New Book: Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality

Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality

Ethnographic Approaches

Edited by Anna Fedele and Kim Knibbe

Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality

This book contains captivating descriptions of the entanglements of gender and power in spiritual practices and detailed analyses of the strategies spiritual practitioners use to attain what to social scientists might seem an impossible goal: creating spiritual communities without creating gendered hierarchies.

Contemporary spiritual practitioners tend to present their own spirituality as non-hierarchical and gender equal, in contrast to ‘established’ religions. Current studies of these movements often reproduce their selfdescription as empowering, while other literature reacts polemically against these movements, describing them as narcissist and irrelevant and/or in league with capitalism. This book moves between these two poles, recognizing that gender and power are always at work in any socio-cultural situation.

What strategies do people within these networks use to attain gender equality and gendered empowerment?

How do they try to protect and develop individual freedom? How do gender and power nevertheless play a role?

The contributions collected in this book demonstrate that in order to understand contemporary spirituality the analytical lenses of gender and power are essential. Furthermore, they show that it is not possible to make a clear distinction between established religions and contemporary spirituality:

the two sometimes overlap, at other times spirituality uses religion to play off against while reproducing some of the underlying interpretative frameworks. While recognizing the reflexivity of spiritual practitioners and the reciprocal relationship between spirituality and disciplines such as anthropology, the authors do not take the discourses of spiritual practitioners for granted. Their ethnographic descriptions of lived spirituality span a wide range of countries, from Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands to Mexico and Israel.

“An important and original contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of gender and power in alternative forms of spirituality.” – Sabina Magliocco, California StateUniversity, Northridge, USA

Central to spirituality is a desire for personal liberation, we hear again and again. Yet this rich collection of ethnographies demonstrates that it is deeply shaped by performances ofgender and power.” – Dick Houtman, Erasmus University, Netherlands


Summer Course on Sexuality and Morality, Lisbon, September 2013

Summer School

Sexuality and Morality: Intercultural Perspectives and Mediations

Lisbon, 16-21 September 2013

The Second Edition of the Summer School on Sexuality and Morality will be held at the Lisbon University Institute (ISCTE-IUL), in Lisbon, Portugal, from the 16th to the 21st of September 2013.

Around 20 participants will be accepted.

Scholarships are available from the Grundtvig Program funded by The European Commission (see below)

Objectives and Rationale

From the very beginnings of anthropology the entanglements of sexuality and morality have captured the imagination of scholars, challenging their normative assumptions and calling into question their descriptive and interpretative tools. What can be said of these entanglements at the beginning of the 21st century, after decades of research on the matter? Are there still unbroken taboos in the social sciences? How are we to understand sexuality and morality, and how can these issues be investigated? How are relations between sexuality and morality being (re)defined? What is the role of religion, politics, and commerce in (re)shaping these relations? How can anthropology improve our understanding of such complex entanglements?

In recent years, sexuality and morality have received increased attention in the social sciences. While sexuality has ‘gone global’ and become a highly seductive concept (Moore 2010), its entanglements with moral issues and anxieties continue to provide important insights on key societal concerns and transformations. To illuminate such concerns, an emerging body of scholarship on morality in the social sciences, and more particularly in anthropology, seems particularly well suited. By giving new impetus and analytical purchase to the notion of morality, this scholarship helps us rethink sexuality and its wider implications.

Challenging taken for granted assumptions on sexuality and morality, and focusing on their intersections, the course is designed to move from general theoretical and methodological considerations to a range of concrete examples dealing with religion, politics and commerce. Religious taboos, sex work, and same-sex marriages are among the cases addressed. They will help participants answer the key questions asked during the course, and provide exemplary illustrations of how sexuality, morality, and their complex relationships can be rethought in the light of the latest debates in the field of anthropology.

Without neglecting classical authors such as Margaret Mead and Michel Foucault, the course has a strong emphasis on contemporary debates in the social sciences. It will review key perspectives and approaches, offer– participants a flexible methodological and theoretical framework, and provide a space for debating a range of case studies and concrete examples under the guidance of lecturers with first hand ethnographical knowledge on the addressed topics.



The course will consist of 5 lectures (3 hours per day), complemented with 5 seminars (3 hours per day) that will allow in-depth discussion of previously shared material. There will also be a fieldwork excursion on the final day.

Combining theory and empirical research this Summer Course offers theoretical as well as practical tools that will provide the participants with a wide spectrum of strategies to address the intersections of sexuality and morality.

The lectures and seminars will be structured around the following themes:

Day 1: The anthropology of sexuality and morality: An introduction

Day 2: Delineating the field: Key debates on sexuality and morality

Day 3: Sexuality, taboo and religion

Day 4: Sex work and the commerce of intimacy

Day 5: Same-sex marriages and the ‘end’ of gender

On day 6, there will be a fieldwork excursion and a final discussion

Lectures and seminars will be given by academics with a strong international profile that have both empirical and theoretical expertise on the subjects treated.

The lectures are structured to proceed from more general theoretical and methodological considerations (lessons 1 and 2) to a range of concrete examples dealing with religious taboos (lesson 3), sex work (lesson 4), and same-sex marriages (lesson 5).

The seminars provide a space for in depth, participatory debate on the topics addressed during the lectures. They are based on the discussion of key texts sent to participants before the beginning of the course. The distributed material allows participants to prepare in advance for the seminars, enabling also those who wish to undertake the course’s assessment to comply with its requirements.

Tutorials are provided to participants who wish to receive the course’s diploma (6 ECTS) to support them in the preparation of their final papers. The tutorials offer methodological, theoretical, and practical guidance to help participants design and write up their research.

The course is taught in English, but discussion may be in English and Portuguese depending on the participants’ preferences. As for the tutorials and the final essay, Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, Italian are accepted.



Anna Fedele is a research fellow of the CRIA- Lisbon University Institute and an associated researcher of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Currently she is a Visiting Fellow of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Florence. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender and religion and particularly on issues of corporeality, sexuality and ritual creativity.  Anna is the author of Looking for Mary Magdalene. Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France (Oxford University Press, 2012). She has also co-edited Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religious Practices (Berghahn, EASA Series 2011) and Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality. (Routledge Studies in Religion, 2013)

Valerio Simoni is a research fellow of the CRIA- Lisbon University Institute, and a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre for Tourism & Cultural Change (UK). His current researches, grounded in ethnographic fieldwork in Cuba and Spain, focus on transformations of intimate and economic lives and controversial enactments of friendship, love, sex, and commerce in international tourism and migration. He has published his work in books and anthropology journals including Etnografica, Civilisations, and Tsantsa.

Miguel Vale de Almeida is professor of anthropology at the Lisbon University Institute and his research focuses on gender, masculinity and sexuality. He is the author of numerous international articles and of The Hegemonic Male: Masculinity in a Portuguese Town (Berghahn 2004).


For enquiries related to the course content or the scholarships, please contact the Summer School co-ordinators, Valerio Simoni ( or Anna Fedele (


This summer school has been included in the Grundtvig Training Database and a limited number of scholarships are available. We encourage prospective participants coming from countries in which the Grundtvig Program operates to apply for these scholarships after prior consultation with us regarding the places available.

You can find general information about the Grundtvig program at:

Countries eligible: