, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Steven Reschly (eds), Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History (Baltimore, 2002)

H.J. Selderhuis, Marriage and Divorce in the Thought of Martin Bucer (Kirksville, MO, 1998)

Philip M Soergel (ed), Sexuality and Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (New York, 2005)

Lawrence Stone, Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857 (New York, 1993)

Tessa Storey, Carnal Commerce in Counter-Reformation Rome (Cambridge, 2008)

Nicholas Terpstra, Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore, 2010)

John Lee Thompson, John Calvin and the Daughters of Sarah: Women in Regular and Exceptional Roles in the Exegesis of Calvin, His Predecessors, and His Contemporaries (Geneva, 1992)

Sherry Velasco, The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso (Austin, TX, 2001)

Deborah Willis, Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY, 1995)

John Witte and Robert Kingdon, Sex, Marriage, and Family Life in John Calvin's Geneva: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI, 2005)

Lawrence Wolff, Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice (Stanford, 2012)