Although I still have work to do in preparation for next week's glossing conference at CUNY, I did receive the good news a few days ago that my paper proposal for the next meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Montreal next fall was accepted. I submitted to a consultation that was new last year, "Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Premodern Christianity." This year they were particularly interested in projects that explored its key terms at the nexus of scriptural interpretation. For those not familiar with the AAR process, individuals must submit a 1000-word proposal along with a 150-word abstract. I've included below only the abstract, and will provide more details about my paper later. I have to have it completed by mid-September, since the consultation chairs have secured Harvard's Amy Hollywood as our respondent.
The biblical injunction to “test the Spirits” (1 John 4:1) gave hermeneutical warrant for church officials to codify affects of vigilance and skepticism into forms of institutional mistrust called the “discernment of spirits.” This paper offers a reconsideration of medieval discernment literature by arguing that it is isomorphic with those moral rhetorics surrounding masturbation. Operative in both discursive registers is a fear of unregulated solitude. Examining scholarship on discernment literature alongside the cultural history and analysis of masturbation, I re-read selected passages from the writings of Jean Gerson and Middle English Chastising of God’s Children. The regulatory aims of these texts index the erotic power of thought to captivate and redirect a believer’s (sometimes unwilling) consciousness. Compelling both the solitary visions of the aspiring mystic and the “solitary vice” of masturbation are forms and languages of erotic pleasure that official theology fears are actually forms of selfishness.