The Sexuality-Spirituality Project

Author: Dr Sharon A Bong

Setting up the project

Negotiating entry into the field was the first hurdle. As a heterosexual, married woman, an ‘outsider’ in other words, I did not have direct access to persons from the GLBTQ community. Access as such, was negotiated through friends who served as gatekeepers, who posted my call for interviewees on e-networks for GLBTQs (my full contact details were provided).

As sexuality and religion are highly ‘sensitive topics’ in the context of Southeast Asia (Renzetti and Lee 1993: 5), I held my breath wondering if anyone would come forward to share their stories of how they managed the tension between living out their sexuality and faith within a same-sex partnership. I was quite overwhelmed and affirmed by the generosity of those who readily agreed to be interviewed. Snowball sampling that ensued basically characterised how the 22 interviews were set up in Malaysia.

For Singapore, there was no such reception. Taken aback but not deterred, I emailed gatekeepers whose contact details were available on GLBTQ-friendly websites that interestingly focused on sexuality and religion (in particular, the Free Community Church, Buddhist gay men and Muslim lesbian women websites). There was still no response! Somewhat discouraged but not defeated, I made the trip to Singapore to attend a gay-friendly church service to personally meet with its leaders. I remain indebted to one of its gatekeepers for her concerted effort in motivating seven members of the FCC’s congregation to participate in the research project that is in part intended to greater profile the GLBTQ community in Southeast Asia.

The 30th interviewee was sourced differently and is a testament to how creatively diverse these routes can be. A member of the religious congregation within the Catholic Church introduced me to a ground-breaking book by ng yi-Sheng titled SQ21 (2006) that profiled coming out narratives of Singaporeans complete with their photographs, occupation, family background, etc. I searched the website for the author’s contact details and eventually met up with him. He kindly forwarded my call for interviewees to his contacts and one among them came forward.

I was also intrigued by the handful who asked if they could participate even though they were not currently involved nor have yet to be involved in a ‘union’ or partnership with a GLBTQ person. I accepted their participation, listened to their stories and transcribed their interviews as I considered their single or single again status as a form of coping strategy in reconciling (or not) their sexuality and faith. This principle was also extended to non-believers or those who had left their faith.

A lasting impression that I take away with me is the implicit faith of interviewees in entrusting me with their stories. I am also humbled by their lack of judgement of my privileged social positioning as researcher and heterosexual within a heterosexist ordering of society. Most in turn, were intrigued that someone was willing to listen to their stories even transcribe and study them.

SCERH had an added concern prior to approving the project—where the interviews would be conducted as they felt that it has a bearing on the safety of both interviewer and interviewee. Public places may be deemed as safer but in reality, they are not quite conducive for audio-recording. So with a leap of faith, all interviews, with the exception of one that was held in an airport, were conducted either in my office or in the homes of interviewees. 

The data

Pre-interview, I needed to secure ethics approval from SCERH before commencing the high-risk impact project. This entailed completing an Application for Ethical Approval of a Research Project Involving Humans (accessed at http://www.monash.edu.au/researchoffice/human/form-1.html). Doing so enabled me to think through more carefully ‘Details about the participants of the proposed research project’ (section 2 of the form). These include: the recognition that these interviewees are ‘potentially vulnerable participants’ as they are: ‘persons who would not usually be considered vulnerable but would be considered vulnerable in the context of this research project’, ‘examining potentially sensitive or contentious issues’ and ‘seeking disclosure of information which may be prejudicial to participants’. A step-by-step participant recruitment process is necessitated. For instance, the exclusion criteria are heterosexual adults, below 21 years of age, non- Asian and/ or not residing in Southeast Asia.

Procedures for explanation and gaining informed consent (section 3 of the form) led to the preparation of two important supporting documents: the Explanatory Statement and Consent Form. In the former, details of the research project were offered, i.e. aim of research, with emphasis on inconvenience/ discomfort (as the research topic is a sensitive one), withdrawal from the research (to ensure that participation is at all times, voluntary, even post-interview), confidentiality (through the use of pseudonyms and this is differentiated from anonymity), storage of data (secured on campus grounds for five years).

