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216 × 138 × 28 mm
336 pages
22 illustrations
01 Jul 2011
  • £30.00

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Sex and Religion Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths Dag Øistein Endsjø

Sex. There is probably no other realm of human experience in which religious thinking and control has had such vast reach and powerful influence. Faiths of every sort have always held strong beliefs about different forms of sexual conduct. But there is nothing natural or self-evident about the ways in which various religions prescribe or proscribe and bless or condemn different forms of sexuality. Whether something is sacred or abhorrent depends entirely on how a religion defines it.

Sex and Religion is a detailed guide to the ways in which faiths have sought to repress or celebrate as well as codify almost every kind of sexual relationship and act. Is sex before or outside marriage wrong or admissible? Should priests have sex? Can sex be a religious experience? Is interracial marriage against God’s will? Does mutual masturbation count as sex? Then there are the questions concerning everything from polygamy and contraceptives to fellatio and sex in heaven . . . This book reflects on these and other contentious areas in the ongoing interrelationship of sex and religion. It explains what people meant and mean by sex in a religious context, with whom it has been or is permissible to have sex, and what consequences there have been and are today for deviant and correct sex, for both the individual and society. The variety of religious codes is extraordinary. Where one faith makes much of the fact that promiscuity will lead to hurricanes and nuclear war, there is another that has a god who condemns sexual abstinence.

A truly fascinating investigation of mores and meanings, rituals and rules in religions around the globe, this book will be of interest to anyone curious about the intersection of these fundamental aspects of human history and experience.

‘It takes a brave soul to tackle a subject such as sex and religion in a little over 300 pages. Fortunately, Endsjø is up to the task . . . The chronological scope of his book is impressive (from ancient times to the present), the range of faiths is suitably wide and human sexuality appears in all its variants . . . a fine example of the comparative study of religion and it explodes the assumption that all religiously minded people react to talk of sex in a blinkered, knee-jerk and predictable fashion . . . if you are in the market for an even-handed and enlightening primer Endsjøs book will serve you well.’ — Catholic Herald

‘The author excels at detailing the convoluted history of sex and religion . . . He makes a good case for the inconsistency and impossibility of controlling human sexuality by religio-sexual regulations without also setting aside individual rights and religious freedom. Recommended.’ — Choice

‘The writing is so shrewd, the observation so keen and the background so rich that one can only be yes, the only word is impressed. And that doesnt happen often . . . It is remarkable . . . nothing short of a great academic achievement . . . Sex and Religion will be just as useful in our daily lives as in academic seminars.’ — Morgenbladet

‘A wide-ranging and entertaining survey of religious proscriptions and practices regarding sex demonstrates the diversity of religious opinion on sexuality, indicating the impossibility also of imposing a single sexual morality on a society.’ — Anthropology Review Database

‘This volume offers a very informative as well as provocative analysis of the relation between sex and religion. Acknowledging the complexity involved in such a task, the study is confined to examining the religio-sexual landscape of Judaism, Christianiy, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. . . Undoubtedly, this book must be read not only for the answers provided but above all for the questions it raises.’ — Intams Journal

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Dag Øistein Endsjø is Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Bergen, specializing in gender, human rights and death studies. His published books include Primordial Landscapes, Incorruptible Bodies (2008) and Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity (2009).


1. Defining Sex and Religion
2. No Sex, Thank You
3. Solitary Sex
4. The Blessings and Curses of Heterosexuality
5. Homosexuality: Expected, Compulsory, Condemned
6. Religio-Sexual Racism and Religious Discrimination
7. Sex Beyond the Mortal Sphere
8. Because You’re Worth It
9. Sacred Sex, Ritual Sex
10. Religio-Sexual Priorities
Some Concluding Thoughts

Photo Acknowledgements