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The hustles and bustles of the modern contemporary life leaves little room for critical analysis and digression into the core relationships existing between feminism and religion under the auspice of a comprehensive sociological discourse. However, a simple discussion may suffice for this moment albeit if we overlook the diversity and fluidity of the sociological movement in its entirety. Religion is an important construct of understanding issues in contemporary life. Religion illuminates the experiences and practices of individuals and as such significantly contributing as a critical component of the diversity of institutional processes, socioeconomic inequality and gender relations. On the other hand religion plays a fundamental role in social change and public culture. This diversity of theoretical and practical perspectives brings into fore its existence as a sociological phenomenon.
In many standard texts of feminism, two related but distinct facets usually feminism shape discussions. The first facet has profound association with the struggle for the rights and liberties of women that began in the 19th and early 20th century. The second espouses the explosion of feminism and gender studies in the 1960s to present.
The first wave can be said to have been gender blind since it sought to propagate the belief in the equality of sexes while subsuming the differences that existed under the belief in a common humanity. The explosion of feminism and gender studies stimulated the campaign of the equality of the sexes bed rocked on a highly existentialist understanding of the sexes. It is also worthwhile to note that at this time feminism was completely devolved from religion to an extent of being in opposition to organized religion(Furseth 2006). From the 1960s into the 80s these campaigns were directed towards the obliteration of male dominance and oppression that were rooted on the patriarchal system. On this nascent existentialist understanding, the explosion of feminism and gender studies has transcended to the exploration of gender differences which are currently opined to be complex, multifaceted, constructed, fluid and only loosely related to the physical body. This fluidity of gender and feminism studies is what defines the sociological discourses on feminism and religion.
Over the past few decades many texts have tried to elucidate the concept of feminism and religion by analyzing images and texts of men and women in religious presentations. Most of these texts are exclusive to the faculties of theology and religious studies. As these discussions become more pronounced, the effects of such elucidations have successfully crept into everyday lives of women, consequently defining the differences that exist between the religious experiences of women and man. While studies of contemporary religiosity basically describes the responsiveness of women to religion, feminism almost wholeheartedly posits that religious women possess false consciousness(Furseth 2006). Since feminism cannot be divulged on in complete disregard to the gender aspect, religion is linked to gender on the concept of its interpretation of sexuality. In rejection of traditional religion, feminist theologists espoused feminized versions of spiritualism such as the Wicca and Goddess movement.
Almost all forms of organized religions and religious traditions prescribe norms that regulate gender relations and the expression of sexuality in the society. This initial regulation is the primal linkage of sexuality and religion. Many religious texts have specific norms that restrict the expression of a womans sexuality and condemn bisexuality and homosexuality. Even in the post modern era today, the religiously prescribed traditional family unit is still regarded as an ideal ans basic social structure. According to Webster in his digression into classical sociology, he reiterated that the relationship between religion and sex was very intimate. In fact sexual intercourse could as well be referred to as an orgiastic religion. Through the institutionalization of religion, sex became regulated through marriage. It is on the basis of this linkage that religious texts prescribe dogmas controlling any expression of sexuality and femininity(Juschka 2001).
Feminism and Religion
Driven by the belief that women are by nature of their existence bestowed equal social, political, intellectual and economic rights and liberties as men, feminists have through the centuries stimulated movements, postulated theories and developed theories that are primarily concerned with issues hovering around gender differences. These women engaged in the advocacy for equal rights and interests of women. Through wide reaching strategies, feminists have succeeded in altering culture and laws. In religion, feminism through feminist theology seeks to reconsider religious traditions, scriptures, practices and theologies so that they attain congruence with the feminist perspectives. Feminists advocate for the inclusion of women as clergies, increase the role of women in religious authorities as well as reinterpreting the male dominated language and imagery about God. Taken from a sociological perspective and the role of religion in determining the place of a woman in the community, feminism strives to obliterate the religious underpinnings that regulate the woman while in essence developing feminism as an independent construct that is as influential as religion itself.
Initially, as feminist though challenged the disciplines of literary criticism, classical studies, psychoanalysis and anthropology, these disciplines were more receptive to feminism as opposed to religion, history , philosophy and broadly science. These differences in receptivity are primarily a function of the number of women who had already excelled in these disciplines. However, religion has been adamant to feminization partly because at the core of its practice, the scriptures that shape the religious thought are by an large against feminist thoughts. This assertion does not in any way imply that the field of religion is completely devoid of feminists.