In the latter, informed consent included agreeing to: 1) be interviewed by the researcher, 2) allow the interview to be audio-taped and 3) make myself available for a further interview if required. Based on previous experience of generating rich data that well extends beyond the parameters of the project that it was originally intended for, I applied for additional and explicit permission (from interviewees) to use data for other purpose (i.e. other research projects). So interviewees had the option of further consenting to one of the following: 4) the information I provide can be used in further research projects which have ethics approval as long as my name and contact information is removed; or 5) the information that I provide cannot be used by other researchers without asking me first; or 6) the information I provide cannot be used, except for this project. I am pleased to add that most ticked either option 4 or 5.

Interview questions and the call for interviewees were also appended to the application for ethics approval by SCERH.

During the semi-structured interview: interviewees were asked how they experience their partnership in relation to their faith and how they experience their faith in relation to their partnership. I began each interview in a similar manner—I asked interviewees to recount what it was like to have discovered his/her sexuality. This usually entailed coming out stories. I then moved on to asking them to share about what they feel are key relationships that they have been involved in and these encompass, in some cases, both heterosexual as well as homosexual relationships. At the conclusion of each interview, I would write-up field-notes detailing my impressions and observations gleaned pre-interview, during the interview, post-interview. Illuminating discussion sometimes preceded and succeeded the ‘interview’ proper where a handful of interviewees were evidently more relaxed post-interview. These discussions with their consent were recorded.

Post-interview: I began transcribing. Ideally this is done at the conclusion of each interview but this was not consistently managed as most interviews were lined-up back-to-back. I prefer to transcribe ad verbatim and add brief notes on non-verbal communication. The rate of transcription on average (depending on the clarity of expression used by interviewees and my level of fatigue) is approximately 10-minutes of recording time to one-hour of transcribing time (the duration of an interview averaged 1½ hours equivalent to nine hours of transcribing time). It helped that interviews were digitally-recorded as playback was easily managed. Investing in quality headphones also goes a long way to ensuring accurate transcriptions. In order to sustain confidentiality for data that is highly sensitive, I personally transcribed the interviews, i.e. I chose not to have research assistants although this project is funded. This built trustworthiness between interviewees and me. 

Working with data

 ‘Transcription is theory’ (Ochs 1979). By transcribing in-depth interviews, a process both tedious but fulfilling, you begin theorising. You not only familiarise yourself with the data by revisiting the scene as it were, but you also begin the first steps of data analysis as you begin to ‘see’ links between or among theoretical categories that you began your project with, in this case, ‘sexuality’ and ‘religion’.

I find it problematic when I hear from both novice and seasoned researchers alike that they only transcribe what they feel is ‘important’. As a grounded theorist (Glaser and Strauss 1974, Strauss and Corbin 1990, Charmaz 2000, 2006) this approach to generating data risks forcing data to fit theory (deductive) rather than building theory from data (inductive). Transcribing is akin to the production of texts as opposed to working with extant (already available) texts. It is therefore vital not only to offer a faithful transcription of the conversation shared between interviewer-interviewee but also to listen not only to voices but also noises in the data during the analysis process.

The textual data generated is huge—an interview of 1½-hour’s duration generates almost 30 pages of text (Times New Roman, 12-size font, 1.15 line spacing). So an integral aspect to working with the data is managing the data; organising and making sense of it. To students whom I have supervised, I encourage them to use a form of CAQDAS (Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software), ATLAS.ti specifically, to more effectively manage their data that comprises the dual-process of de-contextualization and re-contextualization (Tesch 1990: 115-127). De-contextualising data serves the purpose of breaking down data into manageable bite sizes for researchers to chew on. This is done principally through coding which is the smallest unit of meaning for each quotation or extract of the textual data. When all 30 interviews are coded, what emerges is a list of family codes—codes, i.e. religion—Muslim, religion—Christian, religion—Tibetan Buddhist, religion—Hindu, religion—New Age spiritualist and religion—non-believer. This list is comparable to a compression of hundreds of pages (30 pages per interview multiplied by 30 interviews) of textual data. Data is de-contextualised as I study this apart from the textual data (interview transcripts), for a while, in order to map out what constitutes research findings of the project, in other words, the story that is waiting to be told.

Data must then be re-contextualized within their primary source which is the interview transcript and secondly, with other family codes—codes towards theory building (where theory is the relationship between or among categories). I apply this by studying the list of family codes—codes in tandem with their respective list of quotations (with its source fully cited by ATLAS.ti’s code-and-retrieve function, i.e. which primary document/ interview it comes from, which quotation number and lines).  

