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Is Religion a Source of Consensus or Conflict?

Functionalism is the only perspective which has traditionally argued that religion is a source of value consensus, all other perspectives disagree with this in one way or another, but not all believe that religion is necessarily a cause of overt conflict in the world.

Functionalism

  • Functionalists generally argue that religion promotes value consensus in a society.
  • Durkheim argued that in traditional societies, religious symbols such as the totem represented society, and thus when people worshipped religion, they were really worshipping society.
  • Parsons and Malinowski both believed religious rituals helped people deal with life-crises, such as death, thus helping keep societies together during times of change.
  • Parsons further believed that religions form the moral basis of law in society, for example the 10 commandments in Christian societies.
  • Bellah argues that civil religions bind people together in contemporary societies.

Marxism

  • Marx believed that religion prevents revolution (or violent conflict) by pacifying people, through acting as the ‘opium of the masses’ and making think inequality is Gods will and that suffering in this life is a virtue. The message is to put up with suffering now and seek your reward in heaven.
  • However, in Marxist theory, the masses will eventually see through the mask of oppression and rise up bringing about a revolution and a communist society free of religion.

Neo-Marxism

  • Religion can be a source of conflict because it is autonomous from the economic base.
  • For example, religious leaders in Latin America took the side of peasant against the elite. However, attempts at social reform were ultimately repressed.

Feminism

  • Simone de Beauvoir argued that Religion oppresses women in the same way that Marx argued it oppressed people in general.
  • However, Feminism in general points out how traditional religion oppresses women and brings women into conflict with religion, especially right-wing versions of it.
  • Feminine forms of spirituality generally emphasis peacefulness, and so don’t really act as a source of conflict.

Secularisation theory

  • You can use this to argue that religion has lost its capacity to do anything, positive or negative in society.
  • It seems especially unlikely that postmodern forms of religion, such as the New Age Movement are going to be sources of conflict.

Huntington – the clash of civilisations

  • Religion has become more important as a source of identity in a postmodern global world where other sources of identity have faded.
  • As societies come into closer contact because of globalisation, they rub up against each other and people become more aware of their differences, and thus religion becomes a source of conflict.
  • Karen Armstrong criticises this, suggesting that politics and economics matter more than religion as sources of conflict in the world today.
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How to Bag a Billionaire: tips for young women feeling held back by their average joe boyfriends

There must be millions of young women in the world who, having graduated with high hopes for a bright future, now find themselves wondering which is more tedious: their job or their relationship: the job only paying them enough for food, bills, rent and debt servicing, and the boyfriend frustrating them because his porn and video game addictions have killed his aspiration to strive for something better.

Anna Bey: Gold Digger or Jet Set Babe?

But fear not young ladies for help is at hand, in the form of self-styled Jet set Babe Anna Bey, who provides advice on how you can ‘bag yourself a billionaire’ via her blog – JetsetBabe.com.

Bey, 32, is originally from Estonia and grew up in a middle-class family environment in Sweden but has successfully navigated the international jet-set and ‘levelled-up’ (her own term) so that she now resides in a flat in Knightsbridge, which is paid for by her banker-boyfriend.

The blog, along with her online ‘finishing school’, provides advice to aspiring ‘JetsetBabes’ on how to find and attract a rich boyfriend – it includes several posts on ‘how to dress’ (‘classy, like Grace Kelly, not Kim Kardashian), ‘demeanour’ (don’t get drunk), where to find rich men (hotel lobbies, not first class in a plane), and even the kind of ‘mind-set’ you need to adopt to ‘level-up’ – as in this post on ‘ditching your average-jo boyfriend’.

JetsetBabes.com – the positives

Bey’s rational for setting up the site was that when she first started out on her quest to find a rich boyfriend, she made a few style and demeanour boo-boos, and wished there had been someone like she is now to show her the ropes, so I guess she’s well-intentioned.

