Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe, by John Boswell

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. By John Boswell.
New York: Villard Books, 1994, 412 pp. N.p. (cloth).

Bennison, Charles, Book reviews.., Vol. 77,
Anglican Theological Review, 04-01-1995, pp 256.

To have met John Boswell, the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale, whose premature death late last year is an ineffable tragedy for both the academy and the church, was to have come into the presence of a brilliant, learned, engaging, talkative, and insistent man. In his Sam-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, the much-anticipated and long- awaited sequel to his award-winning Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), Professor Boswell has left as his principal legacy a brilliant, learned, engaging, talkative, and insistent argument that the ancient and medieval church celebrated the same-sex equivalent of its heterosexual marriage ceremony.

One would not absolutely have to be gay to write this book, but it certainly helped. Boswell was gay--indeed, the first openly gay individual to be granted tenure at an ivy league university. While asserting that "it is not the province of the historian to direct the actions of future human beings, but only to reflect accurately on those of the past," the historical reality he in this book is able to construct is advantaged by his social location in a nation and church embroiled in a culture war over the issue of the normative status of homosexuality. In the face of "the psychological landscape of the modern West," which he describes as obsessed with romantic love, "causally interrelated and largely coterminous" with heterosexual marriage, and as filled with "a salient horror of homosexuality," he comes down on the opposite side of the "epistemological divide" among those for whom "it is relatively easy to recognize and absorb ideas about a ceremony of same-sex union, because they have a place to locate the information"

This is to say, not that Boswell is careless with history, but that he brings to the over sixty manuscripts "containing ceremonies of same-sex union" he consults a hermeneutic not exercised heretofore. One strength of the book, in fact, is the modesty of the claims he makes based on the texts before him. "Speculation," he volunteers, "has been kept to a minimum, although many questions remain unanswered by the sources." Read more:

The History of LGBTS at Yale - John Boswell
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