The researcher drives the interpretative qualitative analysis of his/her research. Coding that is enabled and made fun through the use of ATLAS.ti in my experience, serves as a ‘heuristic device’ (Coffey, Holbrook and Atkinson 1996, paragraph 7.7., Seidel and Kelle 1995: 52-53). I have elsewhere (Bong 2007) expounded on debunking myths in CAQDAS use and coding in qualitative data analysis. 

Analysis processes

I began with a ‘hypothesis’—a provisional relationship between two or three categories, in this instance, religion and sexuality. My hunch and informed by literature review is that—there is a story in this and it is a story that needs to be told (in part because it is under-researched). Data is then generated and analysed as elucidated in the previous sections.

The following is a quotation from interview 29 (primary document 1) by Dave (pseudonym) who is a 20-something Christian gay man:

I kept telling myself, eventually I would become normal. And go back down the straight path...it was very normal for people to kind of like condemn [smiles] people who act...a bit sissy...girly. And so like I joined the ranks-lah, in a sense like maybe I was trying to hide...closeted gays... but inside of me, I would still like look at this classmate (in an all boys’ school) in a certain way... And to kind of like put up that front, I tried to like, date girls, I mean date people...of the opposite sex...To my friends, I’m straight, I’m normal. We would talk about girls. And but um, in private I like hooking up with other guys.

To see the interpretative qualitative analysis of the above quotation with output of family codes-codes generated by using ATLAS.ti, Click here

In the above quotation what strikes the researcher is the reiteration of becoming ‘normal’, i.e. ‘straight’ as articulated by a gay man. But there are nuances imbedded that I wish to flesh out in order to produce what grounded theorists term as a ‘fine-grained hermeneutical analysis’ (Coffey, Holbrook and Atkinson 1996). So coding the entire quotation as [aspiration-become normal] only would be inadequate (with [aspiration] as the family code and [become normal] as the code).

With reference to the link provided, you can see how the impetus to become normal as articulated by Dave, is interpreted through the following family codes—codes:

Aspiration-become normal

Normal-date (opposite sex)

Normal-condemn sissies

Normal-straight path

Within a heterosexist familial space (where heterosexuality in other words is privileged and homosexuality, condemned), Dave’s aspires to become normal (as a gay man) to avoid the penalties for non-compliance. The family code of [coping strategy] attests to his self-regulation of queer desires and [coping strategy] is in turn, fleshed out through the following codes:

Coping strategy-become normal

Coping strategy-become straight

Coping strategy-closeted

Coping strategy-double life

Coping strategy-join ranks

Coping strategy-public/private

Coping strategy-put up front 

A ‘fine-grained hermeneutical analysis’ also entails permutations of codes, i.e. [aspiration-become normal] and [coping strategy-become normal]. Is it necessary to have two family codes—[aspiration] and [coping strategy] for a similar code [become normal]? Yes because they have different inflections and in offering a ‘thick description’ of this particular quotation, it would more richly inform the write-up of the research project. Key ideas generated at this stage are:

becoming straight or normal for a gay man is an imperative as he inhabits public/ private spaces within a straight culture hence his [aspiration-(to) become normal] and his [coping strategy-(in becoming) normal]; and

(on his coming out as a gay man later in the interview) becoming straight is a rite of passage to becoming queer. In building theory from data, I am thus guided to Sara Ahmed’s conceptualisation of ‘queer phenomenology’ (2006). In phenomenological terms, she explains how we are not born straight but become one. I then stretch this theorising further to show how interviewees are not born queer but become one (through, in the case of Dave, unlearning how to become straight and gradually coming out as queer).

When I analyse qualitative data, I constantly remind myself to remain reflexive—in listening to noises in the data and not being judgemental. This is what the politics of interpretation entails; being cognizant of researcher bias and of levelling the power dynamics between researcher-researched, particularly if the latter are socially marginalised. An example of non-reflexivity would be to code the quotation below:

And so like I joined the ranks-lah, in a sense like maybe I was trying to hide...closeted gays... but inside of me, I would still like look at this classmate (in an all boys’ school) in a certain way... And to kind of like put up that front, I tried to like, date girls, I mean date people...of the opposite sex...

as [coping strategy-duplicity/ lying] rather than [coping strategy-closeted] [coping strategy-join ranks] [coping strategy-put up front]. Ethics in researching (beyond securing ethics approval) is also practised by basing codes on expressions used by interviewees as far as is possible, especially if they have coined an interesting word (i.e. ‘loonyversary’ by a lesbian couple who celebrate the alternative ritual of their joint menstruation cycles).