There is also clearly a market for this sort of service…. The closed Facebook group linked to the bog has 3000 members, and I imagine many more readers, but there are only a handful of extremely rich men, and an even smaller handful of decent extremely rich men…. one of the downsides of playing the jet set game is that you might find yourself waking up having been drugged at some point, as has happened to Bey in the past.

Many of the women involved in the JetsetBabe circle find comfort in the fact that the group provides them somewhere where they can discuss their aspirations without being looked down on by members of wider society, somewhere where they won’t be labelled ‘Gold Diggers’ or ‘Sugar babies’.

I think they have a point criticising the labels given to them, when the men who are prepared to pay for them don’t get such negative labels.

Is this liberating for women?

If your definition of freedom is the freedom to shop, dependent on your partner’s wealth for as long as he is your partner, then yes, this is female liberation. The problem is, that’s an extremely limited definition of ‘liberation’…. And it’s a form of liberation that’s totally dependent on the man with the debit card, or bag full of cash.

It also does little to challenge the practice of men treating women like they are sex objects. In fact, if anything it reinforces this…. Among some members of the Facebook group, women seeking to live off their partners financially is justified BECAUSE men treat women like sex objects who can be bought… the logic is ‘if they do it, why can’t we’.

What about equality?

If you believe one of the goals of Feminism is reducing the income and wealth inequalities between men and women, this strategy does absolutely nothing to bring this goal closer. Bey has the explicit belief that women have a hard time in life compared to men, and so men should effectively compensate them by paying for everything, which surely can do nothing other than maintain gender wealth inequalities?

Simply ‘demanding financial compensation’ isn’t exactly empowering yourself financially or putting yourself on an ‘equal’ footing with men’.

In terms of ‘inequalities between women’, there’s the problem of ‘being traded in for a younger model’ and being left to bring up the children on your own. The golden age for bagging a billionaire is tight, and the over 30s in the JSB group are mocked as being ‘used goods’.

Final Thoughts…

As low-consumption tight wad, I’m never going to feel any sense of empathy with women who want a millionaire lifestyle, however, neither do I feel the need to ‘condemn’ women who engage in such a strategy.

Trying to bag a billionaire is, after all, just another individualised coping strategy: an escape from the mundane drudgery and uncertainties of ordinary day to day life in postmodern society, at least until you’re traded in for a younger model.

I’m actually left feeling a sense of pity for these women, not only for the ones who invest time and money in seeking a rich boyfriend but never succeed, but even the ones who do succeed… it just seems like such a shallow life.

However, as a final ‘qualifier’, I’m aware that not all women who do this are shallow, some will use their time gained through financial freedom to do amazing things…. but somehow, I doubt that will include fighting for a ‘deeper’ type of female liberation.

This post was written for educational purposes 

Sources

Jet Set – https://jetsetbabe.com/

Anna Bey – https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqfq0OhAB8N/

Gender Wealth Gap – https://womenswealthgap.org/

Inspired by this article in The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anna-bey-interview-how-to-bag-a-rich-boyfriend-by-the-woman-behind-school-of-affluence-krljnb9n5

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Is religion ideological?

If sociologists refer to religion as being ‘ideological’, they typically mean the beliefs and practices of that religion support powerful groups in society, effectively keeping the existing ruling class, or elites, in power.

The idea that religion is ideological is usually associated with Marxist and Radical Feminist Perspectives.

This sub-topic overlaps with ‘religion as a conservative force’.

The Marxist View: religion performs ideological functions

  • Marx argued that religion creates false consciousness – it teaches that social inequality is God’s will and thus mystifies the real cause of inequality and misery which is exploitation by the Bourgeoise
  • Religion is the opium of the masses – religion prevents change and keeps the elite in power by providing spiritual comfort for the poor – by making a virtue out of poverty, and promising a better life after death if people obey the rules now, for example.
  • There are direct links between the church and the bourgeoisie – the bourgeoise fund the church, and the church support (ideologically) the bourgeoisie

Criticism

  • Neo Marxist Otto Maduro argued that the Catholic Church in Latin America was relatively autonomous from the state and the bourgeois – i.e. they were not directly controlled by them. Thus, there was some degree of freedom for some priests to interpret Christianity in a way that was pro-poor and anti-elite, and not ideological. As with the example of Liberation Theology.

