Female Religious Preeminence in the Indigenous Religion of Okinawa

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The indigenous religion of Okinawa is unique in that it defies typical gender rolls that most prominent world religions have developed and continue to exhibit. In this religion, women are not relegated to playing subservient roles based on their gender, but in contrast, constitute the majority of religious leadership within the culture. What makes the indigenous religion of Okinawa exceptionally groundbreaking is the fact that this female dominated religion is the respected and “only on the Ryukyu Islands do women lead the official mainstream religion” (127). The Okinawan religion’s lack of a defined gender ideology, as well as its female dominated religious culture makes it stand as exceptionally unique and contrasting to most of the worlds popular world religions. With the exception of the religion of Okinawa, “all known religions led by women are comprised only of women and/or are considered marginal, subordinate, or secondary in the societies in which they are located” (127). The women in the indigenous religion of Okinawa live without the entrenched sphere of male domination that is present in most religious and government bodies throughout the world. There is an embedded deference for women and “Okinawan women are acknowledged and respected leaders of the publicly funded indigenous religion in which both men and women participate” (127). Sered notes that it has not been an easy road for the culture as a whole throughout this tenure of female religious domination. The culture has in fact been through many political and social changes in which the legitimacy of female religious prominence was never upended. “Women’s female preeminence in Okinawa has endured through a range of political structures and political changes: decentralized villages, warring feudal chiefdoms, a centralized monarchy, occupation by foreign power” (128). It is an imbedded aspect of their culture that has remained unchanged during the long and at times tumultuous history of the...
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