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The Origins of Religious Prejudices against Women

Wikis > The Origins of Religious Prejudices against Women

Prejudice still affects women across all major religions. That prejudice is often, mistakenly, attributed to the Religion itself. Modern research indicates that the origin of the prejudice usually lies in cultural and social causes. Recognising the social/cultural origin can liberate women from burdens they themselves believe to be inherent in the religion they practise.

The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research is making this the focus of a whole new area of study. We want to investigate the following Thesis:

Presumed religious prejudice against women in many major religions often originates not from the religion but from cultural and social causes.

We hope to make this a useful resource both for academic researchers and feminist campaigners. The following sections have been created to facilitate a variety of contributions.

We are in the DATA GATHERING STAGE

Please, note down (1) your name [e.g. AMELIA SMITH], (2) summary of your findings and (3) reference (with internet link, if possible).

If the full text is available in electronic format (e.g. WORD), please send it to admin<<@>>wijngaardsinstitute.com. Then we will post it in the online bibliography of www.equalityforwomen.org.

EVALUATION STAGE (in the future)

When enough data have been gathered, we will need your advice and help to assess their meaning. We will then try to answer questions like: What do these data tell us about common strands across religions? What are the implications for researchers and campaigners committed to women’s full emancipation?

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See here the list of participants of our Academic Network.

SECTION A. ACCRETIONS

In this section we group cultural biases against women that have grown onto a religious tradition like accretions – additions from outside sources.
QUESTION: What are typical examples of prejudices/discriminations against women in various religions that can be shown to have a cultural origin?

CHILDHOOD AT HOME (different treatment of boys and girls?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

SCHOOL (are girls equally entitle to education?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

MONTHLY PERIODS (is menstruation considered to make women ‘unclean’?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]
[Wijngaards] Among Christian families in Europe, women were traditionally considered to be ‘unclean’ during their monthly periods. This was mainly because of the cultural prejudices existing in Helenistic and Roman society. But the custom was later justified by referring to Old Testament texts. More information can be found here: http://www.thebodyissacred.org/body/periods.asp. Read also: “Female Blood: The Ancient Taboo and its Christian Consequences”, by Ute Ranke-Heinemann: http://www.womenpriests.org/body/ranke.asp.

MARRIAGE (are women disadvantaged?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

BEDROOM (sexual and reproductive rights?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

HOUSEHOLD (equality with husband in running the home and making decisions?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]
[Wijngaards] In Christian families, wives were (and in some countries still are) held to be under total domination by their husbands. The reason was the fact that Christianity grew up in societies controlled by Roman law. According to this law the ‘father of the family’ (pater familias) held total authority over his wife. See the background here: http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/infe_rom.asp.
What is more, Christians believed that this domination of the husband was ‘divinely’ affirmed by some Pauline scriptures. But these passages (the ‘household codes’) simply sought to help Christians maintain harmony within the social customs of the time. The scriptural texts do not lay down a permanent norm about the fundamental human rights we honour today. The matter is fully explained here: http://www.womenpriests.org/courses/inter/household.asp.

FAMILY (rights over the children?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

WORK & CAREER (freedom to choose jobs?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

EVERYDAY LIFE (restrictions in dress, leisure, sport, etc.?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

PLACE OF WORSHIP (equal access to spaces/buildings dedicated to religion?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP (women accepted as perfectly legitimate monks, or imams, or rabbis, or whatever?)

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

[Wijngaards] OBSERVATION. In some Christian Churches, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, women are still barred from becoming priests or bishops. The basis for this lies in three cultural prejudices that have been documented by a lot of scholarly research.

These three social/cultural prejudices are:
1. Women were considered inferior to men in every respect: physically, intellectually and emotionally. Since it was believed that only the male sperm ‘contains’ the future child, women were looked upon as incomplete human beings. In short, women were considered inferior human beings.
REFERENCE. Research on this prejudice is documented here: http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/inferior.asp.

OBSERVATION. 2. Women were considered sinful creatures. This was inspired by the story in Genesis according to which Eve, the mother of all humankind, caused humankind’s fall from grace. Every woman was thought to carry the curse of her sin. In actual fact, the underlying cause of the prejudice is the human reality that women are attractive to men. This is interpreted as women being prone to sin — and then linked to the story of Eve’s fall.
REFERENCE. Read documentation on this here: http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/sinful.asp.

OBSERVATION. 3. People thought that menstruation makes women impure. Fear of menstruation is also found in the ancient Hebrew tradition (Leviticus), but again the real source of the prejudice lay outside religion: in complete ignorance regarding the cycle of conception and birth. In particular, the abhorrence of menstrual fluids by the ancient Romans influenced the thinking of early Christian leaders and thinkers.
REFERENCE. Documentation can be found here: http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp.

SECTION B. MISGUIDED INTERPRETATIONS

What cultural bias has influenced the interpretation of religious texts – interpretations that should be revised in today’s world?

 

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

* What academic research has been done on this? Publications?

 

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

  • Does this manifest a general trend?

 

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

  • How can women in those religions use this knowledge to liberate themselves from the burdens flowing from the prejudices?

 

[put your OBSERVATIONS and REFERENCES here]

 

We encourage academics and experts to contribute the sources and bibliography they know of which are relevant to this topic.

Please, contribute your knowledge also to the related WIKI:

RELIGIOUS GROUNDS FOR WOMEN’S EQUALITY