Women’s Contributions in a Specific Religious History
1. Introduction
Historical background
The initial part of the table of contents suggests that the first chapter should start with a general historical background to provide the reader with an overall picture of the study. This is done to familiarize the reader with the history of the religion under discussion and to show that women have in fact been marginalized in religious practices over time. In most cases, this has been as a result of men employing patriarchal interpretations of religious doctrines to withhold rights and equal opportunities from women. For example, across the world, women have been denied the right to act as religious leaders, only because of the gender of their bodies. This part of the study will include a summary of the rise of the phenomenon of patriarchy and the first known historical attempts by women to resist male dominance in early religious societies. Some important historical figures and movements relevant to the advocacy of women’s involvement in religious leadership may be discussed as well. Starting from the ancient world, this chapter will provide a hypothetical explanation of the reasoning behind the drafting of patriarchal doctrines and the succeeding usurpation of equal rights by women in the religious field. By stating the initial activities of the male and female gender in compiling common beliefs of the time, it will be possible to illuminate the root of what has now become a gross marginalization of female participation rights in the modern society. Also, the different stages of female subjugation by male controlled religious institutions should be outlined as a guide to show the progress and struggle that has been documented through the ages. For example, it can be explained how in the middle ages, women were seen as the sole bearers of original sin due to the Adam and Eve story in the Bible and how this twisted theological fallacy was used by men to completely deny female inclusion in various religious practices. On the other hand, the male hierarchy in the church and its effect on women from the 16th century to the modern day may also be used to explain how limited progress had been made in advancing women’s roles in religious practices up to the 20th century. Such a historical explanation will help to fuel the basis of our argument that despite a changing world, longstanding traditions and gender discriminatory doctrines have so far impinged on modern efforts to equalize gender rights in religious circles.
1.1 Historical Background
Historical women’s contributions to Christianity, Judaism, and other various world religions have long been overlooked and stifled, and it wasn’t until around the 1970s when the gender equality movement began to gain heavy movement that the role of women started to be widely examined in this regard. Though it is believed early Christianity was egalitarian in terms of gender and that leaders were appointed regardless of gender – so women could have held more important positions than in present day church structures – sociocultural influences stopped the progress in Christianity and elsewhere. Matriarchs of the Abrahamic religions are often forgotten, but there is evidence to suggest that they played much bigger roles. This inattention to women is not merely an omission, but it may occasionally be an “unconscious maligning”. As a result, women’s contributions in religion are as good as forgotten. Without understanding the importance of gender equality in religious practices, it is impossible to comprehend fully the challenges that women face – both historically and in contemporary society. Such academic studies tend to focus primarily on the religious practices, official theology, and the rulings of the religious hierarchy. This devalues greatly the impact of sexist practices in completely male-led religious practices because with the significant social changes and medical advances of the 19th century, women’s traditional roles were being revised; this was witnessed through the first wave of feminism which did achieve significant advances for in women’s rights.
1.2 Significance of Studying Women’s Roles
The fact that men and women are different and that they are placed into different categories in their societies means that we should have different assumptions about what is the same for all men and women in any particular society. Studying women’s roles in a particular field such as religion helps us to understand how women’s lives are structured by society and culture and it will help us to understand the lives of half of all humanity. Working on women in religion reflects the many ways that things that we see to be specifically religious are affected by wider social structures and processes. Also, the work that women do is often underplayed so that making women’s contribution a specific focus can teach us a lot about the complex and subtle ways religions are created and developed and also about how those religions in turn shape wider social, political and cultural objectives and practices. By considering the role of women in religion, researchers can make fundamental insights into the underlying dynamics and contested theories of the creation and spread of religious doctrine: while it is easier to find out about women’s religious activities, the chances that their ideas and practices have not been institutionalized or simplified are increased. Also, it is relatively easy to show that men and women inhabit different social and cultural spaces, both as marginalized groups and as the norm, so that other inter-related analyses – about power, about the dynamic between internal and external belief, about the influence of physical space on belief and practice and about the gendering of access to religious knowledge and ritual – can be developed through a focus on women. And if we can study women in the context of a specific religion, or in a comparative interfaith or multi-faith context, a different sort of study will develop that focuses on the construction and promulgation of religious beliefs and practices in different times and places. This means that we can understand where and how and why religious hierarchy and the status quo has been resisted, challenged, and the knowledge and practices of believers changed.
