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PThU Welcomes Research Fellow

From the beginning of september until the end of october Justin Tanis, Managing Director of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender studies in Religion at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkely, California, will stay as research fellow at the PThU in Amsterdam. Earlier this year, Dr. Tanis got promoted on the dissertation ‘Queer Bodies, Sacred Subject’,  at the Graduate Theological Union.

Gender and Church
Besides his research on LGBT, Bible and inclusive church, dr. Tanis is co-author of a large national research on gender-related discrimination in the U.S. He is also the first author who wrote a book about theology from transgender perspective, Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith (2003). As an artist and photographer dr. Tanis is also involved in the representation of LGTB in art. As a pastor he worked in congregations in Boston, Honolulu and San Francisco.

At the PThU, dr. Tanis will especially contributed to the researchprogram Transforming Life of the researchgroup Beliefs and to Practices of Faith in Socio-Cultural Networks of Practices. His focus lies on the cooperation with the interdisciplinary research network Transcenders, that focuses on the themes transgender and religion.

This makes that, in his work, he is clearly involved with the current questions of the faith community that wants to be present in the midst of our society.

Dr. Tanis is the sixth international researcher who visits the PThU, as part of the PThU Research Fellow program. Through this program the university wants to invest in het international network and the internationalisation of her research. Besides that the presence of these researchers contributes to the “internationalisation at home”, through the interaction with teaching staff, students and support staff.

Emsi Hansen-Couturier spoke with dr. Tanis about his background and theological work:

You wrote your doctoral thesis on the subject of queer bodies. What were your main findings?
“In my research, I looked at how four LGBT artists with a long career in art (20-30 years) related to spirituality. I found a strong focus on inclusion, sacredness of sexuality and sexual identity.” 

And what is the theme you are currently working on?
“Right now, we are working on a project around transgender inclusion, specifically looking at what does it say about how people understand community when we look at their inclusion of transgender people. As someone from the US, that is very important to me, because there are people at home trying to pass laws right now that would restrict the participation of transgender people in social life. That has a chilling effect on peoples’ ability to function equally in society. That is a very dangerous impact on community to me: when we begin to restrict other peoples’ lives based on our own prejudices and fears. It is important to me to reflect on this, not just sociologically but also spiritually. What does it say about flaws in our theology when dehumanize others, when we make them less than ourselves?”

If there is one thing that you could teach your students, what would it be?
As someone who has been a pastor for many years, I would say: slow down and be. The most important thing is to actually be present with the person you are presently with.
I think that’s the kind of thing we have to remind our students but also ourselves that that’s where theology actually is, that’s where the encounter with God actually is. All the other things we’re learning can be boiled down to this: being present.” 

And what would you think the role of theology/theologians should be when it comes to LGBT-issues?
I have two conflicting opinions regarding that question. One is, in particular for Christian theologians, so many conversations now are centred on sexuality and gender. There’s a sort of obsession with issues of sexuality and as an extension, conversations about gender, is so far-field from anything that Jesus talked about regarding acts of charity and so forth. So I think, even though my specialty is about LGBT-theology, I also think that that is not the fundamental question for Christians in many ways. And stemming from that, though: transgender people have a twice as much high poverty rate than other people in the US.  Instead of being concerned about whether or not transgender people should be allowed to transition and live their lives freely, we should be concerned about the fact that these people are hungry and poor, and that prejudice is causing them to be in a position where they need food and shelter, all these things that Jesus commanded us to give people. The theological question should not revolve around whether or not transition is allowed, but it should remind us to look at those places where acts of oppression are causing people to be in need of our care, but also asking why they are in this need in the first place.”

Is there anything you’d like to add?
I lived in the Netherlands when I was a child. It is very exciting to be back here and to have my Dutch come back to mind some. Not only has this been home for me, but I have been inspired through the years by the openness of the Dutch people and the open-mindedness I have encountered.  I really appreciate the emphasis on social tolerance and acceptance. And I know no country is perfect – because we’re all human. But the Netherlands continue to inspire me as to what a society can be and what it means to be an open-minded people. I’m glad to be in the midst of that, particularly in this time in my own country.