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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Journal of American History features article on Kinsey and religion

Journal also includes roundtable on history and the senses

Oct. 29, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Though usually viewed as an adversary to organized religion, Indiana University sex researcher Alfred Kinsey had a complex relationship with religious leaders of his time, according to the cover article in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of American History.

Kinsey resented the harsh criticism of his work by religious conservatives, one of whom called his 1948 report on sexual behavior "the most anti-religious book of our time," writes R. Marie Griffith, professor of religion at Princeton University. But he sought out alliances with liberal clergy in mainstream religious organizations, where his work ultimately would have considerable influence, she writes.

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington, and is edited by Edward Linenthal, professor of history at IU Bloomington.

The September 2008 issue features a roundtable on history and the senses, guest edited by Mark M. Smith, Carolina Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, with essays on the historiography of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. The issue also includes an article by Tami J. Friedman, assistant professor of history at Brock University, on economic connotations of the "states' rights" doctrine espoused by white southerners after World War II.

Griffith's "The Religious Encounters of Alfred C. Kinsey" draws on writings by 1940s and '50s religious leaders and Kinsey's extensive personal correspondence with supportive clergy. She recounts the mixed religious response to Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. Conservative religious figures were critical, as were Catholic Monsignor Maurice Sheehy and leading Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. But some liberal clergy welcomed the volume.

The anti-Kinsey rhetoric escalated with the 1953 publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, in part because Kinsey was now being more overtly critical of Christian and Jewish attitudes toward sex, and in part because of his shocking findings that women admitted to having illicit sexual relations without shame or regret. The Catholic editor of a Wisconsin newspaper wrote to Kinsey that he was "one of the most loathsome wretches ever produced in human form." The young evangelist Billy Graham (pictured on the JAH cover) lambasted Kinsey in a dramatic radio sermon.

Even so, Kinsey continued to correspond with supportive clerics and theologians; and, after his death, his research contributed to discussions that led to a new openness about sexual ethics among some Christian and Jewish organizations.

Griffith writes: "None of his encounters with liberal Protestants made Kinsey a more religious man -- he remained an unabashed secularist -- but his candid correspondence indicates his conviction that religion, in the hands of those who valued open inquiry over blind obedience and who acknowledged multiple forms of love and desire, could foster something better than fearful prudery and intolerance."

For more on the Journal of American History, including online articles from the September 2008 issue, please see