Gender and Religion: An Overview
GENDER AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
The subtle patterns and dynamic of gender pervade all areas of religion, both explicitly and implicitly, whether fully recognized or unacknowledged. Widely debated and often misunderstood, gender concerns have immense significance in contemporary culture as they are part of the international political and social agenda of most countries in the world. The Gender Development Index has recorded the global monitoring of existing gender gaps since 1996, and it provides clear evidence of how much still needs to be done before a truly equitable gender balance is reached. Critical gender perspectives have made a significant difference to most academic fields, including the study of religion. Yet many scholarly publications on religion still seem to give little or no recognition to the profound epistemological, methodological, and substantive changes that contemporary gender studies, especially women's scholarship and feminist theories but also the growing field of men's studies in religion, have produced over the last thirty years. Sometimes seen as profoundly threatening, or disdainfully dismissed because of ignorance, misunderstanding, or other factors of personal and institutional resistance, the engendering of religions and their study provides a great challenge to contemporary scholarship.
The symbolic order and institutional structures created by religions have deeply affected and inspired human existence over millennia; they continue to do so for countless people in today's postmodern world. Their abiding importance is too great not to be affected by the transformations caused by the emergence of critical gender awareness as a genuinely new development in the history of human consciousness. This entry provides a general introduction to the most frequently debated issues and complex patterns that pertain between gender and religion, followed by a series of articles dealing with area- or tradition-specific discussions of gender.
What Gender Means and Does Not Mean
It needs to be made clear right at the start that "gender" is not a synonym for "women," although it is often mistaken as such for two reasons: first, gender studies originally developed out of women's studies and draw to a large extent on feminist scholarship in different disciplines; second, gender studies in practice remain necessarily more concerned with women than men because of the need to overcome the deeply entrenched, traditional invisibility and marginalization of women in history, society, and culture. It is essential, however, to recognize that gender studies always concern men as well as women, their respective identities, representations, and individual subjectivities, as well as their mutually interrelated social worlds and the unequal power relations between them. Although there exists a growing movement of "men's studies," inspired by the theoretical and practical developments of women's and feminist studies, it has as yet less momentum and commands less urgency to pursue profound political and social changes, given continuing widespread male dominance and the almost universal privileging of males in most societies of the world. Thus, there often exists a considerable cognitive dissonance between women's and men's understanding of "gender studies."
Equally widespread is the failure to problematize gender and recognize its radical, multidimensional potency. Although "gender" is now a widely used term, its complex and changing meanings are seldom fully grasped or critically reflected upon. Religion and gender are highly contested fields, and both need careful mapping to bring their manifold interactions into people's awareness and into the practices of scholarship. This does not happen spontaneously but involves decisive effort and agency, requiring what has been aptly called "making the gender-critical turn" (Warne, 2000b), since gender-critical thinking is neither "natural" in the current social context nor has it been historically available before the modern era. Thus, gender awareness is grounded in a self-reflexive, critical consciousness that has to be acquired.
Gender studies first developed in the social sciences during the late 1960s and 1970s through the investigation of human sexual differences and roles. A new binary distinction came into existence in which "sex" was associated with the biological differences between women and men, whereas "gender," previously used a grammatical term for distinguishing nouns, was transferred from a linguistic to a social context in order to distinguish the historically and culturally developed interpretations of what it means to be a man or a woman in different societies and cultures. Biological sex was seen as naturally given, whereas gender was understood to have been historically and socially constructed, often influenced by dominant religious teachings.
From then on the word gender has been fiercely debated and given multiple meanings, leading to a plethora of theoretical positions. From gender being taken as a sociobiological category to being completely deconstructed or simply understood performatively and discursively, the transformation of gender from its former merely grammatical application to nouns into a major analytical category in the study of history and society has spurred so many analyses and specialized studies that a newcomer can get thoroughly confused. Numerous rhetorical stances of great abstraction and abstruseness have been adopted, often appearing to obfuscate more than help, with the result that the distinction between sex and gender is now less clear than first assumed. Not only is gender a "useful category of historical analysis," as Joan Wallach Scott (1996) has so persuasively argued, but it is now also a category beset by pitfalls and problems, as Judith Butler's Gender Trouble (1990) and many others have clearly demonstrated. "Gender" is the title of one of twenty-two conceptual essays in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (ed. Mark Taylor, 1998). In this essay Daniel Boyarin states that now,
when we study gender within a given historical or existing culture, we understand that we are investigating the praxis and process by which people are interpellated into a two- (or for some cultures more) sex system that is made to seem as if it were nature, that is, something that has always existed. The perception of sex as a natural, given set of binarily constructed differences between human beings, then, is now seen as the specific work of gender, and the production of sex as "natural" signifies the success of gender as a system imposing its power. (p. 117)
A lucid discussion of different subsets within the category of gender, and of different frameworks and strategies affecting its interpretation, is found in Randi R. Warne's article "Gender" in Guide to the Study of Religion (2000a, pp. 140–154; see also Juschka, 1999, 2001), describing the relationship between sex and gender as either homologous, analogous, or heterogeneous. What emerges from all these discussions is that the sex-gender distinction, however understood, is linked to binary oppositions, hierarchical ordering, and unequal access to power and resources, so that one can speak of a rigid "gender system" that has operated in most societies in the past and still exists in many in the present. The different roles and images associated with both sexes, and gender-differentiated patterns of power, status, and authority, vary enormously in different cultures, but if these have been created as well as changed in the past because of changing material and ideological conditions, it must also be possible to transform gender inequalities and gender relations in the present (Bonvillain, 1998; see chap. 8, "Gender and Religion"). This is a powerful argument for individual and societal gender transformation within a new global context of pluralism and diversity. It is this alternative—some may say utopian—vision of a different kind of reality, of greater justice and equality for all human beings of whatever sex, that has inspired social reformers and women campaigners since the onset of modernity, and some individuals much earlier than that.
Gender Studies and Religion
Gender studies have arrived rather later in the study of religion than in most other fields. At present there still obtains a harmful "double blindness" in which most contemporary gender studies, whether in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences, remain extraordinarily "religion blind," whereas far too many studies in religion are still quite "gender blind." It can be legitimately asked, however, what relevance contemporary gender insights may possibly have for the age-old beliefs of religion? To what extent can the study of religion benefit from the nuanced and highly sophisticated theoretical arguments of current gender debates? To give a satisfactory answer to such questions requires much conscious effort and many practical changes. Neither gender nor religion are stable, transhistorical categories; both function within specific sociohistorical contexts and large semantic fields. The complex controversies surrounding the meaning of both prove that we are dealing here not only with definitional minefields or merely academic matters but with issues of advocacy, personal commitment, ethical engagement, and fundamental choices about the nature of one's life and society.
Many religious teachings and practices, especially scriptural statements, religious rites, beliefs, theological doctrines, institutional offices, and authority structures, are closely intertwined with and patterned by gender differences, even when gender remains officially unacknowledged and is deemed invisible (to untrained eyes). The existing social and religious arrangements are considered "natural" or normatively prescribed by sacred scriptures and other religious teachings, handed down by tradition from the ancestors or "God-given," and thus unalterable. It is only since the Enlightenment and the onset of modernity that the existing gender arrangements of traditional societies and religious institutions have been radically called into question, leading to the emergence of the modern women's movement.
The first wave of this women's movement, from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, forms an essential part of the great transformations of modernity. Increasingly, historical studies provide new evidence that the motivation for women seeking greater freedom, equality, and participation in all areas of society, including religion, did not stem from secular philosophical and political developments alone but was also rooted in biblical teaching, shared by Jews and Christians, that women and men are created in the image of God. This was reinterpreted in a new, strongly egalitarian way, never understood in this manner in the past (Børresen, 1995). Theological ideas impacted women reformers far more than has hitherto been acknowledged; that applies even to so radical a thinker as Mary Wollstonecraft (Taylor, 2003), and similarly radical theological reflections can be found in the writings of Florence Nightingale (Webb, 2002). Nineteenth-century Europe and America witnessed the parallel development of women's organized social and political movements and, at the same time, the expansion of their religious activities, opening up new religious roles for women. The religious roots of the struggle for women's rights (Morgan, 2002; Zink-Sawyer, 2003) and the complex historical dynamic operating between religious faith and feminist consciousness are increasingly receiving more attention. Existing studies have so far focused mainly on women in Christianity and Judaism, with a growing focus on Islam as well. But a great deal more comparative research is needed to show the strength of motivation arising from concurrent secular and religious commitments of women from many different religious traditions engaged in working to abolish the traditional social and religious constraints of women's lives.