In this manner, every quotation of every primary document within the Hermeneutic Unit (folder for all 30 primary documents or interview transcripts) is coded to evince a fine-grained hermeneutic analysis (Coffey, Holbrook and Atkinson 1996) to unveil the layers of meanings of each turn of phrase and expose fissures where meaning is seemingly elided. 

Reporting the project

With reference to the quotation analysed in section 4, the following is extracted from a conference paper presented at the ‘Persons and Sexuality’ conference held in Salzburg, November 2008, titled, ‘Sexualising sexuality and spiritualising sexuality in postcolonial narratives of becoming’. The theoretical framework is informed by Ahmed (2006) and the thesis of the paper (premised on data analysis) is that becoming straight is paradoxically a rite of passage to becoming gay: 

 ‘Sexual orientations,’ as Ahmed adds, in developing Butler’s notion of gender performativity (1990), ‘are also performative: in directing one’s desire toward some others, and not other others, bodies in turn acquire their shapes’ (Ahmed 2006: 557). One is not born straight but becomes straight through the repetitive acts of sustaining the foreclosure of being attracted to homosexual or same-sex objects. The queer subject inhabiting the heteronormative space of a ‘straight culture’, sometimes masks his/ her desire for homosexual or same-sex objects to avoid being ‘made socially present as a deviant’ (Ahmed 2006: 554). The queer subject becomes straight by opting for the ‘straight path’ (through the discipline of desire) and celibacy (through the repression of desire). To illustrate, Dave, a 20-something Christian gay man says:

I kept telling myself, eventually I would become normal. And go back down the straight path...it was very normal for people to kind of like condemn [smiles] people who act...a bit sissy...girly. And so like I joined the ranks-lah, in a sense like maybe I was trying to hide...closeted gays... but inside of me, I would still like look at this classmate (in an all boys’ school) in a certain way... And to kind of like put up that front, I tried to like, date girls, I mean date people...of the opposite sex...To my friends, I’m straight, I’m normal. We would talk about girls. And but um, in private I like hooking up with other guys.

Dave, as a queer subject, becomes straight in ‘[turning] toward the objects given to [him] by heterosexual culture’ (Ahmed 2006: 554) by trying to “like [and] date...people...of the opposite sex”. In becoming straight, he makes visible his compliance with the ‘straight culture’ by “joining the ranks” which includes “[condemning] people who act...a bit sissy...girly” in order to reap the rewards of being “normal”. The rite of passage in becoming straight however, is disrupted by his inability to effect the concomitant ‘[turning] away from objects that take [him] off this line’ (Ahmed 2006: 554), by concurrently and “in private...hooking up with other guys”. The self-pressure to sustain these repetitive acts of normalcy within the regime of ‘compulsory heterosexuality (Rich quoted in Dyer 1997: 267)’, leads Dave towards self-deception where he “kept telling [himself that] eventually [he] would become normal [i.e. straight]”. The discipline of desire (for homosexual objects) is an effect of his becoming straight. As sexual orientations are ‘performative’ (Ahmed 2006: 557), Dave in “[putting] up that front” becomes, for some time and with family and friends, a straight man. 

The conference paper can be accessed at:

http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/ptb/persons/pas/pas5/s2.html (homepage of inter-Disciplinary.Net) and will be published (Bong 2009).

An invaluable resource is the online journal, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs

References

Ahmed, S. (2006) ‘Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology’. In GLQ (Gay Lesbian Quarterly) 12 (4): 543-574.

Bong, S. A. (2007) ‘Debunking Myths in CAQDAS Use and Coding in Qualitative Data Analysis: Experiences with and Reflections on Grounded Theory Methodology’. In Historical Social Research. Edited by G. Mey and K. Mruck. Cologne: Center for Historical Social Research: 258-275.  

Bong, S. A. (2009) ‘Sexualising Faith and Spiritualising Sexuality in Postcolonial Narratives of Same-Sex Intimacy’ in Carlo Zuccarini and Allison Moore (Eds.), Persons and Sexuality: Probing the Boundaries. Inter-Disciplinary Press (e-book)

Charmaz, K. (2000) Grounded Theory: Objectivist and Constructivist Methods. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd edition), 509-535. Thousand Oaks; London; New Delhi: Sage. 

Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London; Thousand Oaks; New Delhi: Sage.

Coffey, A.; Holbrook, B. and Atkinson, P. (1996). ‘Qualitative Data Analysis: Technologies and Representations’. In Sociological Research Online, 1(1), http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/1/1/4.html (accessed 14 January 2009).

Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. L. (1974). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies For Qualitative Research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing (First published in 1967).

Ng Yi-Sheng (2006) SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century. Singapore: Oogachaga.

Ochs, E. (1979). ‘Transcription as Theory’. In E. Ochs & B. Schieffelin (Eds.), Developmental Pragmatics, 43-72. New York: Academic Press.

Renzetti, C. M. and R. M. Lee (eds.) (1993) Researching Sensitive Topics. Newbury Park; London; New Delhi: Sage.

Seidel, J. & Kelle, U. (1995). ‘Different Functions of Coding in the Analysis of Textual Data’. In Udo Kelle (Ed.), Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis: Theory, Methods and Practice, 52-61. London; Thousand Oaks; New Dehli: Sage.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park, California; London; New Delhi: Sage.

Tesch, R. (1990). Qualitative Research: Analysis Types and Software Tools. New York, Philadelphia; London: The Falmer Press. 

 

Looking back

1. Three years on: research developments

 Relevant subsequent research by you or others – where was it done and how different was it to your earlier project?

There is relevant subsequent research by a PhD candidate that I have been supervising since last year. His research project focuses on non-heteronomative men within the Malaysian context where mine focuses on GLBTIQ persons from Malaysia and Singapore. I bring together discourses of sexuality and religiosity or spirituality and he intends to theologise from his analysis of the narratives.

Our research stands apart from other research in Sexualities Studies in Malaysia and Singapore in three ways. Firstly, we eschew a secularist approach to researching the sexualities of GLBTIQ persons. Secondly, we bring together discourses of sexuality and religiosity or spirituality to more fully consider the extent to which religion and spirituality can potentially affirm diverse sexualities where the more common approach is to view religions and spiritualities as predominantly or exclusively condemnatory of diverse sexualities. Thirdly, we interviewed GLBTIQ persons from other faiths (e.g., Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism) where the more common approach is to privilege Malay-Muslims as the ethnic and religious majority in Malaysia (Wong Yuen Mei on Malay-Muslim pengkids or masculine-identified women, Ismail Baba on homosexuality, Teh Yik Koon on mak nyahs, male-to-female transgender persons) and Chinese-Buddhist as the ethnic and religious majority in Singapore. So within the multi-ethnic and multi-religious contexts of Malaysia and Singapore, this standpoint is impactful as it more meaningfully makes visible narratives that are otherwise silenced, particularly those who do not view becoming fully sexual and religious a contradiction in terms.

What does it add to or alter in the understanding of your project’s topic?  What is new and why? (Different method? Different theoretical approach? ….)

Whilst I work within the multi-disciplines of sexuality studies and religious studies, my supervisee draws on theology. So it adds to scholarship in a much under-researched area of study still particularly in the context of Asia and specifically, Southeast Asia. The wealth of scholarship on gay sexuality in the context of Singapore is predominantly secular, e.g., Heng (2012) on the visibility of the gay community and Loh (2012) on gay social memory. As such, research in Sexuality Studies that engages with religion and likewise, research in Religious Studies or Theology that engages with sexuality in the context of Southeast Asia, tend to be less common. In the context of Southeast Asia, the work of Michael J. Peletz traces a greater gender and sexual pluralism where legitimacy was accorded to diverse sexualities in early modern Asia. In the context of Indonesia, key scholars on lesbian sexuality include Evelyn Blackwood and on gay Muslims, Tom Boellstorff.

 If there isn’t anything new in the area since your work, what does that indicate about the field, or maybe the decisive brilliance of your work?

So far, no. Negotiating sexuality and religions in the context of Malaysia holds the challenge of embarking on a highly sensitive topic given that the state religion is Islam (although Malaysia remains a secular state). And even when Muslim GLBTIQ persons are researched on, religious discourses are often positioned as sources of discrimination per se which is quite different from my research findings. And in the case of Singapore, most studies do not engage with religion given the secularity of the state. I am due to submit a book manuscript soon (there are three interested publishers) and this will afford the project closure. 