Men and women employ divergent approaches in pastoral ministry and feminists reiterate that the feminine approach is usually more desirable than the traditional masculine approach. Even though masculinity and male dominance are ingrained in religiosity, feminists believe that these male attributes are the the causative agents of hyper competitiveness, segmented relationships. Impersonal hierarchies, power over people, mastery of nature, authoritarian decision making, legalistic ethics, rigid theology and the exclusion of women and other minorities from religious authority since men view them as pathological. In contrast to this masculine approach women have been praised to be embody holistic relationships, egalitarianism, personal communities, cooperation with nature, existential ethics, open and flexible theology and the inclusion of women and minorities in the pastoral ministry(Swatos 1994).
The assumptions noted above are not accepted by all feminists. Two factions; maximalists and minimalists contest the assumptions. Maximalists believe in feminine superiority. They postulate that there are clearly identifiable behavioral, cognitive and effective uniqueness that are endemic to women and men alike. Contrastingly, minimalists postulate that there exist more similarities than there are differences between males and females in the ministry and as such women too deserve equal positions of religious authority(Swatos 1994).
Through the use of feminized tools, feminists have developed theories and philosophies to challenge earlier presumptions in religion. Despite this stride feminist theories are more restricted to feminist scholars and not largely endorsed by androcentric scholars. Because of this, theories intended for the alteration or distortion of the basic religious writings have been met by superficial acknowledgment or even in worst cases ignored. Feminism is a social and political critique that has no relation to the biological dispensation whatsoever but since its inception into the academic sphere it has maintained its biological phenomenon further making its acceptance in a male dominated religiosity almost impossible.
Feminist analyses at all levels of engagement reveal the encoding of message the is based entirely on gender. It is not therefore a mystery that feminism is resisted. All these obstacles aside, feminism has succeeded in challenging the intellectual domains in religion. In the 18th century, the rise of feminist thought was greatly influenced by the political discourse around the French Revolution and the Humanist ideologies in the Enlightenment philosophy. Based on the Enlightenment philosophy, scholars began to question the attitudes that rejected the female gender as a rational being. The concept of the woman an an irrational being was both resident in the medical ideology, Christian theology, Hindu theology and even in Muslim theology.
The Enlightenment acted as a stimulant to the rise of an independent feminist thought championed by women scholars. Espousing the belief in egalitarianism and the existence of natural rights of all human beings irrespective of gender, women thrust themselves into the social sphere , creating for themselves a place in not only production in human history but also the generation of knowledge. Women scholars working inside the androcentric frame began challenging religious notions that spread the belief in womens irrationality. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was one of the feminist scholars to challenge the biological underpinning that women were but passive receptacles of the men’s seed(Juschka 2001).
Development in cultural consciousness through the 18th and the 19th centuries created a new form of knowledge where women scholars began to engender the intelligentsia discourse creating a body of intellectual fermentation that resulted in the modern woman view-intelligent, autonomous and self reliant- a woman who could resist the millennial old notions of marriage and motherhood being the ultimate destinies of the woman. Through the creation of independent channels of the generation of knowledge, feminism began to challenge religiously prescribed beliefs of male supremacy and the regulation of female expression of sexuality by reiterating that the modern woman was above all sexually independent.
The backlash of feminist thought also included the tumbling down of family values. The response from men who controlled the generation of knowledge under the androcentric frame to use such religious knowledge to uphold and ascertain the existence of male superiority and hegemony. In religious texts of Judaism and Christianity, the Book of Genesis was used to demonstrate divine legitimacy of male dominance and female subordination. From the same bible, feminist hermeneutics supported feminist struggles and disregarded hegemonic misinterpretations by drawing on Jesus’ teachings on racial and sexual equality. At the extreme of feminist hermeneutical endeavor lay The Womans Bible by Cady Stanton’s(Juschka 2001).
In Feminism, gender ideologies refers to the understanding of the sexes of the human species within their cultures. These gender differences are mapped from the biological into philosophical and metaphysical. Analysis on these three front is entirely dependent on human thought, human action and psychology. Through the interplay of the biological mappings and the metaphysical mappings; unequal social relations developed(Juschka 2001). These mappings which are in themselves subject to biased analysis are used to legitimate, naturalize and uphold their products: the unequal social relations. As a consequence, maleness predisposes rationality and femaleness predisposes irrationality.
Theorist Michel Foucault points out that religion is inseparable from matters of the body and sexuality. This explains why religious discourses are primarily centered on the body and what individuals do with such bodies hence the close association between the dominant and oppressive structures such as patriarchy and homophobia. As such discourses on religion do not only take this leaning disregard feminism but also establish structures that controls the relationship between body and sexuality.
