Devotions and Desires: Co-edited by Heather White

November 13, 2017

New book of essays tackles debate over the relationship of sex and religion

TACOMA, Wash. – The new book Devotions and Desires challenges the belief that sex and religion have been in pitched battle throughout modern American history. By tracking the nation’s changing religious and sexual landscapes over the past century, the compiled essays show that the two shaped each other in defining ways: sometimes acting in league, at other times being fiercely at odds.

Devotions and Desires: Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the Twentieth-Century United States (UNC Press, March 2018) is co-edited by Heather White, visiting assistant professor in religious studies and gender and queer studies at University of Puget Sound. Her co-editors are Gillian Frank, visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University; and Bethany Moreton, professor of history at Dartmouth College.  

From polyamory to pornography, from birth control of the AIDS epidemic, the book follows religious faiths and practices across a wide span of sacred spaces: rabbinical seminaries, African American missions, Catholic schools, pagan communes, the YWCA, and other places. What emerges is the shared story of religion and sexuality, and the history of how both became wedded to American culture and politics.

In the book’s provocative introduction, “More than Missionary: Doing the Histories of Religion and Sexuality Together,” the co-editors explain why this book is needed. The 13 essays cover topics such as: “Same-Sex Desire and Christian Faith in the 1920s” (by Kathi Kern); “Sex is Holy and Mysterious: The Vision of Early Twentieth-Century Catholic Sex Education Reformers” (James P. McCartin); and “Fascinating and Happy: Mormon Women, the LDS Church, and the Politics of Sexual Conservatism” (Neil J. Young). John D’Emilio, professor emeritus of history and gender and women’s studies at University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote the afterword.

The book will be out in hardcover and paperback in March 2018. Copies can be pre-ordered, as below.

Heather White, visiting assistant professor in religious studies and gender & queer studies at University of Puget Sound is a specialist in American religions, with a research focus on sexuality, gender, and 20th-century social movements. Her first book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2015. The book has been featured in Huffington Post, Religion and Politics, the L.A. Review of Books, and Religion Dispatches. It was listed in the Top Ten “Best LGBT Nonfiction of 2015,” by the Bay Area Reporter.  White has given talks and keynote lectures at Birkbeck, University of London; Otterbein University, in Ohio; and Columbia University. She serves on the advisory board of the LGBT Religious Archives Network and is a steering committee member of the Queer Studies in Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion.

To pre-order a copy of Devotions and Desires visit:

Press photos of the book jacket and co-editor Heather White can be downloaded from
Photos on page: From top right: The book cover; author Heather White

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