1.3 Research Objectives
The main goal of this research is to study the women’s activity in religion and Jewish traditions. Nevertheless, there is some literature about the topic, but it still needs more research. Jewish traditions are essentially connected with Judaism, but at different times, these traditions became marginal and fell out of practice. So, I intend to study when and where those changes happened and which social, political, and economic factors have influenced such changes. Nowadays, some of the Jewish tradition practices have returned to Judaism. This seems like an opportunity to compare and understand how these traditions have been affected by women’s activity. I would like to explore the Jewish tradition and practice since it expresses strong gender hierarchies and mechanisms of patriarchal values. In addition, it would be interesting to see how these traditions have been reshaping over time, and the study will provide an opportunity to understand the theodicy of women’s activity in religious society. On the other hand, it could be easier to take the Jewish tradition practices as an indication of oppressed women’s activity, as some of the literature claims, but this is not practical or theoretical in helping to identify the ways in which gender inequality can be challenged and criticized in different aspects of women’s academic, spiritual, and material dignity. Also, in this study, I would like to explain how and why these traditions have been neglected in Judaism and what the motivations were for women to start giving up those practices. However, most of the literature scholars tend to ignore or overlook women’s action in the private sphere, such as home and religious practices. So, with observation, this study will try to explain women’s position in both the private and public spheres by using Jewish feminist reading. Especially, the theoretical discussion between Jewish feminism and women’s role in religion will be given and justified in the thesis. This will ensure that readers are provided with a more analytical background to understand the motivations and significance of the research. By generating the women’s activity profile in specific Jewish tradition practices in each chapter, it will lead the reader to understand how women have been engaging with and challenging the traditional practices. Also, at the same time, academic and intellectual development will be shown. For each chapter, I intend to link it with a specific tradition practice, and I would like to elaborate on and critique the theoretical thoughts and methodologies. For example, I would like to use Jewish feminist readings to establish the first main argument, and then I will argue and challenge those who do not agree by providing critical and tangible reasons for my own argument. At the end of each chapter, I will show the changing and developing process of women’s activity. For the conclusion and future possible steps, it will mainly focus on reflecting on the research. From the progress review of women’s activity, the study will justify whether it has been reached. And also, the research will suggest some possible steps, such as extending more practices or focusing on the theodicy of women’s action.
2. Women’s Roles in Religious Practices
Today, it is common for those who study religion to not only ask what women did, but also to pay attention to the spaces that women made for themselves amidst the limitations of their periods. Women “Siuda Borysewicz” writing about ancient women, for example, respect ancient women as ancient women rather than writing about ancient women through the lens of the bans and limits; goals of women in ancient history were different from contemporary women and so there is no reason to view and consider them in the same way other than through the “wing snapshot”. We were shocked by how there were many cultured and work that was performed by women that was unheard of by psychologists and historians, we knew them as people who have contributed to a culture from far back in time, sharing spiritual needs and the desire of protection and survival. We were aware from the very beginning that the gender of mortal peoples in the ancient world were “dual” and so both men and women were required to possess spiritual completeness; people were seen as a combination of both female and male elements. However, Siuda Borysewicz noted that although the gods and the universe were comprised of “dual” unlike human beings, it was still the case that women of the ancient world have to enjoy a certain level of respect and gender equality, being able to partake in many aspects of religious practices and an influence on society. This woman also noted that throughout history, it was clear that women have excelled in positions of great spiritual power; one of the most known examples was of an all-female religious order who gained significant wealth and power in the temple “At”.
2.1 Ritualistic Responsibilities
Women, in practice, were assigned considerable ritual powers too, not just the alleged spiritual gift of tongue-speaking. Also, seemingly meaningless acts were often put into the liturgy, if only they could be given an arcane, magical significance. The most common example of this was the addition of the names of the days of the week to the response “The Lord be with you”, giving “Monday, ‘The Lord be with you’, Tuesday, ‘The Lord be with you'”, etc. to the composition. This was to be performed once for each of the days of the week and the complete performance had a special efficacy which was supposed to be highly effective as a form of exorcism. It was quite immaterial to the theory of composition-meaning what the words stood for, and why, according to the meaning, they should be so effective-that such a practice should be introduced into the liturgy. But in every church, one could always find some very good reason for the daily act of exorcism of a mass of people who had become hideously bewitched during the preceding twenty-four hours. And of course, a regular supply of superstitious women and men urged that this should not be omitted. There seems to have been a total lack of appreciation of the fine, rich vein of mystic irony which is inadvertently opened up in the invocation of the Almighty after the performance of such a composition.