From organized religions structures are developed in reference to an understanding of this relationship. For instance, in the Roman Catholic Church, the dogmas undervalue a womans dignity due to their supposedly inferior stature in nature. This inferiority means that sex should never be viewed as an act of love. Drawn from the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, sexual eroticism which is an indulgence is mortal sin since at no time should pleasure be separated from the biological purpose of sex. In this cases a sin is a derivative of a religious belief but the theory on which it is based views it as a result of not adhering to the existence of inequality of the sexes; a violation of the religiously prescribed reproductive sexuality structure(Furseth 2006).
While the Muslim view may be considerably positive with regard to the reproductive sexuality structure, it completely removes the notion of sexuality being opposite to spirituality. The Islamic tradition perceives sexuality as a form of divine instrument used in the creation off intimacy and love between the sexes under the institution of marriage. This should not be confused with pre-Islamic notions that are nonetheless predominant in todays Muslim’s societies: notions of shame and honor linked to chastity and social behavior. In the latter case men allocate a woman’s sexuality in cases of honor. Moreover, the woman’s sexuality is linked to the honor and self image of the man. In that case, for a man to receive honor and improve their self image, they must be able to control the bodies of women. This is achieved by blocking access to birth control interventions, putting emphasis on the mans right to sexual relations at his wish and putting high value on female fertility. Among Islamic women, the hijab or veil demonstrates the control of sexuality.
Hinduism espouses traditional attributes that require a woman to bear a man children while sharing his life in marriage. Hindu texts are predominantly androcentric as they lay profound emphasis on the male species. In fact it is more preferable for a woman to bear sons for the husband that daughters. Despite the worship of the procreative ability of the mother, he status in society is not uplifted.
A variety of feminist scholars have also attacked the masculinist culture and the existence of patriarchal religious traditions because they are based on religions since religious have the special capacity of legitimizing patriarchy and consequently female subordination. As a didactic function religious discourse bear gendered meanings in culture(Castelli & McBride 1991). The role of culture in modeling roles and responsibilities based on gender ha been reported in multitude volumes. An integration of religion into culture of vise versa is detriment to the ideals of feminism.
For instance, Nietz considers the relationship between culture and gender by opining that there exists a clear congruence between some aspects in the feminist theories and the demonstrated shifts in culture. These relationships in turn model religion and culture as practiced in everyday lives. Moreover, religion and religious practice is embodied and gendered and it lies at the very core of religious identification. In a social or cultural context, religion is lived(Davie 2007).
On the understanding that the union of culture and religion is solid and that upholds the insistence of the absence of women, feminists argue that liberation of women from the univocal patriarchal stereotypes craves for a simultaneous reform of the traditional religious contours and the unification of the multiplicity of female voices. This novel approach is the redemptive posture. This posture posits that even though the feminist theologians are bound to the faiths they observe, they are still held back by the mythic origins of the religious traditions that antedate the patriarchal discourse, for this reason they need to redemptio or redemere or rather to be redeemed from the past that has held them captive(Castelli & McBride 1991).
This approach meets insurmountable challenges since feminist theologians are faced on one part by liberating themselves as women who have been bound for centuries from scriptures and traditions interpreted by misogynistic men and from silences of androcentric myth, rituals and marriage. On the other hand, feminist theologians are confessors of the same region whose origins they seek to discredit. For this reason they will be forced by the nature of their confession to the faith to be redeemed only in accordance to the misogynist distortions. In both cases, these theologians are captive to the religious traditions that have completely infiltrated their cultures.
In opposition to the redemptive posture some feminists posit that in order to avoid paying the ransom price through careful redemptive options, they can as well disregard traditional religions as well because historically they have oppressed women anyway. This plausible option is the purely anagroretic posture. This posture resists knowing the meanings-reflective, active or causal and therefore stimulating a revolutionary memory transformation. A transformation that is geared towards developing an image of a liberated woman.
In her book, the Feminist Imagination Bell(1999) predicts an era where feminism may never imagine its political, legal, social, religious or economic horizons of theorist continually grapple with past oversights, misplaced projections and mistakes. She envisages that this will be the era of non identity feminists. At the onset of the 20th century, feminism faced a challenge surrounding the specificity of its vision.
Reporting on Kristeva, Bell reiterates that the challenges facing feminism are but an illumination of the fragility and solidity of the sociocultural ensembles that forges the common denominators of symbolism. Therefore, as feminism continues to break down political systems that are against it it remains with an ambitious objective whose realization is borderless. This vision that almost positions itself against Christian morality perceives a society that is prohibitionless, harmonious, free and fulfilling. This vision is akin to a-topia albeit with fantasy. If that era ensues then feminism will just be a step away from religion. These same challenges of loss identity in the 21st century may re-usher may usher superficial recognition and a new wave of misogynistic androcentricity.