University of California, Riverside

 

Melissa M. Wilcox Melissa M. Wilcox Professor and Holstein Family and Community Chair in Religious Studies

Topics: Religion in LGBTQ Communities
New Religious Movements
Religious Individualism

Preferred Media: Print, Radio, Video

Contact Card

E-mail: melissa.wilcox@ucr.edu
Tel: (951) 827-7969

Media Contact: Tess Eyrich
E-mail: tess.eyrich@ucr.edu
Tel: (951) 827-1287

Biography

Professor Wilcox is a scholar of religious studies who makes use of sociological and historical methods to study recent and contemporary trends in religious practices, beliefs, and organizations. She is available to speak about issues at the intersection of LGBTQ communities and individual, informal, and organized religion; new religious movements, particularly in regard to gender and sexuality in those movements; and the development of religious individualism, religious “nones,” and those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

On Religion in LGBTQ Communities

For over 20 years, Professor Wilcox’s research interests have focused on the varying forms and impacts of religion, including what many people term “spirituality,” in LGBTQ communities. She has written about the identity negotiations of LGBTQ Christians within the Metropolitan Community Church, and about spirituality and religious individualism in the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people. Her forthcoming book is a study of the nearly 40-year-old international order of self-described “21st century queer nuns” known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Wilcox is particularly interested in how LGBTQ people create space for themselves and their communities within religion and spirituality, both by advocating for greater inclusion within existing organizations and by creating new organizations in which they can focus on their own religious and spiritual lives rather than on others’ attempts to exclude them.

On New Religious Movements

Often referred to by the pejorative term “cults,” new religious movements are those begun within the past few decades. Since many religions have histories dating back for millennia, the term is often also extended to include religions founded at any time during the 19th or 20th centuries. New religious movements have long been of significant interest to sociologists of religion, and the field of religious studies is increasingly embracing this area of study as well. Wilcox can speak especially to questions of gender and sexuality within new religious movements.

On Religious Individualism

In recent years, sociologists have paid increasing attention to the phenomenon of religious “nones,” so called because they check the “none” box on survey questions about religious identity or affiliation. A large subset of these “nones” are those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” This perspective is particularly prominent in LGBTQ communities, perhaps logically given those communities’ still-frequent exclusion from a number of religious organizations. Furthermore, nones and the spiritual but not religious relate to a broader trend known as “religious individualism,” in which people value their own authority as interpreters of sacred texts and of divine will and frequently mix together a variety of religious practices and beliefs into a blend that best suits them. Wilcox has long argued that these various developments have been key to the rich and changing landscape of religion and spirituality in LGBTQ communities; she can speak to this argument as well as to the broader trends themselves.