2.       In hindsight

If you were to design and conduct that project now, what would you do differently? Why? (Different method or location? Different theoretical approach? ….)

I would, given adequate funds, have followed through with the original intent—conduct interviews as the primary method of generating data across more countries within Southeast Asia. And I would also consider the use of mixed methods (quantitative-qualitative) in collaboration with an expert in Psychology, for instance, to probe measures such as ‘religiosity’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘sexuality’. This idea came about as a result of my supervising another PhD student who studied the well-being of Malaysian Christians. 

What did the project need to be more satisfying to you, more adequately addressing questions that matter?  (Feel free to grump about what you should have done if you’d had adequate time or money!)

Notwithstanding the point above (2a), I am much fulfilled by this research project.

3.       Software tools

Looking back, could you have used the qualitative software available to you more effectively – and how? (Please do honestly contribution any reflections on your own or team members’ software use and advice to others.)

Again, on the question of adequate funds, I would have used a more recent version of ATLAS.ti simply because there were compatibility issues with the upgrading of Windows 7.

How would current versions of software tools have helped?  (The answer may be simple – e.g., not at all! – or quite complex, if new tools have appeared to do what you were unable to do three years ago.)

Contributing I suspect, to a different kind of rigour in data analyses.

Another chance to express annoyance or despair if all these years on, the available tools still would not do what you needed?

Not applicable.

 

References

Blackwood, Evelyn (2007b) ‘Transnational sexualities in one place: Indonesian readings’. In Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia E. Wieringa (eds) Women’s Sexualities and Masculinities in a Globalising Asia. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 181–199. 

Boellstorff, Tom (2005a) ‘Between religion and desire: being Muslim and gay in Indonesia’. American Anthropologist, 107 (4): 575–585.

― (2005b) The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Heng, Russell Hiang Khng (2012) ‘Tiptoe out of the closet’. Journal of Homosexuality, 40 (3–4): 81–96.

Loh, Lionel Han Loong (2012) ‘Deconstructing the silences: gay social memory’. Journal of Homosexuality, 59 (5): 675–688.

Peletz, Michael G.  (2011) ‘Gender pluralism: Muslim Southeast Asia since early modern times’. Social Research, Summer 78 (2): 659–686.

Teh, Yik Koon (2002) The Mak Nyahs: Malaysia Males to Female Transsexuals. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

Wong, Yuenmei (2012) ‘Islam, sexuality, and the marginal positioning of pengkids and their girlfriends in Malaysia’. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 16 (4): 435–448.

Sharon A. Bong

  I presently teach creative writing and Gender Studies at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University, Malaysia. My research interests are varied and they include: feminist standpoint epistemologies; rights and sexualities in religions; qualitative researching and analyses using ATLAS.ti.

My multi-disciplinary academic background stems from my shift from dead poets to living communities in moving away from literature in English to Women's Studies and Religious Studies over a decade ago. From textual analysis of extant (literary) texts, I now find greater fulfillment in generating texts (i.e. interview transcripts) and analyzing them qualitatively with the aid of ATLAS.ti, a Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software.

I first started using ATLAS.ti for my PhD research, over the turn of the century, and I am particularly pleased with this acquired skill as I am a technophobe. In this research project I investigated how Malaysian-based feminists (25 women and two men) negotiate the tension between the rhetoric and practice of rights as contained in women's human rights conventions and their lived realities within multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious contexts. The publications resulting from this endeavour include my first book titled, The Tension Between Women's Rights and Religions: The Case of Malaysia (2006, Edwin Mellen Press) as well as book chapters and journal articles on qualitative researching and Grounded Theory methodology.

In my present research project on sexuality and religion, I seek to better understand how GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and queer) persons fully live out their sexuality and spirituality in the context of Malaysia and Singapore. Through qualitative analyses of these living texts, the narratives of persons in same-sex partnerships, I show how they re-imagine not only the meaning of 'marriage' in religion but also religion in 'marriage'.

Contact:
Dr Sharon A Bong
Senior Lecturer, School of Arts and Social Sciences
Monash University,
Jalan Lagoon Selatan
47500 Bandar Sunway
Selangor
Malaysia 

Sharon photo