The second wave of the women's movement, which emerged during the latter part of the twentieth century, took a strongly self-reflexive, theoretical, and critical turn, expressing itself in militant feminist theory and politics and celebrating "global sisterhood." Feminism aims to overcome the universal oppression of women and to achieve their full humanity, so that women can speak with their own voices, from their own experience, their own subjectivity, agency, and autonomy—all terms that by now have become thoroughly theorized but also further problematized. Some argue that these concepts of autonomous subjectivity are themselves derived from the inherently androcentric, liberal worldview of post-Enlightenment Western thought and that they cannot be applied universally across boundaries of gender, culture, race, and class, but always function pluralistically.
There also exists a third wave feminism, sometimes referred to as "postfeminism," not meaning the end of feminism but accepting a multiplicity of feminisms, linked to theoretical reflections on femininities as well as masculinities. A more self-critical theorizing developed under the influence of psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism, which also affected the development of gender studies that, in turn, had evolved out of women's and feminist studies. Feminist epistemology and theory as well as practical feminist strategies have opened up new experiences and questions that bear on gender relations in terms of both women and men. To work for greater gender justice, however understood, requires profound social, political, economic, religious, and cultural transformation for both sexes. At a practical level, therefore, gender studies impact on education and politics, on social work and care, on development work, on ecological and peace issues, on the media, and on academic scholarship. Like religious studies, gender studies are characterized by a pluralistic methodology and complex multidisciplinarity. It might even be more appropriate to speak of transdisciplinarity, because gender patterns are so pervasive in their potential implications that they transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. Gender studies have also a strong international orientation, and while recognizing existing social, racial, ethnic, and sexual diversities as well as many individual nuances, their central insights are immensely important and relevant across traditional national, cultural, and religious boundaries. The basic ideas of women, feminist, and gender studies first emerged in Western societies; by now they have become globally diffused and have also been considerably transformed in their intellectual and practical applications to a wide range of social and religious issues within very diverse local contexts around the world.
Central Concepts and Concerns
Much of the feminist critique of society and culture focuses on patriarchy and androcentrism. Although the word patriarchy often refers to diverse theories of history and society, now often discredited, in the widest sense patriarchy means an all-male power structure that privileges men over women. Most religions still conform to this pattern in terms of their institutional organization and official representation. Moreover, most religions were founded by men, although there also exist a few women-led religions, especially among marginal, small-scale, and tribal groups (Sered, 1994). In most religions male religious figures (whether ascetics, monastics or yogins) and male religious communities are normally given more public recognition, respect, authority, and power than women's religious groups, however numerous and large. Similarly, traditional religious texts are almost exclusively the creation of men, and male interpretations of these texts hold authoritative status. The experience of men has been taken as normative without taking into account the experiences and thoughts of women, who are relegated to subordinate roles or, at worst, are completely suppressed in many foundational religious texts and excluded from significant religious rites. It is worth mentioning that the word patriarchy itself is of religious provenance, since it originally described "the dignity, see, or jurisdiction of an ecclesiastical patriarch" and "the government of the church by a patriarch or patriarchs" before it came to mean "a patriarchal system of society or government by the father or the eldest male of the family; a family, a tribe or community so organized" (Oxford English Dictionary ). Patriarchy can also be understood as the structuring of society around descending hierarchies of fatherhood, whether understood as Father God, the supreme authority of a king, a lord, or paterfamilias. In recent theoretical debates, especially those influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis and French feminist theorists, much use is made of the concept of "phallocentrism," referring to the structuring of society around the values of the phallus as the ultimate symbol of power and activity, so that women represent absence, lack, and passivity. Another term is "phallogocentrism," that is to say the logos, word and thought, is centered on phallic male categories. Other debates have contrasted the historically dominant patriarchies across the world with earlier social structures of matriarchies, probably largely hypothetical, symbolizing alternative values and power structures linked to the authority of the mother rather than that of the father and centered on the worship of the Goddess. Today's feminist scholars generally regard the term matriarchy as misleading while discussing with renewed interest whether prepatriarchal societies ever existed and to what extent Goddess worship correlates with women's religious and social leadership (Gross, 1996; Raphael, 1996).
Religious beliefs, thoughts, and practices are not only profoundly patriarchal but often also thoroughly androcentric, that is to say predominantly, if not exclusively, shaped by male perspectives and experiences. Androcentrism, a term first introduced by the American sociologist Lester F. Ward in 1903, not only refers to the privileging of the human male, especially in language and thought, but also means that male experience has been one-sidedly equated with all human experience and taken as a universal norm by men and women alike, without giving full and equal recognition to women's knowledge and experience. The use of man, the male and masculine, as a universal category for the generically "human," is exclusionary since it erases women as subjects. The opposite of androcentrism is gynocentrism, the privileging of female experience and perspective, which is comparatively rare. Another widely used term is sexism, referring to the organization of social life and attitudes that not only sharply differentiates between different gender roles but also privileges and values one sex over the other. Juschka (2001, pp. 2–3) makes a helpful distinction between androcentrism as a falsifying male perspective and actual misogyny as an active negative attitude toward women as female. The inherent androcentrism of the study of religions was pointed out early in the pioneering collection of essays Beyond Androcentrism (Gross, ed., 1977).
Whereas sex is usually understood in a binary way, as consisting of two mutually exclusive categories of male and female, feminists have used gender in association with difference and diversity, in terms of multiple, rather than single, versions of femininities and masculinities that call into question general claims about women and men. Thus "the concept of gender has served as a flexible container for difference.… Lacking any stable content, the categories 'women' and 'men' acquire meaning through their use in particular contexts" (Bondi and Davidson, 2002, p. 336). As gender is not a stable essence but a fluid category linked to identity creation, world building, and boundary maintenance of social roles, it may be preferable to use an active, dynamic verb rather than a noun. "Engendering" is an action linked to perceiving, performing, reflecting, and enacting, and it is therefore more appropriate to speak about "(en)gendering religion" (Warne, 2001) or "doing gender in religion" than to speak about gender and religion in an additive manner. Religion and gender are not simply two parallel categories that function independently of each other; they are mutually embedded within each other in all religions, suffusing all religious worlds and experiences. It is because of this deep hidden embeddedness that gender is sometimes so difficult to identify and separate out from other aspects of religion until one's consciousness is trained into making a "gender-critical turn."
In terms of intellectual developments, a double paradigm shift has occurred. The first happened when women's studies—descriptive, phenomenologically and empirically oriented—developed into more critical, self-reflexive, and theoretically oriented feminist studies. The second paradigm shift has taken place with the further development of feminist studies into gender studies. But "paradigm shift" is too tame an expression for what is really happening, which is a shaking of foundations, a radical remapping of our intellectual, academic, and social landscapes. It has become increasingly obvious that it is not simply a question of bringing women's experience and knowledge into view but of radically restructuring the existing balance between genders. As in many other fields, we are not simply dealing with a reinterpretation of texts and traditions but with a complete repositioning of bodies of knowledge, a rearrangement and remapping of everything that relates to religion, society, and culture. As women's studies and feminist studies of religion have gained more institutional recognition over recent decades, some women scholars feel resistant toward gender studies because their development may mean the loss of some of the recent gains made. But feminist separatism apart, many female, and some male, scholars now work within a gender-critical framework and use gender-inclusive rather than exclusive models in their thinking. Strongly articulated gender theories possess considerable explanatory power and potential for the study of religion. Gender studies can of course be appropriated for conservative ends, even fundamentalist purposes (Hawley, 1994; Jeffery and Basu, 1998), or they can be used to reinforce androcentric bias through focusing on the analysis of masculinity without taking feminist theoretical insights into account. Gender studies in religion thus represent a complex field of many contradictory parts still in need of much further development, but they also hold much promise for new creative perspectives and approaches in religious scholarship.
New Methodologies and Scholarship
The introduction of feminist perspectives into the study of religion has been celebrated as an epistemological as well as a spiritual revolution. The rise of feminism relates both to an academic method and a new social vision (Gross, 1993, pp. 291–304). Female religion scholars have developed a practical "participatory hermeneutics," involving advocacy and personal engagement, as well as a theoretically sophisticated "hermeneutics of suspicion," which critically examines all traditional knowledge and practices of religion. These have to be thoroughly analyzed and deconstructed so that unequally weighted gender differences become clearly visible and reconstructed in a different way. June O'Connor (1989) has defined this task as "rereading, reconceiving and reconstructing religious traditions." By "rereading" she means that religious phenomena have to be examined with regard to women's presence and absence, their words and silences; "reconceiving" requires the retrieval and recovery of lost sources and suppressed visions, the reclaiming of "women's heritage"; "reconstructing" the past draws on new paradigms for thinking, understanding, and evaluating it differently. These expressions point to a dynamic of transformation, indicating that a profound change in thought and social structures is deliberately sought and worked for.