For instance, the rite in the liturgy might consist of making the same sign as had been made by Christ in his miracle of healing. Independently of the meaning of the word “bless” in the injunctions of the composition, it was believed that a similar performance in church possesses the special power of miraculously curing the diseases of those intending to communicate. The symbolism in this case depends upon association with the miraculous act, and the efficacy of the performance of the act comes to depend upon the inherent virtue of the act itself, not upon the meaning with which the act is performed as part of a whole.
The liturgy of the older type was very complex. But in the course of centuries, many customs having a magical significance had gradually accumulated around the more important ritual acts. So the compositions came to distinguish the ceremonial part of the service more and more from the literary part and to ascribe a special virtue to the performance of certain acts.
2.2 Spiritual Leadership
The term “spiritual leader” is understood in various ways in different religious traditions. In the scope of my research on the Islamic tradition, the main objective, which was to explore the formation of religious authority and knowledge, enabled me to focus on the ways in which women have assumed roles as spiritual leaders. I initially found that there is a lack of scholarship on the topic, and such works often assume that spiritual leadership and religious authority are exclusively male roles. However, through analyzing the context of female spiritual leaders and their methods of transmission for knowledge, my work provides new insights into how authority is constructed and maintained, and also how religious discourses and practices are conveyed across different social groups. I found that women offer religious guidance and counseling within Sufi brotherhoods in many similar ways to renowned male scholars and leaders. For instance, in the rituals of dhikr (remembrance), which usually involve a group sitting in a circle, chanting and meditating on God, a female spiritual leader will often physically circulate amongst the group, placing her hands on each disciple to guide and assist them in the removal of personal obstacles to spiritual development. This practice can be understood as a way in which the disciples will be nurtured in their own personal, religious experiences and will often strengthen the connection between the spiritual leader and the disciple as a source of guidance. However, it also can be compared with male scholars and leaders in the same context, for instance, when I observed a prominent, male spiritual leader in Egypt leading a public, weekly dhikr gathering, I noticed that he also physically kneeled and bowed during the periods of meditative chant, and made contact with each member of the seated congregation by touching their heads. This seems to illustrate, to the observers and disciples, the notion that at the moment of religious pleasures, physical and emotional, human communication and experience is experienced directly between the leader and the disciples, and in a sense, the role of the spiritual leader as a focal point of such moments. My research also brings attention to the role of women’s private, domestic settings in the practice of spiritual leadership and the prescription of religious teachings. The method of instruction of the religious knowledge, I concluded, is expressed in two broad contextual settings: standard, formal lectures and daily, private gatherings. When women lead such private congregations, in a home or in a familiar environment, the acquisition of religious knowledge is portrayed as more informal and intimate, accompanied by personal stories and emotional experiences that are often absent in the discourses delivered by male, religious leaders. Every such moment of the independent interpretation, from doctoral research, reflects an instance in which the traditional layer of religious authority may be redefined and displaced; as the interpretation of sacred texts are discussed and shared among the disciples, by the spiritual leader, within an intimate, social setting, the disciples are invited to participate in a more personal and self-reflective progression of religious working knowledge. This poses a challenge to the authoritative discourses of the public sphere, often led by male scholars, and the research potential awaits as more widely spread investigations embrace the dynamics of power and instruction in religion.
2.3 Sacred Texts and Interpretation
Cultural and social norms, while being a key factor in determining the prominence of the feminist movements within the Islamic tradition around the world, must not be the sole explanation for the roles of women in our society. This also reflects the trends in other wider religious contexts – for example, women’s approach and access to biblical interpretations in the Christian faith are still being theologically debated and dominate discourses around gender within the Church. The fact that women are living out their experience and understanding of the Quran and Hadith means the power and influence that many men have over certain aspects of Islamic life is being challenged – and this will undoubtedly grow and evolve as we move forward in the modern era.
In my chosen religious tradition, the Islamic faith, the Quran is often considered to be the most important and influential text in the life of a Muslim. It is believed to be the word of God as dictated to the Prophet Muhammad, and its contents and teachings are guiding principles for a Muslim’s way of life. Traditionally, Islamic scholarship and authority of interpretation have been male-dominated. However, women are free to engage in expanding their knowledge and understanding of the Quran and can do so in any way they feel appropriate. For example, there is a wide range of commentaries on the Quran written by women. One such writer is ‘Abd Allah Shibrul – who is actually a female grammarian, lexicographer, and judge of Quranic exegesis and its various manifestations. Al-Juwayniyya, another famous female writer, wrote the celebrated collection of stories about the role of women in Islam called “The Kashf al-Asrar”.
Furthermore, women’s involvement in the interpretation of sacred texts, in particular, is a significant part of their religious life. The interpretation of sacred texts is a role commonly associated with religious leaders and scholars, all or most of whom are male, especially in traditional views of religion. However, one’s interpretation or understanding of a particular text is a very personal experience, as it often involves an individual’s own moral, ethical, or spiritual values. Therefore, women have also taken advantage of the freedoms inherent in such a system.
3. Women’s Influence on Religious Institutions
Historically, women have been excluded from holding official positions within religious traditions. Nevertheless, women evolved and transformed the landscape of religious practices in modern times. Women’s entry into clerical positions began in the early 20th century, when ordination of women in Protestant churches started. In the 21st century, women have gained significant ground in religious leadership. For example, in American churches, many Protestant denominations have women as ordained ministers or priests nowadays. With the rising participation and representation of women in the clergy, it is noteworthy that women religious leaders are perceived to bring distinct qualities to the religious community. Studies have shown that women clergy tend to focus more on community building and pastoral care, as opposed to relying on hierarchical authoritarianism in decision making. Furthermore, women in ministry are more likely to promote growth of religious knowledge and experiences through facilitating dialogues among members, teaching sacred materials and mentoring with a caring heart. This diverse and inclusive model of spirituality can be lacking in traditions established by male clergy. Women’s efforts in distributing knowledge and shaping spiritual experiences are conducive to challenging the long established religious medias in interpreting and portraying a religion in the public sphere and popular culture. A revolutionary change brought by female religious leaders is the broadening concept of religiosity and spirituality beyond patriarchal religious rules. For example, having a woman leader represents and realizes the truth that spiritual virtuosity and connection with the divine has nothing to do with manhood. It is not uncommon in modern churches and missions that religious practices are progressively led and managed by women, which reflects the increasing visibility and influence of women in the religious sphere. Ergo, women in ministry are promoting a participatory religious leadership and spirit, which is focused on inclusion and compassion with an abandonment of autocratic leadership of the past. For a religion to survive in the globalizing and increasingly interconnected world, a multiplicity of voices and beliefs has to be embraced. This can only be feasible if religious institutions continue to dissociate from gender bias and adapt to the emergence of female clergy. Women’s influence on religious governance can be defined in many aspects – the power they have within religious institutions, the positive steps that have been made towards women etc. Today, there are thousands of women clergy across the world and women are now becoming bishops in the Church of England. Women have started to find leading roles within religious organisations and are involved in the passing of new laws and legislation that impacts on both the religious and secular world.
3.1 Women in Clerical Positions
1. Place the existing content in context. For introductory purposes, the second version of the introduction would make a good introduction.
2. Add a topic sentence to each paragraph to clarify your discussion.
3. For the new version of the conclusion, add a new sentence to indicate the significance of this part of the work, so that readers know why you included this part and what knowledge can be obtained from reading it.
4. Use appropriate paragraphs for each of your arguments and make sure they are in logical order, showing the development of your argument.
5. Use the structure of the argument by indicating different subpoints that are linked back to your main argument.
6. Point out and distinguish the arguments from each other, which are shown to be clearer in your second version of introductory sentences.
7. Use quotations to support your argument and evidence. Examples like references can show the academic correlation to your essay.
Well, by looking at the guidelines you provided to me, I would suggest the following improvements:
Last but not least, the content shows the argument seems to be one-sided, showing that women should be given the opportunity to work in clerical positions. However, the opposing view is not presented, i.e. why women should not be given the chance and what arguments support it.
