UCSB Conferences to Focus on Religion, Sex, and Politics

Italian, American Perspectives Considered at Daylong Academic Meet-up

The interaction between religion and secularism is, in itself, an interesting subject. The fact that it has become so highly politicized within the United States, especially during this particular election year, makes it not only interesting but relevant.

In partnership with several Italian scholars, UCSB’s department of religious studies is holding a conference, on Monday, March 10, to discuss the way religious thought intersects with political legislation and action, particularly in the realm of sexuality. Roger Friedland and Stefania Tutino, both professors in the department, have been putting this event together for a year, and the results of their labors will be a full day of detailed and provocative discussion of religion, sex, and politics in both America and Italy.

The idea of discussing these two nations in tandem was sparked by Friedland’s time as a visiting professor at a university in Rome, where he became “very interested in how sex is politicized in Italy, as it is in the U.S.,” he told me. Religion is a strong political force in both America and Italy, and the legislation of morality, sex, and reproduction is equally polarized in both countries. Friedland felt that the “strong Catholic studies program” at UCSB allowed room for an ambitious project of this nature.

One fascinating aspect of this conference is the fact that very differing viewpoints will be presented throughout the course of the day. Frequently, such events are a vector for a certain outlook, but this one aims to tackle the issues from multiple perspectives. A roundtable discussion at the end of the day’s presentations will include Reverend Thomas Curry, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Stefania Tutino, and Ann Taves, Virgil Cordano Professor of Catholic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at UCSB. The audience will also be encouraged to participate in this discussion.

All of the speakers ought to be as exciting in their own right, however. Among them is Ann Pellegrini, Professor of Religious Studies at New York University, who will give a talk on “Sexularism: Religious Freedom, American Style.” A noted queer theorist, she’s very adamant about keeping the government out of the regulation of morality. Another speaker, Claudia Mancina, a professor of law and a former member of the Italian House of Deputies, she has been heavily involved in the debate over bioethics in her native Italy. Each speaker is a highlight in his or her own right, and as Friedland described it, “all the topics are pieces of the puzzle.”

Part of the conference will be televised, but details of the schedule were not available at press time. However, the roundtable discussion to follow the presentations will not be recorded, and that, as Dr. Friedland pointed out, may well be the most energetic and interesting portion of the conference. Admission is free, and although the audience will likely come and go throughout the day, it’s best to be a little early in order to assure a seat. The conference will be held in the Humanities and Social Building at UCSB, in room 6020, on the sixth floor. Please see below for full details of the conference schedule.

Church, Sex, and the Public Sphere: Italy and the United States

Monday, March 10, 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.


McCune Conference Room , 6020 Humanities and Social Sciences Building, UC Santa Barbara (A map of this location is available online.)

This international conference explores ways in which the Catholic church and the larger Christian community have politicized abortion, divorce, homosexuality, premarital sex, and assisted fertilization in the United States and Italy, two of the most religious postindustrial societies in the West.


Introduction (Roger Friedland)


Catholic Sexual Morals and Italian National Behavior (Arianna Montanari, professor of political sociology, University of Rome-La Sapienza)


Moral Decision-Making: The U.S. Congress and the Policy of Sexual Ethics (Elizabeth Oldmixon, Assistant Professor of Political Science, North Texas University)


Problems of Secularism in the Italian Political Debate on Family and Bioethics (Claudia Mancina, former member of the House of Deputies, Professor of Ethics of the Law, University of Rome-La Sapienza)


Sexularism: Religious Freedom, American Style (Ann Pellegrini)


Roundtable Discussion (Reverend Thomas Curry, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles

Stefania Tutino, Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara

Ann Taves, Virgil Cordano Professor of Catholic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara, and audience)


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