The development of women's studies in religion thus counteracts the deficiency and partiality of scholarship by retrieving women's forgotten histories and buried voices, their unacknowledged experiences hidden in the official histories of the past. Critical feminist theories were developed, based on the specificity and difference of women's experience, leading to endless debates, especially as some forms of "cultural feminism" claimed that women's experience is not only different from men's but morally and perhaps even spiritually superior to that of men, a theme that goes back at least as far as the Romantics.
Critical gender studies in religion have conclusively demonstrated that there are no gender-neutral phenomena. Everything is subtly, and often invisibly, patterned by a gender dynamic operating in language, thought, experience, and institutions. Traditional religiously defined and socially prescribed gender roles, if rigidly enforced, can become dehumanizing prisons, even though anthropological, historical, and comparative studies provide overwhelming evidence that gender roles are also remarkably fluid across different religions and cultures. At the present stage of humanity's global experience it is no longer possible to work with exclusive, hegemonic models of language, thought, or anything else, derived from only one gender. Historical descriptions, analyses, and theories need to take all genders and their differences into account, whether shaped by race, class, culture, religion, sexuality, or other identity markers. The theorization of multiple voices, of subjectivity and agency, of difference and identity, of standpoints and positionality, of liberation and transformation, is central to feminist thought. Its debates have anticipated several of the critical stances of postmodernism in destabilizing categories and in arguing against essentialist and universalist stances. Feminists have pioneered new epistemological insights, not only in terms of what we know but how we come to know, how knowledge is constructed, psychologically as well as socially. These theoretical advances of feminist theory have deeply influenced men's studies, leading to a new understanding of the construction of maleness, manhood, and masculinities. Both women's studies and men's studies, although approached from different gender perspectives, have to work in a gender-inclusive rather than gender-exclusive way in order to achieve further intellectual and social breakthroughs. At present, however, maleness has not yet been theorized to the same extent as femaleness.
Women's and men's studies in religion are both marked by critical and constructive approaches. There is the question of what remains usable of the past when religious texts and histories are reread from a critical gender perspective. The impact of gender analysis, coupled with an ethical commitment to gender justice, will lead to a deconstruction as well as a reconstruction of religious traditions and practices. At present this process has barely begun, and setbacks are unavoidable. Moreover, the deconstruction of an essentialist understanding of masculinity is only in its early stages (Doty, 1993; Berger, Wallis, and Watson, 1995). "Men doing feminism" (Digby, 1998), though still a largely Western project, is bound to gain momentum and widespread diffusion across contemporary cultures. More inclusive, critical "gender thinking" will therefore dislocate individual and social identities, creating the possibility for new social arrangements and new religious developments across the globe. Men's studies in religion have produced innovative research on religion and masculinities, male sexuality and spirituality, and male identities and bodies in relation to the gender-sensitive understanding of God and divinities (Eilberg-Schwartz, 1994; Boyd, Longwood, and Muesse, 1996; Krondorfer, 1996; Bradstock, Gill, Hogan, and Morgan, 2000), but there is still a long way to go before these developments catch up with women's studies in religion.
Yet further thinking is represented by queer theories, primarily debated within gay, lesbian, and feminist theologies dealing with sexuality and the production of raced and gendered bodies, much influenced by Michel Foucault's influential work on the history of sexuality. Such theories call into question how what counts as "normal" heterosexuality comes into existence, is legitimated and maintained as well as transgressed and subverted, so that concepts of identity, power, and resistance have to be critically reexamined. The "queering" of religion raises many ethical and theological questions, not fully discussed at present, so that it is still too early to predict whether queer thinking will have the same influence as feminist theories on what is a complex new field of scholarship in the study of religion (sometimes also called LGBT studies, relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people) with far more resources on the web than in existing gender studies on religion. For an introduction to these discussions see Fear of a Queer Planet (Warner, 1993) and Religion Is a Queer Thing (Stuart, 1997).
Such studies from radically different perspectives highlight in a new way how monotheistic systems are male dominated and heterosexually structured (Boyarin, 1997) and how the "queering" of the body relates to wider issues of ordering gender relations, society, and configurations of power linked to ambiguous religious histories and teachings. It is therefore to be welcomed that new body theologies are being developed from both male and female perspectives (Nelson, 1992; Raphael, 1996; Isherwood and Stuart, 1998). These have their roots mainly in Christian thinking, but many other religious traditions possess rich resources for constructing alternative approaches to the body and its religious significance. For Asian perspectives see the SUNY (Albany) series on "Body in Culture, History, and Religion" edited by Thomas P. Kasulis and his colleagues. Contemporary Western discussions, marked by fluid postmodern instabilities and much experimentation, are continuously evolving in this area, so that new concepts such as "transgender" and "omnigender" are created to illuminate, and perhaps even to overcome, the multiple but still oppositional meanings of gender (Mollenkott, 2001).
Women's religious lives and roles in different religious traditions across the world, previously rarely examined at all, have now been studied from many different perspectives. A pioneering publication was Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives (Falk and Gross, eds., 2001, originally published in 1980 and subtitled Women's Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures), followed by many others on women's roles and rituals in different religions, the records and writings left by women, and their exclusion or participation in religious rites and institutions. An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women (Young, ed., 1994) was another milestone, presenting important scriptural sources on women in the major religious traditions, including women's own voices. Several recurring themes reveal the ambiguities affecting the image of women cross-culturally, such as the widespread association of women with both evil (through their body, sexuality, menstruation taboos, and death) and wisdom; sex role reversals in mythical and other stories of gender conflict; the figure of the ideal and exceptional woman; and the existence of many female religious experts, recognized for their charismatic authority without, in most cases, holding official institutional roles. Further evidence of casting women into particular stereotypes and make them submit to the moral rules of male-dominated society, often enforced by the teachings of religion, is provided by Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions (Kloppenborg and Hanegraaff, eds, 1995). An absolutely indispensable reference work, and pioneering achievement, is the two-volume Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion (Young, ed., 1999), reflecting the diversity and richness of current theoretical debates and empirical data in contemporary scholarship on women's, and to some extent also men's, studies in religion. There exists no comparable reference work yet that offers a similar summation of gender studies and men's studies in religion.
Several feminist scholars have attempted feminist reconstructions of religious traditions as different as Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, as well as Christianity, and the number of gender-critical studies on Islam and other traditions is also steadily growing. Some essay collections reflect constructive efforts in reinterpreting several religious traditions (Cooey, Eakin, and McDaniel, 1991), but most feminist challenges have been addressed to Judaism and Christianity, especially in North America and Europe. The rise of ever newer forms of feminist theologies has spawned remarkable voices of difference, from womanist to mujerista and Asian-American theologies, which have given birth to women doing Christian theology around the whole world, from Asia to Africa, Australia to Latin America, Europe to North America. The most challenging theoretical questions facing feminism and gender studies, admittedly from a largely Western point of view, are discussed in Feminism in the Study of Religion: A Reader (Juschka, ed., 2001). The pluralism of methods and interpretive strategies in current gender thinking on different religious experiences, texts, histories, and practices is evident from Gender, Religion and Diversity: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (King and Beattie, eds., 2004). By taking up a self-reflexive, critical position, several contributors to this volume, both female and male, show that these debates are more than sophisticated academic arguments; in practical terms they involve a strong commitment to gender justice and social transformation, whether in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam in different parts of the world.
This is not the place to pursue a trenchant critique of the androcentrism and defectiveness of previous scholarship, but the above examples provide ample evidence that now, when women are no longer merely occasional objects of male inquiry but have acquired the necessary academic education, professional training, and expertise to pursue the study of religion at all levels, they have increasingly become scholars in their own right who critically examine themselves as objects of analysis and debate. This historically recent development has led to new questions in the study of religion, which in turn have produced masses of new data and theories, opening up yet more new research fields. With the arrival of gender studies, this process has crossed yet another threshold of complexity that will contribute to an eventual thorough remapping of the entire field of religion and radically alter some of its underlying research presuppositions. The influential paradigm established by Mircea Eliade, reflected in the very existence of this encyclopedia, has received much scholarly comment and criticism, but these have not yet thoroughly addressed the hidden gender imbalances and implicit androcentrism of his entire oeuvre. Except for some brief essays (King, 1990; Christ, 1991, 1997: pp. 80–86), the defective construction of his homo religiosus, who remains quite literally "religious man" without including the religious worlds of femina religiosa, has not been sufficiently critiqued, and the specific dynamic of gender relations underlying his Patterns in Comparative Religion also awaits further deconstruction.
Significant Research Themes
A critical analysis of religious texts, histories, and historiographies in terms of their embedded "lenses of gender" (whether androcentrism, essentialism, or gender polarization) raises some intriguing issues. These can be grouped into three systematic clusters of research themes that contemporary scholars pursue from historical, phenomenological, philosophical, and comparative perspectives. Related to external and internal aspects of religion, these topics reveal the interstructured personal and institutional dynamics of power, authority, and gendered hierarchies that have patterned religious life in many different and often subtly invisible ways throughout history.
The first cluster concerns primarily, though not exclusively, the social and institutional aspects of religion with regard to the respective roles and status that different religious traditions accord to men and women. What access do women have to full participation in religious life, to religious authority and leadership, when compared with that of men? Have women formed distinct religious communities and rites of their own where their independent authority is acknowledged and not abrogated by male hierarchical structures? Are specific religious rites gender inclusive or exclusive, and which are the ones that exclude either women or men? Do both sexes have the authority to teach and interpret the foundational texts and central practices of the tradition? Comparative historical studies show that generally women hold higher positions in archaic, tribal, and noninstitutionalized religions than in highly differentiated traditions that have evolved complex structures and hierarchical organizations over a long period of time. Women magicians, shamans, healers, visionaries, prophetesses, and priestesses are found in primal and ancient religions, and in tribal and folk religions today. Comparative studies also provide much evidence that, during the formative period of a religion, at the time of a new religious founder or prophet when a "discipleship of equals" (Schüssler-Fiorenza) may exist, women often have a more egalitarian position, greater influence, and even leadership, whereas subsequently they are often relegated to secondary roles, losing much of their independent agency. Examples are found among women in early Buddhism, in the Jesus movement and early Christianity, or among the women associated with Muḥammad's work, or with nineteenth-century Christian missionary movements. Women religious founders and leaders are comparatively rare. They are more prominent in new religious movements that have come into existence in quite different religious and cultural contexts since the nineteenth century (e.g., Miki Oyasama and Mary Baker Eddy, founders of Tenrikyō and Christian Science, respectively; other examples are women leaders in African and South American new religions). Women can rise to religious leadership more easily within small religious groups outside the mainstream tradition, but modernity has also created space for many new religious roles within the mainstream (Wessinger, 1996). The charismatic, rather than institutional, authority of women is recognized in both traditional and new religions, but today a greater number of women religious leaders and teachers exist than in the past (Puttick, 1997; Puttick and Clarke, 1993). Several Christian denominations now ordain women as priests, and modern Hinduism knows of many women gurus, such as Ananda Mayi Ma and others.
The second cluster of research themes centers on the fluid area of religious language and thought, raising challenging questions about the entire symbolic order and the role of the imaginary in religion. How are male and female gender differences discursively constructed, culturally inscribed, and socially reproduced? Do different sacred scriptures and religious traditions project images of women as strong and powerful as those of men? Or does their language remain exclusive and androcentric, subordinating, disempowering, excluding, and oppressing women? What are the gendered patterns and symbols of their language of creation and salvation? How are the sacred, ultimate reality and the divine conceptualized, and how is feminine and masculine sacrality understood and valued? The evaluative gender hierarchy of religious language is equally inscribed in religious attitudes to the body, sexuality, and spirituality (for Jewish perspectives on body, sexuality, and gender see Eilberg-Schwartz, 1994; for Christian perspectives see Brown, 1988; Thatcher and Stuart, 1996; the gendered patterns of relations between sexuality and the sacred are richly documented by Nelson and Longfellow, 1994; Raphael, 1996). The widespread sacralization of virginity, and the spiritually privileged position accorded to asceticism and monasticism in many religions, especially in Jainism, Buddhism, and Catholic Christianity, have fueled profoundly misogynist views in the gender dynamics of numerous religious traditions, but a comparative-critical study of these phenomena from a self-reflexive gender perspective still remains to be written.
The narrow prison of gender symbols encloses the historically and socially located human perceptions of divine immanence and transcendence. Dominant androcentric images of God have been symbols of power and oppression not only for many women but also for many colonial people. Now recognized as limiting rather than liberating, they are radically called into question by contemporary theologians of both sexes, especially Jewish and Christian feminists. Where are the symbols and images of a feminine Divine, the female figures of wisdom, of the Spirit? Analyzing religious texts and teachings from a female gender perspective can lead to surprising new insights into human experience of the Divine, whether in gendered patterns of mystical experience or in the intimate presence of the Spirit within our bodies and in the natural world, as recognized by contemporary ecofeminism and the new ecofeminist spirituality (Adams, 1993; Cuomo, 1998). Discussions about the possibility and necessity of a divine feminine, accompanied by a revalorization of the body and the maternal, take central place in the lively debates of contemporary critical philosophers and theologians (Jantzen, 1998). These have been much influenced by the linguistic turn of postmodernism and the rise of psycholinguistics, especially its revolutionary use by French feminist theorists (Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, and others), which has strongly impacted Western philosophers of religion (Anderson, 1998; Jantzen, 1998; Joy, O'Grady, and Poxon, 2002, 2003). Feminist philosophers of religion are now engaged in sharply critiquing a traditionally almost exclusively male discipline shaped by problematic biases of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Different feminist theologians and biblical scholars have also taken up the topic of gender with much vigor (see Sawyer, God, Gender and the Bible, 2002).
A third cluster of research questions relates to the usually least visible (except for outward religious practices, and perhaps also spirit possession), the most internal, personal aspects of religion, that is to say religious and mystical experiences. How far are these differently engendered? To what extent are their occurrences, descriptions, images, and symbols gender specific? Are men's perception and pursuit of spirituality often quite different from women's spirituality? These questions can be applied to both the continuing and cumulative experience of ordinary day-to-day religious practice and to the extraordinary experiences of religious virtuosi, such as saints and mystics. Most religions seem to validate the ordinary lives of women in terms of domestic observances and family duties rather than encourage their search for religious knowledge and spiritual perfection. How far do different traditions prohibit or encourage women to seek a spiritual space of their own and follow demanding spiritual disciplines in the same way as men? By rejecting traditional sociobiological gender roles through becoming ascetics, yoginis, sannyasinis, or nuns, Jaina, Buddhist, and Christian women have pursued nontraditional, and sometimes extraordinary, paths of spiritual devotion and attainment, although the gendering of Hindu renunciation is a mostly modern phenomenon (Khandelwal, 2004). Women had to struggle to create their own religious communities; their gender always provoked male resistance to their claim to autonomy and power, so that their activities remained controlled and constrained by male hierarchies. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rich lives of Christian nuns in whose cloisters and convents appeared outstanding women scholars, mystics, artists, political activists, healers, and teachers over many centuries, whose biographies often reflect intensive gender struggles over power and authority (McNamara, 1996), also evident from the critical study of Christian mysticism (Jantzen, 1995).
It is especially the area of women's religious experience, in both the ordinary sense of religious devotions and duties and the special sense of a particular religious calling, that provides a rich field for contemporary research. It is important to investigate also the strongly affirmative and life-sustaining resources that countless women have found through the ages, and still find today, in a faith transmitted to them through the beliefs, practices, and spiritual heritage of a specific religious tradition. Such research provides a counterbalance to the more restrictive and oppressive role that religion has played in many women's lives.
Moving from religious experience and practice to the systematic articulations of faith that produced a wealth of philosophical and theological learning in all religious traditions, we largely meet worlds without women, as is all too evident from sacred and scholarly literatures, official histories of religious institutions, and more recently the historiographies and research monographs of Western scholars of religion (King, 1993). Women's religious worlds, experiences, and thought have on the whole made few contributions to these developments until the modern period. Gender studies and other intellectual advances have awakened us to such important themes as self and subjectivity; human identity and representation; authority and power relations; masculinity and femininity; body, sexuality and spirituality; and how to think and speak of ultimate reality and human destiny, of individuals and community, in a newly gendered, and sometimes transgendering, way. Feminist theologians and thealogians have reimaged God and Goddess or explored affinities with process thought (Christ, 2003); they have suggested alternative conceptualizations using androgynous and monistic models for ultimate reality; they have reshaped religious rites and invented new ones through creating either separate women's rituals or more inclusive liturgies. Many contemporary changes in religious practice are the result of an altered gender awareness, but many further social and institutional transformations of a more substantial kind are still needed. Discussions about the relationship between immanent, contingent gender experiences and perceptions of transcendence and divine otherness, or the nature of the sacred and numinous, continue unabated. However, too often these are still predicated on an essentialist dualism between the spirit as masculine and the body, whether female or male, as feminine, and they often perpetuate the traditional appropriation of the realm of transcendence and the spirit by men.
The above discussion of a wide range of research themes shows that a rereading of religions from a critical gender perspective reveals the existence of gendered texts and traditions, gendered hierarchies of power, gendered symbols of the sacred, gendered bodies and minds. The analysis of this wealth of new material is a truly daunting task and remains an ongoing one. There also arises the central question of whether gender studies in religion will be able to make a significant contribution to creating a postpatriarchal world by moving from dualistic and exclusive gender constructions to new social projects of gender reconciliation, implying profound personal and social transformations.
