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Title page for ETD etd-10112011-220816

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Zagatta, Elizabeth R.
URN etd-10112011-220816
Title Paradox in Discourse on Sexual Pleasure: A Feminist Pastoral Theological Exploration
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Bonnie Miller-McLemore Committee Chair
Ellen Armour Committee Member
Laura Carpenter Committee Member
Volney Gay Committee Member
  • feminist theology
  • psychology
  • sexual ethics
  • Christianity
  • sexual pleasure
  • sex
  • eros
  • pastoral counseling
  • pastoral care
Date of Defense 2011-09-09
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation takes its lead from the neglect in the field of pastoral theology to reflect on and respond to the role and ambiguities of everyday sexual experience in human suffering, healing, and flourishing. I speculate that part of the crisis of sexuality in Christian faith communities stems from lingering fear and anxiety with regard to sexual pleasure. I justify the use of a pastoral theological approach because sex is a universal human experience, and sexual pleasure can be a gift to enhance that experience. Pastoral theology prioritizes human experience and recognizes it as the crucial resource for understanding and responding to human brokenness and fulfillment when the goal is to provide resources for care. Subsequently, I use a revised critical correlational method to analyze and compare discourses on sexual pleasure in Christian theology, including pastoral theology, historical theology, and feminist theology, as well as influential cultural discourses in modern psychology, philosophy, and feminism. I bring all of these discourses to bear on the recent inclusion of sexual pleasure into a framework for contemporary Christian sexual ethics. I argue that the addition of pleasure has been uncritically accepted and promoted without thorough consideration of the critiques and suggestions of these theological, social scientific, and cultural discourses. I conclude that the current scholarship informing Christian sexual ethics 1) essentializes sexual pleasure in ways that are reminiscent of the tradition, 2) places an undue burden on sexual pleasure insofar as it must necessarily transcend the personal to the political, and 3) ironically reinscribes -- albeit with a wider circle -- sexual practices and pleasures that are acceptable, while delineating those which are not. As a result, contemporary Christian sexual ethics risks participating in the ongoing production of a sexual regime that regulates and controls specific sexual acts and pleasures, as opposed to their stated aim of focusing on the nature of the relationships in which sexual activities occur. I offer an in depth feminist pastoral theological exploration and charge pastoral theology with critically analyzing the discourse around pleasure in Christian sexual ethics.
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