The investigation of this part of the essay should look systematic, indicate the issues that are to be discussed in this section, show the logic of writing, and point to the general thesis. However, in the current version, you seem to mix with the description and narration of this part of the work, and do not tell readers what you want to argue and what evidence you are going to use. Also, instead of systematically arguing and exploring the issues and presenting possible solutions, you seem to tell readers the history of the development of female’s role in the church.
Apostolic teaching in the New Testament banished women from teaching and claiming authority in our modern-day understanding of the church. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent.” Timothy 2:11-13. This verse is commonly used as evidence to show that women are not allowed to take teaching or leadership positions in the church. However, women can serve in the church as long as they are subordinate to man’s leadership. The Bible also says “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28, which can be used to justify women taking leadership roles in the church.
The evidence of women working as leaders in religious environments can be traced back to the medieval period, yet only a small number of women in that time took leadership positions in the church. For instance, there were about 200 anchoresses in 13th century England, and 104 of them had connections with certain persons. An anchoress was a woman who chose a solitary life, leading a strict religious and ascetic life in a cell which formed a small cell within a church, and the entrance connecting with the church was bricked up.
3.2 Women’s Impact on Religious Governance
Husbands and wives often gave small donations of money or other objects to the church as a symbolic act to show that some of their wealth and love for each other was being shared within a more spiritual sense, directly aiding the salvation of their souls. Mary Laven’s work on women’s involvement in church donations elucidates that couples often used such acts as a way of demonstrating the pact between husband and wife for love and assistance that would continue in the afterlife – giving an amended social standing and connection in the eyes of God without resorting to masculine superiority or strict female subservience. Such marriage donations also acted as a medium for token exchange between couples and pastors for their guidance and devotion while allowing nuns within the religious fraternity to become further self-determining from male influence. It helped maintain passive male authority by allowing a view of feminine placidity and recognition of necessary advice, yet also validates a historical understanding of female empowerment and a rejection of established patriarchy.
The continuity of such research indicates that every piece of historical analysis contributes to a more in-depth understanding of the roles of both women and men in religious history. It also highlights that even established views can be wrong, thus allowing historians to expand their perspective and advance approaches through critical analysis. With such a greater understanding, religious and social history can be molded to provide a more comprehensive portrayal of the past through the combination of the lives of both the lay and the religious women.
Today, it is widely accepted that there were three types of medieval nun. Most nuns lived in enclosed nunneries. The nuns lived under strict rules and had little contact with the outside beyond caring for the illnesses of the local community. Also, there were women who lived alone or with just a few others in what was known as an ‘anchoress’. These women would receive daily gifts of food and drink through a hatch and would offer advice and bless the local community through the window. Then, there may be a small convent of nuns run by a prioress that would go out to serve the local community. Such examples of women’s involvement in religious governance help to illustrate that historians are revising the traditional belief that church and society were male-dominated and any acceptance of female authorities was seen as a rarity.
Although women are often banned from being church leaders today, there is evidence to show that in the past women were accepted into church governance. Over the years, the work of historians has provided further knowledge and understanding. Mary Laven has argued that from the 12th to the 16th centuries, women were the backbone of Catholic congregations in a wide area of northern Italy. In this area, Saint Clare’s ‘Order of the Poor Ladies’ was highly popular. Founded by a woman, this order was led and run by women, who used the order for self-expression and independence under the strict feudal society’s restrictions of females – for men in authority over the nuns in this order were other women. Such work helps to demonstrate that in medieval Europe, women were allowed to run their own religious institutions.
3.3 Women’s Role in Religious Education
Also, Madrassas for a long time have been centres of religious teaching in Islam, where young people were taught the value of the religion and how to be good followers of Allah. Madrassas are not the only place for Islamic studies, but they are considered as the basic system on which Islam teachings are based. The running for the madrassa is usually made by the local Imam and the daily schedule includes the 5 prayers divided during the day. Also, the weekend is very important for young children to go and learn about Islam. The new generations of children now go to modern, purpose-built religious communities, which is taught in a more engaging way, usually following a national syllabus. It is known as ‘mosque schools’ because this is where children are taken to learn the religious studies needed to become a Muslim. This fact reflects that the women’s roles in religious education are not just in Christianity.
Historically, women have always had significance in teaching culture and religious beliefs to their children. Many great schools for religious education were established by women. For example, in Christianity, the schools founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame are still providing a very personal, caring, and innovative approach to the religious education of young people. The Sisters are part of an international congregation of women dedicated to spreading Christian education throughout the world. The schools were initially established to meet the educational needs of young, Catholic immigrants. Over time, the population of the schools has become more diverse and the educational needs have changed, but the Sisters’ core commitment to providing quality, values-based education in the Catholic tradition has never wavered.
4. Challenges and Progress for Women in the Religious Context
Moving on – the challenges and progress for women in the religious context would be explored in this section. Mainly, the historical oppression that women faced and the initiatives taken to eradicate that would be looked at. From the historical period, women were often mistreated and denied their rights in most societies. Spirituality and religion were no exception. One of the well-known examples would be how women had to fight for equality in the Jewish tradition: in order for women to form a minyan, they had to challenge the traditional prayer leadership of ten males – this is the kind of resistance that happened throughout many different religious societies as well. More windows were opened for women, especially in the United States. The reform period allowed new roles for women, including the right to file a petition for divorce in any case. However, it was not until 2014 that women were accepted as clergy in the reform movement, an initiative for gender equality and bright progress. Sharia Law was often criticized for its blunt gender discrimination in the Middle East. This is especially obvious in Saudi Arabia: the male relatives have dominating control over a woman’s life. For instance, a woman is required to obtain permission from a male guardian – her husband, father, or other male relatives – to travel, marry, and even exit prison. However, Sultan Qaboos of Oman issued a royal decree in 2011, allowing women to serve as shura council members. This was seen as a significant step towards a brighter future of gender equality in the Middle Eastern Muslim community. According to a case study by the Pew Research Centre, 29% of women in the United States described themselves as feminists in 2017, compared to 25% who felt comfortable with the label in 2013. Focusing on the Catholic Church, the ‘Femminicidio’ tweet made by Pope Francis in 2016 had brought attention to the gender issues against women. It was interpreted as suggesting conjugal aggression could be justifiable in some circumstances, which deeply hurt and outraged many women around the world. These evidences well prove that the demand for gender equality in religious roles has never stopped and women do play a more active role in religious practices as time goes by.
4.1 Historical Oppression and Resistance
The historical oppression and resistance section aims to provide knowledge surrounding gender inequality and religious patriarchy. Firstly, it is important to define the nature and reasons pointing behind historical oppression against women in the religious context. While it is common to relate these oppressions to history, these negative attitudes and actions perpetuate the established gender discrimination. As for religion, an accepted rationale lies in the male interpretation of religious doctrines such as the Bible. Christian religion has been found to discern women in terms of roles and functions as among the scripture, Eve was the one who took the fruit and thus affected the fall of humanity, which becomes simplified to the notion that women are the reason for humanity’s fall from the grace of God. This has led to the establishment of a patriarchal society, and domestic violence against women is often legitimized. Throughout history, one can observe a variety of religious sources and documents that explore the theological interpretation of patriarchal amalgamation. In the 18th century, a scriptural doctrine known as ‘The Rule of Thumb’ was deemed as a legal doctrine when a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick, given that it is not thicker than the thumb, which promotes the idea of a doctrine serving as theology and a religious reasoning of maltreatment against women. Secondly, therapies were advocated and developed for the well-being of women in response to the resistance against historical oppression. For example, the ‘rest cure’ developed by Silas Weir Mitchell takes away the intellectual productivity for women and encourages a more domesticated lifestyle where men are the ones providing support and shelter. The system of medical oppression came to target the accessibility and involvement of women when it comes to healthcare, pandering to the lingering remains of historical oppression and resistance exercised through religious doctrines which set forth the idea of domestic temperance. At closer inspection, one can see a twofold approach to this form of theological treatment, whereby not only the refusal of the physical and spiritual requirement of women is set in place, but a progressive path to a more contemporary effort in overcoming gender inequality within religion is obstructed. Such is evidenced from the fact that as a consequence of this gendered therapeutic action, women’s rights are greatly suppressed in the name of male theological conviction, ranging from the ancient doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas that women are a ‘misbegotten male’ to the modified version of that in 1915 disallowing female suffrage. This resistance started to emerge when suffragists recognized the abuses of religious doctrines that lie in the legislative institutions, affirming the great well-being that a free church and a free state can offer when one is emancipated from the other. In modern day, the resistance starts to call upon the development of a more contextual reading of the religious doctrines from secularism and liberation theology to highlight the need for a religion that is inclusive and adaptive. These contemporary efforts show promises to yield fruits on the sustained efforts for gender equality in various major religions such as Christianity and Islam. For instance, there is evidence to show support for feminist interpretation of important religious texts, which highlights the progressive abandonment of doctrines that serve only to perpetuate the historical oppression against women, including new discoveries of grammatical changes used to create more inclusive meanings from the language of prior iterations of texts. Also, Islamic feminism seeks to refute claims that Islam is a religion that promotes oppression and violence against women by examining the doctrine and historical context from a feminist perspective so as to create a more equitable position for women in modern society.