Prominent Contemporary Debates and New Directions
The relationship between gender and religion is still made more complex through debates about diversity and difference, a concept much hyped by postmodernism ever since Derrida's "différance " highlighted the disjuncture between objects of perception and their meanings as symbols or representations. Difference can mean many things; among others it can stand for a multiplicity of voices and meanings, for varied subject positions of the same individual, or it can negate the possibility of any particular authoritative account. It thus undercuts any essentialist position in debates about race, gender, and ethnicity. "Diversity" is sometimes used interchangeably with "difference," but they are conceptually distinct:
Difference carries negative value baggage, while diversity differentials are captured by difference. The trick is to recognize difference as a fragmentation into insignificant units of resistance. By holding onto a concept of difference nuanced by a concept of diversity, significant political and intellectual action against oppression remains effective. (Juschka, 2001, p. 430).
The recognition of diversity has led to the realization that everywhere pluralities abound whereas singularity is rare. Thus, gender studies, feminisms, feminist theologies, sexualities, spiritualities, and many other categories are now more often expressed in the plural rather than the singular.
Difference is also correlated with "otherness," not only that of different experiences and social locations, of gender orientations and identities, but the multiple "otherness" of religious differences within and across specific cultures; there is the diversity of methods and approaches in understanding such differences; there is the "otherness" of one gender to another, especially the "otherness" of women for men, as traditionally understood. The social and political violence exercised by the West toward the "otherness" of "non-Western" cultures, whether through imperialism, orientalism, or neocolonialism, has come under fierce criticism that also impacts the gender and religion debate (Armour, 1999; Donaldson and Kwok, 2002). The history and concerns of feminist theory have to some extent paralleled those of postcolonial theory. Writing from the perspective of postcoloniality, feminist researchers perceive woman as a "colonized" subject relegated, like subject people of former colonies, to the position of "other" under various forms of patriarchal domination. The "epistemological violence" of Western religious and theological discourse toward other cultures and religions has come under fierce critique, as have debates about racial differences, which are being subverted through critiquing whiteness and its false neutrality, theorizing white also as "race" or de-emphasizing the importance of the category of "race" altogether. The essentialist understanding of race characterizes what is now called Whitefeminism, and new critiques of limited, essentialist perspectives of Whitefeminist theory and Whitefeminist theology, as well as religious studies theory, are being developed (Armour, 1999; Keller, 2004). One can argue, especially from the universalist, inclusive vision inherent in many religions, that there exists only one race, and that is the human race. One of the most significant issues is who has been counted as "human" in the past and who was marginalized as "other," "outsider," "barbarian," and "nonhuman." This raises the burning question of what it really means to be a human person today in the light of critical gender thinking (Nelson, 1992; Smith, 1992) and when taking into account all the other differentiations that pattern our multicultural, multiracial, and religiously plural global world.
Contemporary discussions are deeply affected by the processes of globalization, which produce transformative resources for religious worldviews, interreligious contacts and communication, and the international study of religions. Many of these depend on the globally diffused use of English, criticized by some as neocolonial form of dominance. These arguments are also present in gender debates, since more writings and scholarly communications about gender and its relevance for religion take place in English than in any other language. In postcolonial writing the "alchemy of English" (Kachru, 1986) is widely debated. Its usefulness as a non-native medium of communication is its perceived "neutrality" in that it cannot be automatically aligned with particular indigenous religious or ethnic factions, and therefore can be used just as much for imparting local, non-Western values as Western values. Thus, it is rather one-sided to see this hegemony of one Western language above others mainly negatively, for the global use of English can also be valued positively as an enabling means of wider communication and an empowering challenge for social and personal transformation. In the gender debate, people whose mother tongue is not English may initially feel at a disadvantage, but native English speakers are not necessarily better off, because a critical gender awareness always requires a new perception and the learning of a new vocabulary, linked to new attitudes and changed practices. Learning to make the "gender-critical turn" is an ongoing self-reflective process that everyone who embarks on the exciting journey of gender exploration must undergo, whatever their language.
These multiple new perspectives, now increasingly subsumed under "postcolonial studies," have spawned lively controversies on race, gender, ethnicity, nationalism, orientalism, discourse, body, and other topics, creating numerous formulations of hybridity rather than genuinely correlative or integral frameworks. These controversial ideas have also considerably influenced religious studies theory, although it is presently impossible to assess whether this tendency to identify ever more differences will have any lasting intellectual or practical impact on gender and race relations. Concepts of difference and diversity are also much discussed by feminist theologians seeking to account more appropriately for religious diversity and pluralism in feminist theological discourse.
Many further issues, whether theoretical or praxis-oriented, can only find brief mention. The influential critical theory of the Frankfurt School has itself been critiqued by feminists for its gender essentialism, although its male practitioners provide valuable insights into woman-as-object of masculine thought. Challenging the oversights of critical theory, Marsha Hewitt (1995) contends that it nonetheless possesses considerable emancipatory potential for feminist theology and religious theorists. Yet one can also argue that excessively complex theoretical elaborations remain ultimately barren and are just another example of the violence of abstraction. Faith-engaged activists in different religious groups and basic communities are consciously praxis-oriented in fighting the gendered pattern of violence against actual human beings, so starkly apparent in numerous contemporary conflict and war situations. The study of gender, religion, and violence has attracted increasing interest, and so has the topic of human rights and religion, including a growing awareness of women's human rights in relation to their religious traditions and cultures, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or other (Jeffery and Basu, 1998; King, 2004; Svenson, 2000). The Malaysian scholar-activist Sharon Bong argues that although problematic in challenging the secularity of human rights discourse, it is essential, in fact "a moral and political imperative to negotiate women's human rights with cultures and religions," in order to complement other strategies for their empowerment (Bong, 2004, p. 241).
Also of great concern is the topic of religious fundamentalism, where research is only beginning to pay attention to gender differences, especially how women are affected by fundamentalist teachings and practices of different religions (Hawley, 1994; Howland, 1999) and the efforts made by conservative and Christian evangelical groups in redefining traditional gender roles in the light of changing social practices (DeBerg, 1990).
Randi Warne concludes one of her gender articles by saying:
As long as we distinguish humans as "women" and "men," and as long as these distinctions carry symbolic meaning and cultural authority which shape human life possibilities, the concept of gender will be essential to any adequate analysis of religion. Gender as an analytical category, and gendering as a social practice, are central to religion, and the naturalization of these phenomena and their subsequent under-investigation have had a deleterious effect on the adequacy of the scholarship that the scientific study of religion has produced. Until the scientific study of religion becomes intentionally gender-critical in all of its operations, it will unwittingly reproduce, reify and valorize the nineteenth-century gender ideology which marks its origins, rendering suspect any claims to the scientific generation of reliable knowledge it seeks to make. (2000a, p. 153)
This is a bold statement, except that religion and gender do not concern the production of reliable knowledge alone. The reworking of language, thought, and theories, of knowledge and scholarship, are essential, but not sufficient, for creating a profoundly different, more gender-just and equitable world for all humans peopling this globe. To rethink sex, gender, and religion, we have to imagine that creative alternatives are available and that a nonhierarchical, more caring and participatory world can come into existence that is not aligned along a single, masculine model of sameness, but offers more spaces for rich cultural and religious differentiation. I agree with Christine Delphy that "perhaps we shall only really be able to think about gender on the day when we can imagine non-gender" (quoted in Juschka, 2001, p. 422).
The rich variety of gender entries on specific religious traditions that follow this article amply demonstrates that critical, transformative gender perspectives now affect the study of all religions and are consciously being taken up cross-culturally by scholars of both genders. Their research has created challenging perspectives of enquiry and produced a wealth of new scholarly work, as is evident from the following bibliography and those supplied on each religious tradition.
Androcentrism; Domestic Observances; Ecology and Religion; Feminine Sacrality; Feminism, article on Feminism, Gender Studies, and Religion; Feminist Theology; Gaia; Gender Roles; Globalization and Religion; God; Goddess Worship; Gynocentrism; Homosexuality; Human Body, article on Human Bodies, Religion, and Gender; Human Rights and Religion; Mary; Masculine Sacrality; Men's Studies in Religion; Menstruation; Monasticism; Mysticism; Neopaganism; New Religious Movements; Nudity; Nuns; Ordination; Patriarchy and Matriarchy; Phallus and Vagina; Priesthood; Rites of Passage; Ritual; Sexuality; Shamanism; Shekhinah; Thealogy; Virgin Goddess; Virginity; Wicca; Wisdom; Witchcraft; Women's Studies in Religion.
