Workshop on Luther and Sex, 25-26 September 2019

Workshop on Luther and Sex in Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies, 25–26 September 2019. The workshop approaches Luther’s sexual understanding as part of the sexual discourses of his time and in its relation to his reform program and his theological innovation.

Martin Luther is best known for his theological and ecclesiastical reforms. But the man who eventually became Katharina von Bora’s husband and father of their children reserved his most passionate and pointed criticism for Catholic attitudes towards human sexuality, in particular as embodied in its ontological elevation of the celibate clergy over marriage and family. This workshop approaches Luther’s sexual understanding as part of the sexual discourses of his time and in its relation to his reform program and his theological innovation. Scholars from around the world will take up the question of how Luther’s reform of the clergy and his commentaries on marriage may be relevant today in churches and society.

Venue: The Common Room of HCAS (Fabianinkatu 24A, 3rd floor)


Wednesday September 25

9.30 Coffee

10.15 Words of Welcome (Tuomas Forsberg, Director of HCAS; Christine Helmer, Päivi Salmesvuori & Outi Lehtipuu)

10.30–12 Session I – Before Luther: Late Ancient Notions on Sexuality

Virgins, Wives, Widows: Life Choices of Late Antique Women (Outi Lehtipuu, Vilja Alanko & Susanna Asikainen, University of Helsinki)

First Comment: Petri Merenlahti (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland)

12–13.30 Lunch

13.30–15.30 Session II – Late Medieval Notions on Sexuality

Was Jean Gerson Too Interested in Children’s Sexuality? (Vesa Hirvonen, University of Eastern Finland)

Conjugal Debt from the Middle Ages to the Reformations (Päivi Salmesvuori, University of Helsinki)

Luther on Work and Shit: World-Building in the Commentary on Genesis (Graham White, Queen Mary, University of London)

First Comment: Ritva Palmén (Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies)

15.30–16 Coffee

16–18 Session III – Luther’s Theological Thought and Practice

“I Am Such a Famous Lover.” Sex and Martin Luther’s Self-Understanding (Sini Mikkola, University of Eastern Finland)

Women as Rulers and Wives in Martin Luther’s Theology (Sasja E. M. Stopa, Aarhus University)

The Cantica Code and How Luther Encrypted It (Risto Saarinen, University of Helsinki)

First Comment: Kari Kopperi (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland)

19 Dinner for speakers


Thursday September 26

10–12 Session IV – Reformations of Sex in Early Modernity

Sex and Priests (Christine Helmer, Northwestern University)

Attitudes towards Sexual Crime in Reformation Sweden (Mia Korpiola, University of Turku)

Queering French Ursuline Nuns: Negotiating Sexual Morality in 17th Century France (Rose-Marie Peake, University of Tampere)

First Comment: Virpi Mäkinen (University of Helsinki)

12–13.30 Lunch

13.30–15.30 Keynote Lecture – The Sexual Dynamics of Modern Catholicism (Robert Orsi, Northwestern University)

The Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed its commitment to mandatory clerical celibacy in the late 16th century, in the face of Martin Luther’s at times scabrous criticism of what he saw as Catholicism’s sexual hypocrisy. The post-Trent period was one of broader reforms within Catholicism, including the standardization of the liturgy, the regularization of seminary education, and parochial discipline. It has been taken for granted since this time by Catholics, as well as by historians, that—by and large—Catholic clergy, with some notorious exceptions, were faithful to their vow of celibacy. The recent and ongoing revelations of the global clergy sexual abuse crisis, however, demands we take another look. How might the contemporary “crisis” (a misnomer if what is meant by “crisis” is an exceptional or extraordinary phenomenon) serve as a lens through which scholars of religion might reexamine modern Catholic history in search of a fuller and more realistic sexual historiography, in order to rethink fundamental assumptions about Catholic sexuality from Trent to the present?

First Comments: Mikko Ketola (University of Helsinki) and Elyssa Salinas (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

15.30–15.45 Closing


The workshop is open to all interested in the topic. For catering purposes (coffee is included for all participants), please register by September 17, 2019 using this link. For more information, please contact Päivi Salmesvuori or Outi Lehtipuu


Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies

Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki

Northwestern University

Stabat Mater dolorosa. Gender and the Significance of Compassion in the Middle Ages, Kone Foundation

Lived Scriptures in Late Antiquity: Ascetics, Martyrs, Miracle Workers, Academy of Finland

Centre of Excellence. Reason and Religious Recognition, Academy of Finland

National Church Council Institute for Advanced Training, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland