Faculty Spotlight

The Department is proud to introduce Dr. Melissa Wilcox, the new holder of the Holstein Family and Community Chair in Religious Studies, to the UCR community.

The newest member of the Religious Studies faculty, Professor Melissa M. Wilcox, specializes in queer studies in religion, primarily in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. “Looking back over my career to date,” she explains, “I can see that I’ve always been interested in sacrilege. At first, I was asking questions about what it means to be declared sacrilegious by one’s religious tradition, and how people respond to that experience. Based on those questions, I published my first two books on queer Christians [Coming Out in Christianity, 2003] and on spirituality among queer women [Queer Women and Religious Individualism, 2009]. But I’ve become increasingly interested in the intentional mobilization of sacrilege, often by people who don’t themselves consider their actions sacrilegious but who see some value in co-opting or directly challenging the terms of sacrilege.”

From these interests have come her current book project, entitled Serious Parody: Religion, Queer Activism, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (expected 2017), which focuses on a religiously-unaffiliated, international order of self-described “queer nuns,” and her nascent next project on the use of religious roles and imagery in queer erotica, pornography, and BDSM. “The idea for the new project started with the Orthodox Calendar,” she says, referring not to the liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox churches but to an erotic calendar created by Orthodox Christians to draw attention to the challenges faced by LGBTIQ people in Eastern Orthodox countries.

As the new holder of the Holstein Family and Community Chair in Religious Studies, Professor Wilcox is looking forward to implementing the department’s vision that the chair’s work should focus on religion and social justice, in line not only with UCR’s current priorities but also with the passions and life work of Robert and Loretta Holstein. Professor Wilcox envisions holding annual gatherings, provisionally entitled “Holstein Conversations in Community,” that bring together activists, artists, academics, and other community leaders to discuss the complex roles of religion in social justice issues.

Each year’s Conversation in Community will focus on a specific topic. For instance, plans are in the works for an event in either winter or spring quarter of 2017 that will bring people together to share ideas on religion and social justice under President-elect Trump. Most likely, Wilcox says, the event will focus on justice for immigrants and refugees, and the roles of religion in such concerns, ranging from religion creating a need for asylum (such as with oppressed religious minorities) to religion making certain immigrants into targets of the state (e.g., the threats made against Muslims during the presidential campaign, and the likelihood that these will once again lead to threats against Sikhs as well) to providing resources for activism both in support of and against immigrants and refugees.

Posted in e-Newsletter Winter 2017, Faculty.