Gender as an Analytical Category
Nancy Bonvillain, Women and Men: Cultural Constructs of Gender (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1998); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London, 1990); Joan Wallach Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053–1075; reprinted in Feminism and History: Oxford Readings in Feminism, edited by Joan Wallach Scott, pp. 152–180 (Oxford and New York, 1996). A very helpful, lucid account about locating and refiguring gender is provided by Liz Bondi and Joyce Davidson, "Troubling the Place of Gender," in Handbook of Cultural Geography, edited by Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile, and Nigel Thrift, pp. 325–343 (London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 2002); for the politics of interpretation regarding sex and gender see Terrell Carver, Gender Is Not a Synonym for Women (London and Boulder, Colo., 1996).
The problematic nature of masculine gender constructions is discussed in Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson, eds., Constructing Masculinity (New York and London, 1995) and William G. Doty, Myths of Masculinity (New York, 1993); see also Tom Digby, ed., Men Doing Feminism (New York and London, 1998). For a provocative philosophical enquiry into gender dualities and the gender system in relation to conceiving humanity and the communal project of democracy, see Steven G. Smith, Gender Thinking (Philadelphia, 1992).
Maggie Humm, The Dictionary of Feminist Theory, 2d ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1995) helps to clarify many basic concepts and theories of the social sciences that have impacted the study of religion. For historical and descriptive details on women in different religious traditions, see the series edited by Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young, The Annual Review of Women in World Religions (Albany, N.Y., from 1991 onwards). Theoretical and methodological issues are addressed in Feminism and World Religions, edited by Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young, (Albany, N.Y., 1999) and in Methodology in Religious Studies: The Interface with Women's Studies, edited by Arvind Sharma (Albany, N.Y., 2002). Much historical data on religion, women, and men are found in the five volumes of A History of Women in the West, edited by Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot (Cambridge, Mass., 1992–1994).
Often-cited readers that have assumed the status of classics, with mostly material on Judaism, Christianity, and new religions in the West, are Womanspirit Rising: Feminist Reader in Religion, 2d ed., edited by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow (San Francisco, 1992); Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, edited by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (San Francisco, 1989); and The Politics of Women's Spirituality. Essays by Founding Mothers of the Movement, 2d ed., edited by Charlene Spretnak (New York, 1994).
Darlene M. Juschka, ed., Feminism in the Study of Religion: A Reader (London and New York, 2001). An indispensable collection of articles dealing with wide theoretical issues, from women doing the study of religion to critical discourses, race, gender, sexuality, and class. Key texts from the last thirty years, grouped thematically, and introduced by excellent discussions on the impact of feminism on the study of religion. Serinity Young, ed., An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women (New York and London, 1994). A wide-ranging selection of textual sources on women in different sacred writings. Serinity Young, ed. Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion, 2 vols. (New York, 1999). A superb reference work for first orientation; contains rich bibliographical sources on the fast-growing field of women's and feminist studies in religion. The premier journal disseminating feminist scholarship in religion is the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, published twice a year since spring 1985. It now invites "a variety of contributions that focus on women's experience or on gender as a category of analysis, and that further feminist theory, consciousness, and practice" (Spring 2003).
Individual Monographs and Multiauthor Volumes
Chosen from a large range of publications on gender studies in religion, the selection of the following titles was guided by several criteria: 1. use of theoretical and comparative gender discussions as well as reference to both genders; 2. cross-cultural and comparative examples from a wide range of religious and cultural traditions, by authors from different nationalities writing in English; 3. primary emphasis on the most significant works published since 1990, most of which include substantial bibliographies listing important earlier publications.
Adams, Carl J., ed. Ecofeminism and the Sacred. New York, 1993. The word ecofeminism, coined only in 1974, covers a wide, and sometimes contradictory, range of interests in the revaluation—and resacralization—of woman and nature, reflected in this collection of essays.
Ahmed, Durre S., ed. Gendering the Spirit: Women, Religion, and the Post-Colonial Response. London and New York, 2002. Fascinating postcolonial articles on feminism, religious traditions, and spirituality from South Asia. Includes section on violence against women in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.
Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Beliefs. Oxford and Malden, Mass., 1998. Uses feminist psycholinguistics, standpoint epistemology, the idea of the philosophical imaginary, and a modified Kantianism to challenge the premises of Anglo-American analytical philosophy and to construct a daring, new feminist philosophy of religion.
Armour, Ellen T. Deconstruction, Feminist Theology and the Problem of Difference: Subverting the Race/Gender Divide. Chicago and London, 1999. Sophisticated deconstruction of "race" and "difference," critiquing Whitefeminist theology and theory.
Bong, Sharon A. "An Asian Postcolonial and Feminist Methodology: Ethics as a Recognition of Limits." In Religion, Gender and Diversity: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Ursula King and Tina Beattie, pp. 238–249. London and New York, 2004. Based on research into the standpoints of Malaysian female and male faith- and rights-based activists to change the lives of women. A fuller account of the same argument is found in Sharon Bong, "Partial Visions: Knowing through Doing Rights, Cultures and Religions from an Asian-Malaysian Feminist Standpoint Epistemology," Ph.D. diss., Lancaster University, 2002.
Børresen, Kari Elisabeth, ed. The Image of God: Gender Models in Judaeo-Christian Tradition. Minneapolis, 1995. Provides rich historical evidence from early Jewish, Christian, medieval, and modern writers to show that the understanding of God is closely interrelated with and dependent on dominant gender models prevalent during specific historical periods.
Boyarin, Daniel. Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man. Berkeley, Calif., 1997. In contrast to the prevailing warrior and patriarch image, this book offers a valuable alternative model of masculinity in terms of the ideal of a gentle, receptive male. Originating from the Talmud and further developed in other Jewish texts, this model provides helpful resources for constructing alternative gender norms.
Boyarin, Daniel. "Gender." In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor, pp. 117–135. Chicago and London, 1998. Succinct summary of some leading gender theoreticians, with discussion of some biblical texts and their rabbinic and Christian interpretations of gender differences.
Boyd, Stephen B., W. Merle Longwood, and Mark W. Muesse, eds. Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities. Louisville, Ky., 1996. Hailed as a groundbreaking book at publication, this book examines the dynamics of power and the role of religion in shaping masculine identities. It established men's studies in religion as a serious scholarly field.
Bradstock, Andrew, Sean Gill, Anne Hogan, and Sue Morgan, eds. Masculinity and Spirituality in Victorian Culture. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 2000. Contemporary Western gender relations still owe much to norms set down by Victorians, so far mainly studied in terms of their construction of femininities. Written by historians, these essays explore the alternative construction of masculinities, drawing on Christian (and one Jewish) examples from nineteenth-century England. Particularly fascinating is the concept of the "Christian soldier," a man fighting for his nation as well as his God.
Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York, 1988. A magisterial work on attitudes to sexuality and the body, and on sexual renunciation, in early Christianity.
Christ, Carol P. "Mircea Eliade and the Feminist Paradigm Shift." Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 7, no. 2 (1991): pp. 75–94. Through examining Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas, Christ shows the androcentric bias of its author and the lack of recognition given to the importance of women and Goddesses in the history of religion.
Christ, Carol P. Rebirth of the Goddess. Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality. New York, 1997; repr. 1998. Drawing on feminist Christian and Jewish sources this book articulates a feminist thealogy and ethics. It includes a discussion of the resistance to Goddess history and a critical analysis of Eliade's work (pp. 80-86).
Christ, Carol P. She Who Changes. Re-Imagining the Divine in the World. New York and Basingstoke, U.K., 2003. A creative philosophical synthesis reflecting on Goddess/God in conversation with the process philosopher Charles Hartshorne, this book argues for the adoption of a "feminist process paradigm" in approaching the Divine.
Clark, Elizabeth A. "Engendering the Study of Religion." In The Future of the Study of Religion: Proceedings of Congress 2000, edited by Slavica Jakelić and Lori Pearson, pp. 217–242. Leiden and Boston, 2004. This article traces the development from women's studies in religion to gender studies and men's studies in religion. Profusely referenced, it provides clear evidence for the transformative impact of gender analysis on contemporary studies of religion, with the majority of examples drawn from Christianity.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, and Bonnie Wheeler, eds. Becoming Male in the Middle Ages. New York and London, 2000. A title that breaks new ground in deconstructing male identities in the Middle Ages. Drawing on gender, feminist and queer theories, the contributors to this volume examine how sexuality, society, and religious worldviews shaped the medieval Christian and Jewish understanding of different masculinities.
Cooey, Paula M., William R. Eakin, and Jay B. McDaniel, eds. After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1991. In looking for a postpatriarchal age, the female and male authors of this book reveal how far-reaching the transformations of world religions must be in order to find a liberating core that will be emancipatory for all.
