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Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  765 ratings  ·  53 reviews
John Boswell's National Book Award-winning study of the history of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Christian West was a groundbreaking work that challenged preconceptions about the Church's past relationship to its gay members—among them priests, bishops, and even saints—when it was first published twenty-five years ago. The historical breadth of Boswell's rese ...more
Paperback, 424 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1980)
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4.15  · 
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 ·  765 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Mar 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, masterpieces
I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not being moved and stunned by the rewriting of history that has accompanied the reign of the queerbashers. This book makes the case that buggery was a pretty well-known and accepted part of life for a very long time, that biblical injunctions against it condemn buttsex with the same vigor that they condemn eating lobster and as such were routinely ignored until lately, and that anyone who says otherwise has bought into a big old lie.

I've heard that
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is an extraordinary piece of scholarship that I wished I finished reading sooner. I was reading with good momentum before I unwisely decided to leave it home during a roadtrip, leaving the book to languish on my nightstand for many weeks. Professor John Boswell of Yale University spent ten years on this groundbreaking study of attitudes towards gay people in Western Europe. Starting with ancient Greece, he shows how feelings swayed between celebr ...more
Skylar Burris
The author of “Christianity, Homosexuality, and Social Tolerance” begins his book with the odd claim that he is not supporting any particular moral position with regard to homosexuality. I say it is odd because the massive volume is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that Christianity is, if you really dig into history and read the Scriptures just right, supportive of homosexual love and the sex that is an expression of that love.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with books with agendas. I
Oct 20, 2008 rated it liked it
This book more or less kicked off academic endeavors into this realm of research. For that fact alone it get more grace, than your typical book. Boswell's historical argument is way out of my league, but that isn't way I read the book. His argument as to the religious aspects of intolerance are over simplified and border on completely inaccurate, so much so that Crompton came along later and corrected Boswell's error in his book "Homosexuality and Civilization." The upside to this book was that ...more
In his conclusion to Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, John Boswell states that as such little work had been done on this topic before—which, at the time of this book's publication was certainly true—"the writer on this subject cannot hope to avoid leading his readers down many wrong paths or, occasionally, coming to a dead end", and begs the reader's forbearance in the hopes that future scholars will build on his work. From the perspective of several decades later, both Boswell' ...more
Johnny D
Jan 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
There is no way to overstate the cultural import of this book. It may seem that we are living in a dark age after the passage of prop 8 in California (and other anti-gay referendums across the country) but consider the existence of MCC churches, the controversial progressiveness of the Episcopalians, and the closing gap even among young Evangelicals when it comes to accepting and affirming gay relationships.

Boswell is responsible for much of this religious enlightenment. His landmark book, rele
Aug 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
For my Intro to Christianity course back in college, I decided early on that I wanted my term paper to focus on gays in early Christianity. This was one of the books I chose as a reference, one the professor was actually surprised I used (in a good way). This is an excellent book, covering far more information than I could have ever dreamed finding. John Boswell lifts the rug to display the dirt and dust-motes that the church has been sweeping aside for centuries.
An imperfect work, and one where I couldn't entirely follow the scholarship. But a cornerstone of interpreting scripture in a way that strips off centuries (millennia) of misinterpretation. Couple this with "The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology" by Mark. D. Jordon and "HOMOEROTICISM IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD" by MARTTI NISSINEN
Interesting historical analysis claiming that recent religious intolerant attitudes towards homosexuality are only a recent invention and that the prevailing attitude, even among the early Catholic church itself, was one of tacit tolerance, following with Roman attitudes of the time.
Justin Lee
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is something fantastic about this book. It's dense as hell, more text book than easy reading, and ridiculously well researched, but I loved it.

Back story: When I first came out, I was having a hard time dealing with the fact there isn't a lineage of gay history. We've been around forever but we're not a community with historical traditions and tales that have been told from generation to generation. This book comforted that part of me. Boswell gives proof that homosexual persons existed a
Lizabeth Tucker
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion, lgbt, history
Subtitled " Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century".

This is an extremely dry and slow look at how the prejudices against gays embedded in the modern religions developed over the centuries and were not part of the original liturgy. Many works of the time were and continue to be edited in regards to gender where romantic, sexual, emotional relationships.

I have a few problems with this work. First, the footnotes may or may not be translated,
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
A Catholic apologist attempts to recuperate Catholicism (and Christianity in general) in terms of its treatment of gay people until approximately 1500. This book is important, but it's also important to note that Boswell, a gay man, was also a Christian. Apparently, much of his scholarly work is an attempt to reconcile his gay identity with his Christian identity. He cautions against a reductive reading that blames all anti-gay intolerance on Christianity, but I think he misses (and perhaps even ...more
Apr 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm reading this again-- I just can't imagine a more healing gesture than clarifying the rift between Christianity and gays, maybe the last remaining non-religious minority it thoroughly marginalizes-- and one of the most important, powerful, and inspiring groups in society ever. Pre-medeival Christianity, in many ways, seems to take all that talk about love a lot more seriously, along with interpreting Scripture in a much more context-specific, or at least more subtle, or at least far less unan ...more
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Beth by: found at FGC Bookstore
This crossover (written for both educated laypeople and for academics) is highly informative (especially if your read the zillion footnotes), bursts a lot of preconceptions about European society of the times, and is an appealing read, also.