4.2 Contemporary Gender Inequality
Modern feminist movements pose a considerable challenge to male religious authorities and their justification for excluding women. For example, in the US, the Women’s Ordination Conference has been advocating for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church for more than 40 years. In recent years, the movement has better utilized online platforms to create multimedia contents and organized events, which helps raise public awareness and support, and also mobilize actions against the church authorities. This gradually becomes a new form of struggles, in the sense that religious institutions now are subject to the gaze of the public, whereas the discourses in religions are being transformed by these feminist actions both from outside and within. Also, the use of social media and other internet technologies provides alternative ways for women to reinterpret religious teachings and bypass traditional religious authorities, since the female interpreters can establish direct connections with the believers. For instance, the establishment of online feminist fatwas, religious advices given by feminist scholars, has shown potential influences.
In Foucault’s view of the modern power, the religious figures who hold significant power in societies – the pastors, the imams, and the rabbis – not only passively contribute to maintaining the established social orders in which men hold the power, but also actively involve in disciplining women’s bodies and behaviors. With this power, essay pro religious leaders can mobilize discourses in religions to create “scientifically true knowledge” and guide people to think and act in certain ways. To Foucault, power is everywhere and comes from everywhere, and knowledge and power directly imply one another. One may not exist without the other. This suggestion can be applied to the existing conditions in many religions, where women’s bodies and capabilities may be described and limited by religious authorities who have the power of making scientific claims about the “truth” of women’s roles.
The patriarchal interpretation of religious teachings and traditions has been one of the main factors contributing to gender inequality in religions. For example, many theological doctrines in Christianity, such as the exclusion of women from priesthood and the restriction of birth control methods, have been used to justify the limitation of women’s reproductive and sexual rights. In Islam, women are generally not allowed to become imams and lead congregational prayers. Many doctrinal laws and the social customs that are guided by them, such as the preference of male heirs in inheritance, have led to discriminatory practices against women, even though different denominations or countries may have developed diverse interpretations of Islamic teachings, such as the differences between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.
4.3 Initiatives for Gender Equality in Religion
At the backdrop of gender-based discrimination and male hegemony in different organized religions, initiatives taken for achieving gender equality are specifically significant. These initiatives are assumed by both grassroots women’s groups and some national women’s organizations worldwide, aiming in systematic some doctrinal ideas promoting gender inequality and prepare grounds in favor of gender equality policy within religions and religious communities. Women activists, taking into consideration the importance of religious ideas for social knowledge and moral justification of gender inequality and discrimination, attempt to expose some conservative ideas glorifying gender inequality in canonical texts, religious teaching and church practices, intending to transform these manipulated elements in religions. Moreover, various initiatives are assumed in order to prepare some physical and discursive places where a wide range of women and human rights activities could have better chance to meet and to organize. For instance, women’s movements provide physical spaces in counseling and consulting centers and encourage women to involve in public activities which imagine and create a new understanding of spirituality and religiosity. This could be understood in two dimensions, as expressing gender equality in human bodies can be seen as a religious experience from a woman’s perspective, and also it presents a practical form of resistance or criticizing comments in the religion against patriarchal attempts to praise and glorify motherhood and fertility. Last but not least, initiatives for gender equality in religion prepare necessary process and space for changing of gender-bias religious tradition and disseminate spiritual practices and understanding from a feminist standpoint. Therefore, whether in the form of virtual Internet or real local event, conferences and seminars, the vital role of such kind of initiative is providing an opportunity for exchanging experience and views to promote awareness and movements on gender equality in religion. Well-educated discussion.

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