Cuomo, Chris J. Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Ethic of Flourishing. London and New York, 1998. Argues persuasively for an ecological feminism that links theory and practice. Questioning traditional feminist analyses of gender and caring, the author asks whether women are essentially closer to nature than men, and how to link the oppression of women, people of color, and other subjugated groups to the degradation of nature.
DeBerg, Betty A. Ungodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism. Minneapolis, 1990. Shows how issues of sexual identity and gender-differentiated behavior are central to the emergence of American fundamentalism. Not only analyzes women and femininity but also sheds much light on how fundamentalist men understand their own masculinity in relation to shaping their families and church communities.
Donaldson, Laura E., and Kwok Pui-lan, eds. Postcolonialism, Feminism and Religious Discourse. London and New York, 2002. Cross-cultural perspectives that combine postcolonial thinking on religion, culture, and feminist discourse. Theoretical essays are supplemented by case studies from Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and black American women's cultural and religious experience.
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. God's Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism. Boston, 1994. This study, which has been called a masterpiece, uncovers the inherent anxieties regarding male identity and sexuality in ancient Israelite religion and modern Judaism and provides a gender-sensitive critique of the God concept of monotheism.
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard, and Wendy Doniger, eds. Off with Her Head! The Denial of Women's Identity in Myth, Religion and Culture. Berkeley, Calif., 1995. A fascinating collection of essays on women in Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam based on the argument that the objectification of women as sexual and reproductive bodies results in their symbolic "beheading" and practical relegation to silence and anonymity.
Falk, Nancy Auer, and Rita M. Gross, eds. Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives. 3d ed. Belmont, Calif., 2001. First published in 1980, these essays deal with women's religious roles and experiences, their agency, power, and innovation, and their religious strategies in coping with male-dominated systems in a wide range of different religious traditions.
Gross, Rita M. Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany, N.Y., 1993. The first feminist reconstruction of the Buddhist tradition, this book contains two theoretically challenging methodological appendices: a) "Here I stand: Feminism as Academic Method and as Social Vision"; b) "Religious Experience and the Study of Religion: The History of Religions."
Gross, Rita M. Feminism and Religion: An Introduction. Boston, 1996. Provides an excellent overview of the whole field of feminist research and women's studies in religion, using a large comparative framework rarely found in other publications.
Gross, Rita M., ed. Beyond Androcentrism: New Essays on Women and Religion. Missoula, Mont., 1977. Influential set of essays on methodology criticizing the prevailing androcentrism in the study of religions.
Hawley, John Stratton, ed. Fundamentalism and Gender. New York and Oxford, 1994. Extensive discussion of the meaning of fundamentalism, but no analysis of the concept of gender itself, which is, as so often, applied exclusively to women, with studies on American fundamentalism, Indian Islam, Hinduism, Japanese New Religions, and modern Judaism.
Hewitt, Marsha Aileen. Critical Theory of Religion: A Feminist Analysis. Minneapolis, 1995. A perceptive analysis of the theoreticians of the Frankfurt School, which highlights the androcentric and misogynistic aspects of their work while drawing on their new insights for developing a feminist critical theory of religion.
Howland, Courtney W. "Women and Religious Fundamentalism." In Women and International Human Rights Law, edited by Kelly D. Askin and Dorean M. Koenig, pp. 533–621. Ardsley, N.Y., 1999. Meticulously researched article on the challenge of different religious fundamentalisms to the liberty and equality rights of women. Includes a vast number of references to other publications on this important theme of great international relevance.
Isherwood, Lisa, and Elizabeth Stuart. Introducing Body Theology. Sheffield, U.K., 1998. Helpful survey on current discussions about embodiment, embodied theology, spirituality, and ecology, as well as the "queering of the body" and gender relations from a largely Christian perspective.
Jantzen, Grace M. Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism. Cambridge, U.K., 1995. Considered to be the first deconstructionist approach to Christian mysticism, analyzing the differently structured gendered rhetoric of male and female mystics. Argues for the plurality of Christian mysticisms and against its essentialist, experiential understanding, but sees mysticism rather as sets of social relations and representations informed by gender-differentiated power structures.
Jantzen, Grace M. Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion. Manchester, U.K., 1998. Drawing on Irigaray, Derrida, and Levinas, Jantzen explores the possibility of a new imaginary of religion that would replace a masculinist symbolic preoccupied with mortality and death by a feminist one based on natality and flourishing.
Jeffery, Patricia, and Amrita Basu, eds. Appropriating Gender: Women's Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia. New York and London, 1998. Explores the paradoxical relationship of women to religious politics in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Different gender identities emerge according to social, local, and political context in the struggle for national self-definition.
Joy, Morny, and Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay, eds. Gender, Genre and Religion: Feminist Reflections. Waterloo, Ontario, 1995. Challenging collection of gendered reflections on methodological perspectives, disciplinary discourses, and substantive issues of religious practice across different religious traditions.
Joy, Morny, Kathleen O'Grady, and Judith Poxon, eds. French Feminists on Religion: A Reader. London, 2002. Contains selections from the works of Irigaray, Kristeva, Clément, Cixous, and Wittig, with helpful introductions.
Joy, Morny, Kathleen O'Grady, and Judith Poxon, eds. Religion in French Feminist Thought: Critical Perspectives. London, 2003. This selection of articles by different authors complements French Feminists on Religion (2002). It deals with Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous and Clément, and Wittig.
Juschka, Darlene M. "The Category of Gender in the Study of Religion." Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 11, no. 1 (1999): 77–105. Lucid discussion of some major feminist theorists, followed by reviews of Ursula King, ed., Religion and Gender (Cambridge, U.K., 1995) and J. Stratton Hawley, ed. Fundamentalism and Gender (New York, 1994).
Kachru, Braj B. The Alchemy of English: The Spread, Functions and Models of Non-Native Englishes. Oxford, 1986. Examines the uses of English in postcolonial countries, showing how English is often still perceived as a language of prestige, power, and opportunity, without some of the limitations attributed to native languages, and with the additional potential for developing attitudes of neutrality and new forms of creativity.
Kasulis, Thomas P., Roger T. Ames., and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice. Albany, N.Y., 1993. Investigates the relationship between self and body in the Indian, Japanese, and Chinese philosophical traditions, with some attention given to gender differences.
Kawahashi, Noriko, and Masako Kuroki, eds. "Feminism and Religion in Contemporary Japan." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 30, nos. 3–4 (Fall 2003). The articles provide an overview of feminist debates on religion in Japan; deal with women in Japanese new religious movements, but also in traditional Buddhism and Christianity. They also mention that women's studies research was introduced into Japanese universities from the 1980s onwards, but since the 1990s the emphasis has increasingly moved to gender studies. Volume 10, numbers 2–3 (1983) of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies were devoted to "Women and Religion in Japan."
Khandelwal, Meena. Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation. Albany, N.Y., 2004. A great contribution to the understudied topic of female renouncers in the Hindu tradition; through examining contemporary sannyasinis and women gurus, it reveals alternative models of Hindu femininity and sheds light on South Asian gender constructs.
King, Ursula. "Women Scholars and the Encyclopedia of Religion. " In Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 2, no.1 (1990): 91–97. Critique of the implicit (and sometimes explicit) androcentrism underlying some of the entries of the first edition of the Encyclopedia (1987) and the invisibility of past women scholars of religion.
King, Ursula. "Rediscovering Women's Voices at the World's Parliament of Religions." In A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, edited by Eric J. Ziolkowski, pp. 325–343. Atlanta, 1993. Highlights the historical contributions of women to the emergent interfaith movement. Discusses the nineteen women plenary speakers (out of a total of 190) and examines four of these in detail. More historical research is needed to recover women's considerable contributions to the historic World's Parliament and its impact on the development of the academic study of religion, and thereby make good a missing dimension in the historiography of the discipline.
King, Ursula. "Hinduism and Women: Uses and Abuses of Religious Freedom." In Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Deskbook, edited by Tore Lindholm, W. Cole Durham, Jr., and Bahia G. Tahzib-Lie, pp. 523–543. The Hague, 2004. Published in a substantial reference work on religious freedom in relation to human rights, including the status and rights of women, this article highlights the tensions between the right to freedom to live a life of human dignity and worth and the freedom of an ancient religious tradition, sometimes practiced in denial of the human rights of Indian women.
King, Ursula, ed. Religion and Gender. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1995. Based on the Religion and Gender Panel of the XVIth International Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (Rome, 1990), this volume contains challenging theoretical reflections and empirical investigations on gender in the study of religion, as examined by an international group of women scholars.