It's going to take me months to get through because it's rich in info and is not a fast read even by nonfiction standards.

Update in February '09: Whew! Finally finished! Very good resource for adult religious/social education, discussion (and debate!)
Luis Alexandre Ribeiro Branco
It is an interesting book, the author makes a great effort to prove his point and to bring out of the shadows of history an account of the gay people. I found interesting the chapter about definitions. Nevertheless, I am not convinced about the historicity proposed by the writer. I found unacceptable the biblical hermeneutics approach used by the author.
Dec 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Meticulously researched, although it reads like a textbook. My partner and I actually met Mr. Boswell several times. He also researched and wrote a book on gay marriage from ancient to modern times.
Jan 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Christians and people who like history.
Brilliant medieval Church history; the author's controversial thesis is not only that elements in the Church were pro-queer, but also that the Roman Catholic hierarhcy in some circumstances acted as a protector against popular homophobia.
Ray Lang
May 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Very scrupulously documented and copiously footnoted history of attitudes surrounding homosexuality in the Christian tradition, from very early times to the present. It was surprising to me how recently the current very hard line on homosexuality emerged.
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Extremely dense but incredibly insightful again, to the views of a literal interpretation versus an analytical interpretation of the bible. Brilliant.
Oct 01, 2009 marked it as to-read
(added to "Curious About These" list, c. March 2007.)
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone into the history of homosexuality
Shelves: gay-history
An amazing academic study, incredibly well-researched, about how Christianity changed for all time Greco-Roman paragigms of homosexuality.
Apr 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
My brain really, really hurts now, but I think I am a better person for reading this. It is not a beach read-Boswell invented O.C.D.
Nov 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Pioneering, brilliant, ultimately flawed.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fascinating read that scratches the proverbial itch on the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. The main thrust of Boswell's argument is that homophobic sentiments manifested through religious institutions (i.e. the Christian church) were responses to, rather than the source of, popular attitudes. By revealing the historical trajectory of social tolerance in early societies, Boswell convincingly demonstrates that Christians were not always intensely anti-gay and suc ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Doesn't promise to answer many questions and doesn't. It DOES however provide the in depth context required to make educated guesses. The major thrust of the book seems to be an attempt to prove that the early Christian Church didn't consider homosexuality as terrible as they seem to presently. If this was the author's goal he fell short. Although, this is primarily an academic work with no room for editorializing. Let me do that: even if the early Church wasn't as hostile to gay people as they ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exhausting to read, but in the best possible way. I grew up in an anti-gay Christian environment and thus have carried a lot of shame and anxiety about my queer identity. Reading this book helped me to let go of it thanks to Boswell's excellent analyses of primary religious texts and his understanding of them within their specific literary and historical texts.

From a scholarly point, I see why this was so foundational in studies of pre-modern sexuality: Boswell took on a massive task in writing
Aaron Thomas
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is fascinating for most of its length. As Boswell charts the history of the Church's approach to homosexuality, the book is fascinating. As he moves into arguing specifically with Thomas Aquinas's arguments about homosexuality, Boswell lost me.

There is a startling limit to his approach, though. Because Boswell is looking for prohibitions or even general discussions of homosexuality in general and as such, he omits opprobrium aimed at homosexual activity in specific, such as male/male rape,
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
A unsurprisingly dense text, and one that admits it can't give a complete answer to why and when the Church came to condemn homosexuality so severely as it did (and to an extent still does). The theories and history was interesting, nonetheless, and I will be side eyeing St. Thomas Aquinas hard from now on.
michael audet
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
pretty cool. love boswell's archival werk even if his theory of a continuous homosexual identity has fallen outta favor tho i love to think it's right
Stephen Cranney
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: skimmed
Similar thesis to his "same-sex unions in premodern Europe." Once again interesting, but I don't have the background to really critique it in any meaningful way.
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John Eastburn Boswell was a prominent historian and a professor at Yale University. Many of Boswell's studies focused on the issue of homosexuality and religion, specifically homosexuality and Christianity. Boswell graduated from the College of William & Mary and earned his phd at Harvard. He died in 1994, age 47.

Librarian note: There is more than one author by this name in the database. See a
“There is no indication that any church official suggested or supported the emperor's action against gay people. On the contrary, the only persons known by name to have been punished for homosexual acts were prominent bishops.” 8 likes
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