The Feminist View: religion is ideological

  • Mary Daly argued that Christianity was as set of Patriarchal myths. She sees the Catholic Church as especially bad: it downplayed the role of women in the bible and legitimated sex role segregation for example.
  • Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion is used by men to compensate women for their second-class status – it provides them with spiritual rewards for accepting inferior social roles.

Criticisms

  • El Saadawi suggests that Islam itself has been hijacked by Patriarchy in many countries, but is not necessarily ideological: women can fight back.
  • Carol Christ’s work shows that religion does not have be ideological: her idea of ‘embodied spirituality and focus on women ‘finding their Goddess’ stands against monotheistic religions. It is empowering for women and challenges existing power structures.

Further examples and evidence for and against the view that  ‘religion is ideological’

Religion is ideological Religion is NOT ideological
·         Marxists and Feminists generally point to established churches as the most likely institutions to support elites.

·         The New Religions right in America tends to support white, male wealth – e.g. it supports the Republican Party.

·         Max Weber… over hundreds of years Calvinist believes lead to social changes which undermined religion.

·         Postmodernism – people are free to pick and choose which aspects of religion they like. Thus, it cannot be ideological.

·         Some sects challenge the existing order – e.g. The Nation of Islam.

 

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Explaining the decline in female church attendance

Over the last couple of decades, women have been leaving mainstream Christian churches at about twice the rate of men.

There are a number of possible explanations for this:

The impact of FeminismVarious Feminists have highlighted the role of the church in supporting patriarchal values and oppressing women. The Catholic Church especially maintains a male-dominated power structure, which stands in sharp contrast to the egalitarian ideals of Feminism; and it’s anti-contraception and abortion stance stands in contrast to female sexual liberation.

The increase in female paid employment – most women now work, and so no longer aspire to be merely child carers, the preferred female role in traditional Christianity. However, for those women that do work, they are typically still the primary child carers, which simply means that women, more so than men, have less time to attend church.

Increasing Family Diversity – Higher rates of divorce and single parenthood may mean fewer women from these household structures go to church, because the church generally sees these as inferior to the married, nuclear family household.

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Evaluate the view that religious beliefs and organisations are barriers to social change (20)

The above question appears on the AQA’s 2016 Paper 2 Specimen Paper.

The Question and the Item (as on the paper)

Read Item B and answer the question that follows.

Item B

Many sociologists argue that religious beliefs and organisations act as conservative forces and barriers to social change. For example, religious doctrines such as the Hindu belief in reincarnation or Christian teachings on the family have given religious justification to existing social structures.

Similarly, it is argued that religious organisations such as churches are often extremely wealthy and closely linked to elite groups and power structures.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that religious beliefs and organisations are barriers to social change (20)

Suggested essay plan

Decode

  • The question asks for beliefs and organization, so deal with both.
  • Remember you should look at this in global perspective (it’s on the spec).
  • Remember to use the item. NB all of the material in item is covered in the plan below, all you would need to do in an essay is reference it!
  • Stay mainly focused on the arguments in the first section below.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion is a barrier to social change

Functionalism

Parsons argued religions maintains social order: it promotes value consensus as many legal systems are based on religious morals.

It also maintains stability in times of social change (when individuals die), and helps people make sense of changes within society, thus helping prevent anomie/ chaos and potentially more disruptive change.

Marxism

 Religion prevents change through ideological control and false consciousness. It teaches that inequality and injustice are God’s will and thus there is no point trying to change it.

 Religion also prevents change by being the ‘opium of the masses’. It makes a virtue out of suffering, making people think they will be rewarded in the afterlife and that if they just put up with their misery now, they’ll get reward later,.

