Good Fences: American Sexual Exceptionalism and Minority Religions Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 19, 2019
  • Goodwin, Megan
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation is about the ways sexual difference complicates contemporary American religious pluralism, particularly since 1980. Suspicions of sexual deviance frequently haunt minority religions, regardless of their communities’ mores or practices. To explore this issue, I engage a set of popular narratives that portray minority religions (Islam, Mormonism, and witchcraft) as predatory, coercing or duping vulnerable American women and children into religious nonconformity and sexual transgression. Federal agents, law enforcement officials, foreign policymakers, and others have used such narratives—and a desire to liberate their alleged victims—to justify restraining these “dangerous” forms of religious difference. Books like Under the Banner of Heaven, Not Without My Daughter, and Michelle Remembers are part of a broad and persistent public discourse about the appropriate role and regulation of religious and sexual difference. My case studies indicate a persistent and troubling pattern of responses toward religious and sexual difference within the American public sphere. These narratives of contact with American religious minority communities provided significant material consequences and are symptomatic of a broader trend in American public discourse – one that simultaneously vaunts American religious tolerance and discourages religious and sexual difference. I present these stories and their public reception as contributions to an ongoing public negotiation of the kinds of beliefs and practices mainstream Americans will and will not tolerate. Media pundits, law enforcement officials, and Congress members have sanctioned interference into religious minority communities as efforts to liberate vulnerable American women and children. These polemics encourage attempts to rescue community members who are assumed to be too weak mentally or physically to resist presumably dangerous beliefs and practices. My case studies identify minority religious communities as especially given to gendered and sexual exploitation of American women and children. By locating the abuse of women and children in America’s religious margins, these rhetorics of “liberation” encourage normative religious and sexual practices without violating a professed national commitment to religious freedom. Paradoxically, such liberatory rhetorics often work to constrain Americans’ religious and sexual freedoms while doing little to prevent violence against women and children.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Styers, Randall
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

This work has no parents.