Discuss the contribution of the feminist perspective to our understanding of religion?
While studying feminism, it is very hard not to notice that all the major religions are patriarchal, they all have male Gods and favor men to be the officials on earth. They frequently devise ways of excluding women from both church and society. Many more new age movements seem to be keeping this patriarchal order. This essay will explore the feminist perspective on religion and the different feminist opinions and how they help us to understand religion.
Feminism is a theory concerned with the nature of women's global oppression and subordination to men, this oppression cause’s pain which stems from patriarchy, they see religion as serving the interests of men. Studying the feminist perspective on religion allows us to look further into religion and gender equality within organized religion.
When we look back in religion women have not always been oppressed. Looking back to the paganism religion, women were seen as the top spiritual leaders and they were worshiped not oppressed because they were seen as the givers of life, through childbirth. The fact that a woman gave each baby a home inside her for nine months of pregnancy was a sacred worshiped thing; it was not seen as a punishment as it is in the Christian Bible. In the Middle East and Asia women were considered central to the spiritual quest, Karen Armstrong regards it as "The earth produced plants and nourished them in rather the same way a woman gave birth to a child and fed it from her own body. The magical power of the earth seemed interconnected with the mysterious creativity of the female sex."(Cited in Investigating Religion pg 134) Many early religions perceived the supreme deity to be female.
Simone De Beauvoir was an early iconic feminist, and she argues: "Religion is an instrument used by men to dominate women." (Cited in Haralambos and Holborn pg415) De Beauvoir had opinions in that religion causes pain and is oppressive to women by giving women a false belief that they will be awarded in heaven, with equality for their suffering here on Earth. De Beauvoir also argues that men make the rules and moral codes within religion, which therefore gives them total control to oppress women. She also believed that "Women are being deceived by religion into thinking they are equal as they are portrayed as being closer to God, because as mothers they have a key religious role in producing a soul for God."
El sawaddi is a Muslim feminist who followed later after Simone De Beauvoir, and she agreed with a lot of De Beauvoir views accept, she argues that with the rise of monotheism this has led to patriarchal control that dominates women and not the actual religion that oppresses them. This is because she believes that men have perverted the religion to suit their own needs and has therefore lead to the oppression of women. El Sawaddi herself suffered because of her religion getting a female circumcision, and her view on it is "if religion comes from God, how can it order man to cut off an organ created by him." (Cited in Haralambos and Holborn pg 414)She believed this is a prime example of men oppressing women and using religion as the reason for female circumcision.
Jean Holm who is a contemporiy feminist sees signs of hope in the religious situation of women. She argued that within religion women carried out the work behind the scenes, where as men are more likely to be in the leadership roles and more powerful positions. Examples of these would be Buddhism the men are monks and the women are nuns but the monks are more powerful and important. Within Hinduism only men can become Brahamic priests. Holm argues the reason for this is because alike to El Sawaddi it is the rise of monotheism.
Like Marxism, the feminist perspective of religion is a conflict theory; they do not see religion as a positive force in society. Religion can lead to oppression,...
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Ref: Harambos, M and Holborn, M. (2004) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, sixth Edition, Seventh Edition: HarperCollins Publishers Limited.
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