SotF – Matthew Johnson – Circumcision, the ‘anti-faith’ agenda, monotheists and equality

Monday 19 August 2013, 7:50 pm - 8:50 pm
At: Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG


Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson

Circumcision is practised on around one third of males globally.

The medical literature on its costs and benefits is mixed.   It was once promoted as a means of preventing ‘tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis’ and ‘polio’ (as well as preventing ‘idiocy’, and ‘forgetfulness’ by virtue of its role as a perceived masturbation prophylaxis); now it is associated with HIV reduction efforts.

However,  more often than not circumcision is practised for cultural reasons rather than medical ones by an array of monotheist, polytheist and even atheist groups. As a counter to this, some argue that circumcision may share similarities with forms of female genital ‘mutilation’ in constituting harm and contravening human rights legislation, citing factors such as potential sexual diminution, social coercion and gender discrimination. This argument was apparent in the recent decision of a German regional court to prohibit the circumcision of minors.

In this talk, Matthew examines the comparison between male and female forms of genital cutting as the basis for a discussion on the privileged position of monotheistic groups in public life, leading to a call for a more egalitarian approach to invasive practices.


Matthew Johnson is a Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Lancaster, UK. He has written on cultural diversity, liberalism, Marxism and invasive cultural rites, such as male and female genital cutting, is editor of the journal Global Discourse (Taylor and Francis) and the edited book The Legacy of Marxism (Continuum) and has authored Evaluating Culture: Well-being, Institutions and Circumstance (Palgrave MacMillan), which examines the contribution of culture to human wellbeing. He has taught at the Universities of Newcastle, Queensland, Iceland and York and is currently developing a project examining welfare regimes, cultural diversity and wellbeing by organising a cross-cultural exchange between people from an Aboriginal Australian community and Ashington in his native North East of England.

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