Women and Religions (Workshop, American University in Dubai)

When it comes to religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are many approaches that describe the nature, status and roles of women: from egalitarian to complementarian and traditionalist, from liberal to conservative, and every approach refers to the sacred scriptures while using a different interpretation of the same verses.

Should we look for the foundations of misogyny, sexism and patriarchy in the scriptures and the attitudes/practices of the first communities of believers, or elsewhere? According to right wing secular approaches, every religion existing today discriminates in some way against women, and the scriptures of religions degrade and denigrate women, put them down and designate women as being inferior to men. According to most religious feminists, this may not be the fault of the original prophet/founder or of the first followers. But, it is for sure the fault of those who later on over the years, after the departure of the original prophet, revised the text of those scriptures.

For instance, many scholars believe that Paul did not in fact write the passages calling on women to be silent, and that Islam started out as a socially progressive for women in the environment of Mecca, banning female infanticide and limiting polygamy. For others, the causes of discrimination are to be found in the heritage of ancient customs and laws, the sanctification of existing social structures by religious leaders instead of pushing for justice (ex: unjust inheritance traditions, rape culture, exclusion of women from the religious hierarchy and rituals in many sectarian branches), colonialism and neo-colonialism, wars, or are related to mental illnesses – individual and collective.

The workshop’s goals are to introduce students to this diversity of perspectives and practices, to encourage them to rethink the role of religions in the construction of gender identities and in the management of gender relations, and to remind them of the following: while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution – when any person’s human rights are perceived to be sacred, and not to depend on the genitals. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.

MEST 353 Women and Gender in the Middle East, American University in Dubai, February 2015, Workshop, with Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

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