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John Boswell

John Boswell was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised Episcopalian in a military family. He converted to Catholicism while a student at the College of William and Mary. After earning a Ph.D. at Harvard, he joined the Yale history department where he taught for the rest of his career. A medievalist by training, he was proficient in many languages of the ancient and medieval world. Boswell reached beyond scholars with his 1980 book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. In it, he argued the bold and controversial thesis that Christianity had not always condemned homosexuality, but had often been tolerant of same-sex love. Only in the thirteenth century did anti-homosexual views become a firm part of Christian teaching. Boswell’s book was written in an accessible style, was reviewed widely by mainstream newspapers and magazines, and received the National Book Award in 1981. It opened up the field of gay history dramatically, and created much debate within religious circles. Boswell wrote a number of other books, including Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994), and helped found a Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale. Boswell died of complications from AIDS in 1994.