Sex on the Margins

Conference at Boston University

Sex on the Margins: Navigating Religious, Social, and Natural Scientific Models of Sex Differences







Hosted by the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion and Boston UniversityFebruary 24-26, 2017.

Co-sponsored by the Graduate Division of Religion Studies, the School of Theology, the Albert & Jessie Danielsen Institute, and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University

Conference Organizers: Stephanie N. Arel, Megan DeFranza, Kate Stockly

In Consultation with: Jennifer Wright Knust (Boston University), Carrie J. Preston (Director Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, Boston University), Wesley J. Wildman (Boston University)


"Sex on the Margins" Conference brought together scholars to examine how our growing knowledge of sex, gender, and sexual diversity impacts binary models of sex that continue to hold sway in the majority of religious and natural scientific examinations of human nature.

Sociologists and gender scholars regularly highlight the marginalization of women, sexual minorities, gender minorities (genderqueer and transgender persons), and sex minorities (intersex and people with differences of sex development) in order to correct past and present social and religious marginalization based on a binary sex model. Meanwhile, scholars in the physical and evolutionary sciences base their research on binary patterns of sex difference facilitated by reproductive complementarity. In order to work against the marginalization of minorities, sociologists tend to describe sex differences on spectra while natural scientists focus on statistical majorities within these spectra supporting the binary framework. Both approaches have their benefits but a more integrated model is needed.

Religious scholars explore the question of what it means to be human and the religious significance of sex differences. In the West, cultural norms informed by Christianity have influenced scientists in reading the male/female binary as “given by God.” While many scientists are moving away from these Christian readings, conservative religious thought (at times unrecognized) continues to impact scientific traditions. Scholars attempting to bring theological resources from the various world religions into conversation with contemporary science can find themselves caught between ethical motivations to protect and care for marginalized minorities and epistemological concerns for interpreting both sociological and natural scientific studies of sex.

Inquiry into the dynamic interactions among and between social, religious, and biological factors is critical for moving the conversation about sex and gender past the impasse brought about by the current divide in disciplinary approaches to sex differences.


  • Plenary Speaker: Susannah Cornwall, Ph.D. (Exeter University)
  • Alvizo, Xochitl, California State University, Los Angeles, CA (Respondent)
  • Arel, Stephanie, Boston University and the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, Boston, MA (Organizer)
  • Barthold, Lauren, Endicott College, Boston, MA (Paper Presenter)
  • DeFranza, Megan, Boston University and the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, Boston, MA (Organizer)
  • Devore, Tiger, Clinical Psychologist, Las Vegas, NV (Respondent)
  • Knust, Jennifer, Boston University, Boston, MA (Consultant)
  • Malatino, Hilary, East Tennessee State, Johnson City, TN (Panel Speaker)
  • Petro, Anthony, Boston University, Boston, MA (Consultant)
  • Preston, Carrie J., Boston University, Boston, MA (Consultant)
  • Schippert, Claudia, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL (Panel Speaker)
  • Stockly, Kate, Boston University and the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, Boston, MA (Organizer)
  • Wildman, Wesley J., Boston University and the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, Boston, MA, (Consultant)

Conference Schedule

Friday, February 24, 5-7pm

Public viewing of excerpts from the documentary project “Intersex People of Faith” followed by a panel discussion with intersex, transgender, and cisgender experts in the areas of sex differences, natural and social sciences, law, healthcare, and religion.

Saturday, February 25 

Featured speaker: Ruben Hopwood, PhD: "Spirituality and Health for Sex/Gender Minorities." Followed by a full day of paper sessions.

    1-2pm:  Lunchtime Roundtable Discussion with Anthony Petro, PhD, from Boston University.

    5:30-7pm:  Plenary Speaker: Susannah Cornwall, PhD, Exeter University.

Sunday, February 26

    9-11:45 am:  Final Paper Sessions 

 Contact Details

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