What does R. Marie Griffith mean when she says, “Whatever else sex may be about—love and pleasure, the desire to procreate, the desire to be desired—it is always also about social power and discipline”?

In this quote, R. Marie Griffith means that sex is often tied to religion and used as a means to try to control and dominate other people.

Expert Answers

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To discuss the meaning of the R. Marie Griffith quote in the question, review the piece in which Griffith’s quote appears, “Sexing Religion.” In this essay, Griffith talks about how sex has been a central divide among Western Christianity and the religions of India, South Asia, and other so-called “primitive cultures.”

To build her claim, Griffith cites religious writings from the English historian Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall and the American religious scholar Crawford Howell Toy. Toy describes some religious rites in India as “unbridled bestialism.” Meanwhile, Lyall praises Christianity as the “highest and purest faith in the world.” According to Lyall, Indian people would be “improved” if Europe could increase their Christian influence in their country.

Here, one can link the ideas promulgated by Lyall and Toy with Griffith’s belief that sex is “always also about social power and discipline.” Lyall and Toy expose how sex and religion ties to social power and discipline. They portray the supposedly bacchanalian aspects of non-Western religions as proof of their inferiority. According to them, these religions lack the strict control of Christianity. The licentious attitudes that Lyall and Toy detect converts to social power because, as Lyall’s comment indicates, it makes Europe think that it has a right to go into these places and change them.

Sex can also be used to exert social influence and authority over one’s own country and society. Griffith talks about how the Plymouth colony punished women much harsher than men for transgressing their Puritan notion of sexual propriety.

Returning to foreign policy, Griffith sees the violent dynamic between America and the Middle East as one that blends sex and religion. For Griffith, American politicians and pundits regularly point to alleged Muslim attitudes about sex as a justification for America’s social power and the way such power is deployed in the Middle East.

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