Feminism

 Simone de Beauvoir – religion is used by men to justify their position of power, and to compensate women for their second-class status. It oppresses women in the same way Marx said it oppresses the proletariat.

The Church (typically a conservative force)

The church tends to be closely tied to existing political and economic power structures: the Church of England is closely tied to the state for example: the Queen is closely related and Bishops sit in the Lords. Also most members and attendees are middle class. It thus tends to resist radical social change.

World Accommodating and World Affirming NBMs

World Accommodating NRMs can help prevent change by helping members cope with their suffering in the day to day.

World Affirming Movements (such as TM) reinforce dominant values such as individualism and entrepeneurialism.

Arguments and evidence against the view that religion is a barrier to social change

Liberation Theology

Some Catholic priests in Latin America in the 70s took up the cause of landless peasants and criticized the inequalities in the region.

However, they were largely unsuccessful!

Max Weber

 The protestant ethic gave rise to the spirit of Capitalism (Calvinism and Entrepreneurialism etc.)

Feminism

El Saadawi – It’s Patriarchy, not Islam that has oppressed women… but it is possible for women to fight back against it (as she herself does)

Carol P Christ – believes there are diverse ways to ‘knowing the Goddess’ and criticizes dualistic thinking and the idea that any religion can have  a monopoly on truth

Some World Rejecting NRMs

E.G. The Nation of Islam have aimed to bring about radical social change

The New Age Movement

Encourages individualism and pick and mixing of different religions, so encourages diversity and hybrid religions to emerge.

Secularization

Means religion has less power in society, and thus is less able to act as a barrier to social change.

Thoughts on a conclusion

Make sure you distinguish between beliefs and organizations and types of social change

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Is it OK to laugh at women who wear the burka?

Boris Johnson faced criticism recently for saying that burkas are oppressive to women and that women wearing them look like letter boxes and bank robbers. This article in The Sun provides his full, in context comments (The original column by Boris was in The Telegraph, which is behind a paywall, so we won’t bother with that, silly Telegraph!)

Was it OK for Boris to ridicule women who wear the burqa?

According to The Sun, Boris’ Facebook account has attracted a lot of over racists, and he’s faced a considerable degree of criticism in the press. Some of the criticism is focused on the fact that comments such as this have no place in a liberal society where people have freedom of religious expression and wearing the burqa is a choice. Some even worry that such comments give fuel to the already intolerant minority who verbally and physically abuse the estimated 1000 women who wear the burqa in the UK.  (See this New Statesman article as an example.)

However, there are also several commentators, along with the majority of the British public who support Boris’ right to publicly mock such women:

Using humor to ridicule certain beliefs is not the same as shouting abuse at people because of their beliefs, or the same as physically assaulting them. In fact humor is used all the time in politics to mock the views of others. It is also a favorite tool of protest groups.

Radical Feminists especially would argue that the burqa is an outdated mode of religious expression: one that is rooted in oppression and needs critiquing. Humor is a valid means of doing just this.

Outright banning of the burqa, as has been done in many countries such as France, Germany, Austria and even Muslim majority countries Chad and Niger, just seems to have a perverse effect: it just keeps women who would wear it indoors, and pushes even more women into this brand of ‘identity politics’.

Finally, surely if the 1000 women who choose to wear it are really doing so out of freedom of choice, then surely they are capable of withstanding a little ribbing from a politician?!?

Discussion Questions

You might like to consider the following questions for discussion! As always, comments welcome below. 

  • To what extent do think women who wear the burka in Britain are oppressed into doing so?
  • Is it right for a politician to publicly mock women who wear the burka?
  • Should Britain ban the wearing of the burka in public?

This post will also appear on the steem blockchain!

Sources 

Boris screen capture

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Religion and Social Change

Does religion cause social change, or prevent it?

