Feminism and religion
Feminism and religion are closely interconnected subjects because the root of all gender based bias is organized religions. All major religions barring some ancient ones evolved during an era when women were considered inferior to men in one way or the other. If we look at the traditions, practices, scriptures and theological outpourings of all major religions we will find bias and discrimination against women in some or the other form.
Feminism and religion: Religion and "impurity" of women
Most of the religions believed women to be a hindrance in religious practice and spirituality. Women were considered as impure and basal in nature. They were not considered worthy enough to read, write or understand the religious texts or scriptures. Their purpose of existence was only seen as to fulfil "their so called duties" towards men either as a daughter, or as a wife, or as a mother. Women were considered as objects to be possessed rather than human beings with mind, body and soul.
On the other hand it has to be also emphasised that these same religions also offered rich tributes and generous grants to women in many forms. The role of wife and the mother was highly glorified and respected.
Feminism and religion: The "individual self"
Overall we find that all religions lacked an outlook towards women which encouraged the blossoming of the "individual self". Rather than focussing on the "individual self", all religions looked at women through the prism of "stereotyped roles" that had to be created for the sustenance of the male dominated society. The role of Feminism is to study these religions and campaign for the removal of bias and discriminations against women that may exist in any form and "reinforce or create" all positive and progressive thinking which are supportive of women and gender based equality in particular.
Feminism and religion: "Male dominated structures" in religion
Now let me address another major issue related to the "male dominated structure" of all religions. If we just look at all the major religions of the world we will find that all these religions are officially controlled by men in the form of clergy and religious authorities. We will also find that most of the religions have a male-dominated imagery and language about God. This is true of all the religions that came into existence in the last 500 to 1000 years.
Feminism and religion: "Goddess orientation" in ancient religions
On the other hand ancient religions were mostly goddess oriented in the beginning but got shoddier in the latter periods with open discrimination and bias against women. These ancient religions had earlier supported gender equality as is reflected in many of their traditions, scriptures and practices. In fact these were the religions where worship of goddesses was an established norm earlier but then these traditions were latter marginalized and sidelined for male dominated structures and imagery.
Feminism and religion: Greater role for women in religious structures
So the role of feminism also becomes important in religion. Feminism as a movement should campaign for greater role of women in the official control of religious structures and it should work for enhanced presence of women as clergy and religious authorities. Here the goal should be to separate the stereotyped view on women and encourage "merit" based on individual self.
Feminism and religion: Detailed study
The study of feminism and religion cannot be complete unless we also study the following topics in detail.
1. Christian Feminism-This includes the study of subtopics like equality of women and men in Christianity, the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, claims of moral deficiency and inferiority of abilities of women compared to men, balance of parenting between mothers and fathers and the overall treatment of women in the church.
Feminism and religion: Eradication of gender inequality in religion
Gender equality in the social, cultural, political and economic spheres of life are not possible until gender based discrimination is eradicated from all the religions of the world. This becomes all the more important because in most of the societies and cultures around the world "organized religion" is highly interlinked and interwoven with the social, cultural political and economic fabric of life.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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