King, Ursula, and Tina Beattie, eds. Religion, Gender and Diversity: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. London and New York, 2004. Discussion by an international group of scholars of a wide range of gender-sensitive issues in the contemporary study of religion. Includes among others postcolonial, race, gender, and class perspectives; gender archaeology; biblical gender strategies; feminist theological approaches to the Holocaust; the gendering of missionary imperialism; questions of Muslim women's identity; of Christian Dalit women; of male thealogical reflections; and debates about different sexual orientations.
Kloppenborg, Ria, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds. Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions: Studies in the History of Religions. Leiden, 1995. A fine discussion of remarkably widespread, ambiguous stereotypes used to control women in male-dominated societies, whether in the religions of ancient Israel and Mesopotamia, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, medieval Christianity, Islam, Indian Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Tibetan religions, or even modern Neopaganism.
Krondorfer, Björn, ed. Men's Bodies, Men's Gods: Male Identities in a (Post)Christian Culture. New York, 1996. An excellent collection of essays that reflects the increasingly self-critical and theoretically sophisticated stances of the growing field of men's studies in religion.
Marcos, Sylvia, ed. Gender, Bodies, Religions. Adjunct Proceedings of the VIIth Congress for the History of Religions. Cuernavaca, Mexico, 2000. Contains a cross-cultural set of papers on methodological concerns in the study of gender and religion, approaches to bodies and reproductive issues in religion, and several case studies grouped under culture, religion, and gender.
McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1996. A highly acclaimed study of the history of Catholic nuns in the Western world. Women created their own space in religious communities where they could evolve spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally, but also continually had to struggle against male church hierarchies and the restrictions of their gender roles by society.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach. Berkeley, Calif., 2001. Carefully constructed gender boundaries are dismantled here, and sex-gender binaries are replaced by a new "omnigender" paradigm, a rainbow of varying degrees of genderedness among humanity. Written from a Christian perspective.
Morgan, Sue, ed. Women, Religion, and Feminism in Britain. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 2002. A collection of essays written from a variety of Christian and Unitarian approaches, which through their discussion of specific female figures highlight the complex interaction between religious belief and feminist activism.
Nelson, James B. Body Theology. Louisville, Ky., 1992. Discusses the theological and ethical authenticity of the human body as sexed body and deals with sexual theology, men's issues, and biomedical ethics. A masterful construction of what may well be a major shift in Western understanding of what it means to be a human person.
Nelson, James B., and Sandra P. Longfellow, eds. Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection. Louisville, Ky., 1994. Excellent essays from a Christian theological perspective that views sexuality as part of divine revelation and considers sex as integral to spirituality. Includes material on gender orientation, gender relations, and women's and men's experience, but also rare discussions of sexuality in relation to disability, aging, HIV, and AIDS.
O'Connor, June. "Rereading, Reconceiving and Reconstructing Traditions: Feminist Research in Religion." Women's Studies 17, no. 1 (1989): 101–123. A frequently cited article that discusses how religious texts, histories, and traditions have to be reinterpreted from a gender-critical perspective.
O'Grady, Kathleen, Ann L. Gilroy, and Janette Gray, eds. Bodies, Lives, Voices: Gender in Theology. Sheffield, 1998. Deals with women's voices rather than more inclusive gender theory, deemed as "modish" (p. 267) in this volume. Discusses representations of women in sacred texts and theologies; the need to recover the heritage of women; and the relevance of feminist theory for canonical texts. With the exception of Tamil Christian Dalits, this is an entirely Western, whitefeminist study with no attention to cross-cultural issues or to religious diversity.
Puttick, Elizabeth. Women in New Religions: In Search of Community, Sexuality and Spiritual Power. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 1997. Challenges the view that women, who make up more than half the members of new religious movements, are exploited by charismatic male leaders; discusses interrelated issues of sexuality, spirituality, and power.
Puttick, Elizabeth, and Peter B. Clarke, eds. Women as Teachers and Disciples in Traditional and New Religions. Lewiston, Ky., 1993. Wide-ranging case studies of women's religious leadership, from early Christian Egypt to contemporary new religious groups in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, to Bahian Candomblé, esoteric groups in Italy, and modern paganism.
Raphael, Melissa. Thealogy and Embodiment: The Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sacrality. Sheffield, U.K., 1996. Important study of goddess feminism and female sacrality. Drawing on many feminist writers, it looks at the female body as a medium of divine creative activity and discusses the ethical implications of taking female sacrality seriously.
Sawyer, Deborah F. God, Gender and the Bible. London and New York, 2002. Illuminating discussion of Hebrew and Christian scriptural texts in the light of postmodern ideas about gender and power; shows that both maleness and femaleness are constructed in the light of divine omnipotence and that biblical writers use female characters strategically in order to undermine human masculinity and elevate the biblical God.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York and London, 1983. A classic of feminist biblical interpretation, which presents the history of Christian women in the early Jesus movement as a "discipleship of equals" with men.
Sered, Susan Starr. Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women. New York and Oxford, 1994. Looks at twelve cross-cultural examples of religions where women take a leadership role in religious practices and are often also the major participants, concluding that these occur mostly in matrifocal societies and that such practices focus especially on women's concerns as mothers.
Stuart, Elizabeth. Religion Is a Queer Thing: A Guide to the Christian Faith for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered People. Sheffield, U.K., 1997. An example of a distinctive, radical Christian queer theology questioning the assumptions that underlie many doctrines and practices of the tradition.
Svenson, Jonas. Women's Human Rights and Islam: A Study of Three Attempts at Accommodation. Lund, Sweden, 2000. Examines Muslim participation in the international debate about women's human rights by analyzing the methods employed in interpreting religious sources in the works of the religious studies scholar Riffat Hassan, sociologist Fatima Mernissi, and legal studies and human rights scholar Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naʾim. Different versions of Islam compete for recognition as the "true" representation of the divine will.
Taylor, Barbara. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Cambridge, U.K., 2003. This scholarly study of Wollstonecraft's thought provides a fascinating account of her intellectual world and personal history and gives for the first time careful attention to the role that religion played in her work, thus opening a new chapter in feminist studies of this influential thinker.
Thatcher, Adrian, and Elizabeth Stuart, eds. Christian Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender. Grand Rapids, Mich., and Leominster, U.K., 1996. Contains a wide-ranging set of essays on Christian attitudes to the body, sexuality, and gender, with a primary focus on contemporary issues rather than historical discussions.
Warne, Randi R. "Gender." In Guide to the Study of Religion, edited by Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon, pp. 140–154. London and New York, 2000a. Very accessible conceptual clarification of the key features, historical development, and associated subsets of the category of "gender," including a critical assessment of its contribution to the scientific study of religion.
Warne, Randi R. "Making the Gender-Critical Turn." In Secular Theories on Religion: Current Perspectives, edited by Tim Jensen and Mikael Rothstein, pp. 249–260. Copenhagen, 2000b. Illustrates brilliantly how gender thinking is neither natural nor neutral, and argues that a radical shift in thinking is required to make a "gender-critical" turn in all areas, including the study of religion.
Warne, Randi R. "(En)gendering Religious Studies." In Feminism in the Study of Religion, edited by Darlene M. Juschka, pp. 147–156. London and New York, 2001. A passionate, but measured and well-supported, plea to implement the radical implications of gender-critical thinking to all theoretical and practical areas of religious studies.
Warner, Michael. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. New Brunswick, N.J., 1993. Anthology of essays described as pioneering in trying to push gay identity politics beyond its limitations in gay and lesbian studies, and highlighting the involvement of both political and religious figures in regulating sexual conduct.
Webb, Val. Florence Nightingale: The Making of a Radical Theologian. St. Louis, 2002. Carefully crafted study of Nightingale's little-known religious works that shows that her one aim in life was to organize religion, not hospitals. This analysis reveals her as an amazingly original woman thinker who anticipated feminist and process theological insights, applying gender criticisms far ahead of her time to Victorian society and the Christian churches.
Wessinger, Catherine, ed. Religious Institutions and Women's Leadership: New Roles inside the Mainstream. Columbia, S.C., 1996. Focused on the United States, the essays in this volume demonstrate how a growing number of new leadership roles have become available for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish women. This is an ongoing process, slowed down by women hitting what has been called a "stained-glass ceiling." Contains a comprehensive chronological survey (pp. 347–401) of key events for women's religious leadership in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Zink-Sawyer, Beverly. From Preachers to Suffragists: Women's Rights and Religious Conviction in the Lives of Three Nineteenth-Century American Clergywomen. Louisville, Ky., and London, 2003. By studying the religious rhetoric and theological ideas of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Olympia Brown, and Anna Howard Shaw, three of the earliest women to be ordained in the United States, the author examines the religious roots of the women's rights movement, so often primarily understood as a secular movement.
Ursula King (2005)
"Gender and Religion: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gender-and-religion-overview
"Gender and Religion: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved November 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gender-and-religion-overview
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.