Women and Religion
Religion in our society has been viewed as a practice that uses faith to bring communities together. It has always been a source of liberation for those that practiced that same faith. On the other hand, others as divisive, the cause of violence, a source of social control, and oppression have viewed religion. When discussion religion it is usually something that people avoid and rather not engage. Religion is sacred and anything that may challenge its purpose may cause division amongst a group or groups of people. In this discussion I would like to focus on women, religion, and debate whether religion is a source of liberation or a source of social control. In 1895, during the first wave of 19th century feminism, Elizabeth Stanton was a feminist as well as co founder of equal rights and suffrage associations. She once wrote that, “The canon and civil law; church and state; priest and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man.” (Andersen, M.) this notion that women are the subordinates to man has been very practiced across many religions around the world. According to Margret Anderson, she states that in the United States and around the world, that some beliefs are still the main sexist ideas that support women's exclusion from the mainstream view of society and allow for the continued subordination in the household.() What Anderson points out is that these religious beliefs have caused conservative movements to attack some on the many victories for women's rights won by feminism and that women are still being excluded from positions of leadership. Though religion is viewed as a source for subordination of women and relegating them to second class, over time now it has also served as an important aspect for liberating oppressed and marginalized groups of people one being women. Religion has been used as a tool for change in our society it is the faith that rest on fairness and equality and the liberating effect it has. Due to this effect, religion may also be responsible for such movements as feminism, liberalism and the discourse taken to insure equality for all. For us to have better understanding of women and their relationship with religion, we must look at the historical narrative. Even though religion provides our society with concepts of higher being and through symbols, it has also shaped the way we perceive world and our humanity. However, historically, it has been the basis for conflict within society. We must look at how gender inequality in these institutions has contributed to the marginalization of women. Religion holds a society together, according to Anderson. It is through different rituals, ceremonial gatherings that help create solidarity amongst everyone in the group. She states that it can also be a source of conflict between different groups and societies as well as continued violence and marginalization that is perpetuated against women. Anderson points to a particular moment in history where the justified persecution of witches demonstrated the connections between religion, social control, and gender. During the Middle Ages in Western Europe, women were being murdered and tortured for being considered witches. What was believed was that witches were women that had been influenced y the devil, and were threat to the purity of society. This would become the norm of these societies as the church became more powerful and established themselves as supreme authority. According to Anderson, feminists have argued that since the church represented dominant male power, witchcraft symbolized men’s fears of female sexuality and its unbounded expression. That this was men’s desire to control women’s sexuality. (Andersen, M.) The thing we must realize when discussing religion, that it is easy to paint religion as an oppressive force that is affecting women. Religion is also the driving spirit of pushing back and the resistance of oppression. It has been a liberating force for social change. An example would be how black women’s roles within the civil rights movement helped keep the momentum going towards insuring equal rights for African Americans. Also look at how religion inspired many feminist movements. Religions have a powerful role in shaping ideas of social justice and legitimacy, and also in responding to perceptions of injustice and illegitimacy. One reason that religious powerful in war or peace or the civil rights movement is that they carry the archetypes, images, and symbols of meaning and identity that inform people’s thoughts and actions at deep, often unconscious levels. This allowed people to contribute to peace and minimize those that breed war, racism, inequality and requires deep understanding on unconscious levels of knowing this is more elusive and difficult than addressing direct or even systemic forms of violence especially violence against women. At the same time religion has been a source for an antifeminist movement in the U.S. This is even despite the fact that women within the different sects of the Christian or evangelical church have benefited from the achievements of the feminist movement. Contemporary research also finds that religion thrives in situations of inequality. So religious leaders position towards gender equality may be a specific case of their more general endorsement of social inequality. To be more specific, conservative churches endorse male supremacy in the household. By endorsing the existing power structure, religions serve a useful function for the powerful or men in a male dominated society. To say that religious leaders barely mirror the power structure of the society may be an intriguing idea but is there any concrete evidence that anti-feminism in the church is caused by anti-feminism outside the church? According to Anderson she said, “Many in the religious right see the church as the defender of public morality and perceive contemporary social changes associated with feminism and liberalism as threatening the values of family life and as violating the hierarchy of God to man and woman.” (Andersen, M.) Anderson feels that the most conservative of the evangelical antifeminists who take on the literal understanding of the bible; seem to have a no room for interpretation. While most evangelical’s tend to have more of a interpretive perspective tend to give women a stronger voice in the leadership of the church and are more likely to challenge the structures of patriarchy within it’s institutions. If I had to take a stance, I would have to say I'm in the middle when it comes to the discussion revolving women and religion. What I do recognize is that you have to acknowledge both sides of the argument. Yes it is true that religion has oppressed and marginalized women. It was used for the justification of slavery and other forms of violence. You can't just gloss over this fact. At the same time though, religion and the story of the struggle for liberation and salvation is what makes it so polarizing and impactful. It is the one thing as a society I believe that allows us see and recognize each other's struggles. As for women, it has been a complex situation of course. Like they have to either fight for equality and be recognized as human beings or stay within the religious confines of their subordinate role. What has to be taken seriously is that as we continue to evolve our religions have to as well. But I understand that people are benefiting from women being excluded and marginalized. If women are kept in less than roles then as a society our growth is limited. I believe that religion can be a source of liberation, if the religion that is in practice moves to including women and uplifting the status within its institutions. Until that happen then religion will continue to be stigmatized or associated with oppression and social control of its followers. To show what progress I’m speaking about when it comes to the elevation of women’s roles within the church, the Huffing Post recently released an article talking how various women around the world were making progress within there religious community as they are starting to not only gaining positions of leadership but also are becoming faces of true progress within their spheres. In this article, one particular stood out to me and it was L.A.-based professionals M. Hasna Maznavi and Sana Muttalib that had become co-presidents of what may be the first Women's Mosque in the United States in January, providing a space where women can come together to pray, learn and deepen their faith. (Blumberg, A.) You will also see women that are doing extraordinary things and their faith being the foundation for their work. As we conclude this discussion, some key things we must note is that religion can be both be a source used to bring social change but we must not forget that it has been used to position women as second class within its institutions. Religious beliefs tend to have supported antifeminist movements and values, while at the same time been a beacon for the improvements of our society through social justice and equality. Last but not least, we must understand that the old texts that were used to create gender roles that would assign women to a lower class under men has to change it’s ideology so that women are elevated to a higher status within it’s institutions and society as a whole.
Andersen, M. (2011). Thinking about women: Sociological and feminist perspectives (9th Edtition ed.). New York: Macmillan ;.
Blumberg, A. (2015, March 10). This Is What A Little Over A Year Of Religious Women Breaking Down Barriers Looks Like. Retrieved March 24, 2015, from