Marriage and its Alternatives

ISHA 2004-05

For our 2004-05 theme, ISHA focused on marriage, a topic of current but also enduring interest, which can be approached intellectually (as it can personally, socially and culturally) from a range of different directions.  Recent discussion on the question of gay and lesbian marriage alerts us to the fact that marriage has always been a social and cultural construct whose boundaries have in some ways been inclusive but in others exclusive and ideological. This encouraged us, for our seminar topic, to open up a larger discussion. What have been the wider contours and variations of marriage historically and across different cultures? What were the intersections between the civil and religious realms with regard to marriage in different eras, and how were they formulated in various countries and cultures? How has marriage been fragmented along class and racial lines by heteronormative barriers? How have those excluded from marriage fashioned alternative institutions and forms of recognition?  Did marriage have a secret as well as overt history?  What of other forms of marriage entirely: polygamy, polyamory, sacerdotal chastity and symbolic ‘marriage’ to a transcendental power?  How has the law of marriage changed? What are some of the legal and/or economic implications of marriage, custody and divorce that now apply to gay marriage? What of the economics and sociology of marriage more generally?  How have marriage and its alternatives been represented in literature, theater, art and film? 

For the seminar, we invited prospective participants to consider marriage from any of these or other angles. The result was a productive consideration of the topic across a variety of settings. For further information, contact our seminar fellows below.


M.V. Lee Badgett
Department of Economics
“States of Change:  What the U.S. Can Learn from Europe about Same-sex Marriage.”

Joyce Berkman
Department of History
“‘Marriage as Legalized Prostitution’: nineteenth-century critics of marriage in England and the United States.” 

Daniel Gordon 
Department of History
“Why is Gay Adoption, and more generally, the movement for gay family rights, so controversial in our society?” 

Sherrill Harbison
German and Scandinavian Studies
“Marriage, Religion, Sagas: Icelandic Background.”   

Bernie Jones

Department of Legal Studies
“Antebellum Southern Justices on Interracial Families and Inheritance Rights.” 

Eliot Moss
Department of Computer Science
“The Changing Rite of Matrimony in the Anglican and Episcopal Books of Common Prayer, 1549-1979.”  

Alice Nash 
Department of History
‘"La vie des chrétiens": Abenaki Catholicism in the late 17th century.’

Susan Shapiro
Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department
"Social Contract/Sexual Contract: Moses Mendelssoh's JERUSALEM and the Divorce Case of a Prominent Viennese Jewess."