29 January 2013

Book Review: European Sexualities, 1400-1800

Katherinee Crawford is an American professor of history at Vanderbilt University. This book is a survey of the social and cultural history of sexuality in early modern Europe.

Now I suffered much through Michel Foucault and this book is nothing like that. In fact, you could just pick up at the beginning of any chapter and you wouldn't really be lost or confused because of how accessible the text is.

I learned so many fascinating things about love, desire, the concept of marriage, how people actual related to one another in Europe from 1400-1800. It has a bit of an academic tilt but not too much. Every chapter has pages and pages of bibliography/"further reading" so for those who are really interested in a particular topic, she gives you 20 suggested trails to take off on.

I rarely bookmark pages for the blog reviews I do, but in this one I just had to. The first one that caught my eye was something I expect to hear out the main character of Lexuality's next movie that deals with religion and sex. In one of her discussions of gay sex and homosexuality, in the 1300s, the Spanish Inquisition burned a number of people at the stake for, what one Inquisition record called it, "committing heresy with his body."

I have to admit that not since Norbert Elias's Civlizing Process have I felt that I really have very little knowledge or understanding of the world as I have with this book. It always seem that we have discovered something new only to find out that people thought it up hundreds of years ago and then were burned at the stake before they could contaminate others with their ideas.

Another gem had to do with a certain Dominican: "The Mallorcan Tribunal condemned a Dominican in 1606 for propositioning boys in the confessional. The monk cleverly, but fruitlessly, argued 'He did not think this was any of the Inquisition's business, because of the Edict of Faith spoke only about seducing women in the confessional.'"

A few more nuggets, "A Franciscan monk received a public whipping and a year's confinement for telling the Inquisition, 'fornicating with boys was something holy and just,' while another was accused of saying 'whoever practices sodomy goes to Heaven.'"

Her story gives a lot more context to the The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, which I have reviewed elsewhere, and a lot more context to how backward and medieval Filipino Catholic beliefs on sexuality really are. On a related topic, the more I learn about the nuances of how marriage was practiced and understood over the last 1,000 years, the more I come to understand why in a secular society, there should be no reason to prohibit same-sex marriage and every reason to encourage it.

The version I read was a 257 paperback published by University of Cambridge (January 29, 2007), ISBN-10:0521548403. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.

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