Functionalists and Traditional Marxists have generally argued that religion prevents social change. Neo-Marxists and the Social Action theorist Max Weber have argued that religion can be a force for social change.

There are wide variety of opinions with Feminist thought as to the relationship between religion and social change. Some Feminists tend to side with the view that religion prevents social change. Other Feminists recognise the potential for religion to bring about social change.

This post considers some of the arguments and evidence against the view that religion prevents social change.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion prevents social change

Functionalist thinkers Malinowski and Parsons both argued that religion prevents social change by helping individuals and society cope with disruptive events that might threaten the existing social order. Most obviously, religion provides a series of ceremonies which help individuals and societies cope with the death of individual members.

Marx believed that religion helped to preserve the existing class structure. According to Marx religious beliefs serve to justify the existing, unequal social order and prevent social change by making a virtue out of poverty and suffering. Religion also teaches people that it is pointless striving for a revolution to bring about social change in this life. Rather, it is better to focus on ‘being a good Christian’ (for example) and then you will receive your just rewards in heaven.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro argued that historically the Catholic Church in Latin America tended to prevent social change. It did so by supporting existing economic and political elites, thus justifying the unequal social order. However, he also recongised that religion had the potential to be a force for social change (see below)

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion causes social change 

Max Weber’s ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ is one of the best loved accounts of how religion can bring about social change. Weber pointed out that Capitalism developed first in England and Holland, taking off in the early 17th century (early 1600s). Just previous to Capitalism taking off, Protestantism was the main religion in these two countries, unlike most other countries in Europe at that time which were Catholic. To cut a very long winded theory short, Max Weber argued that the social norms instilled by Protestantism laid the foundations for modern capitalism.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro pointed to the example of Liberation Theology in Latin America to demonstrate that religion can act as a force for social change. He further suggested that this is especially the case where the marginalized have no other outlet for their grievances than religious institutions.

Reverend Martin Luther King and the broader Baptist Church in the Southern United States played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America. This movement effectively helped to end racial segregation in America and secure more equal political rights for non-whites.

Martin Luther King was very much inspired by Gandhi’s religiously inspired practice of Non Violent Direct Action. This involved the use of peaceful protest and resisting of violence in order to bring about social change.

The Arab Spring which swept across the Middle East and North Africa between 2010-2014 offers a more contemporary example of the role of religion in social change. Islamic groups were very active in using social media to highlight the political injustices in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

This post is a work in progress, further details to be added in due course…!

Image Source 

http://ipost.christianpost.com/post/10-powerful-quotes-from-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-on-faith

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.

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Radical Feminist Perspectives on Religion

Radical Feminists emphasize the patriarchal nature of some mainstream religions such as Catholicism and Islam. They argue that such religions have developed in patriarchal societies and have been ‘hijacked’ by men. Men have interpreted religious doctrines in order to justify their positions of power.

Radical Feminists also believe that religion often serves to compensate women for their second class status within religion and society more generally. For example, by providing psychological rewards if they accept their role as mothers and limit their horizons to fulfilling that role well.

However, Radical Feminists do not necessarily see religion as inherently patriarchal. Historically, for example, Goddess religions have celebrated the creative and nurturing power of the feminine. It is really men hijacking religion and downplaying the role of women in the development of some religions over the past couple of thousand years which is the problem.

It follows that women can use religion to lead fulfilling lives, but need to fight oppression within mainstream religions organisations to do so, or even to develop their own unique, individual paths to a feminine spirituality.

The mind map above summarises the following Feminist perspectives on religion. Please click the links below for more details:

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.

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Carol Christ’s Feminist Spirituality

Carol P Christ is a feminist theologian and foremother of the Goddess movement. One of her best known works is her 1997 essay ‘[Why Women Need the Goddess]( http://www.iupui.edu/~womrel/Rel433%20Readings/Christ_WhyWomenNeedGoddess.pdf)’ in which she argues that feminine spirituality is rooted in the concept of a supreme Goddess.

Carol P Christ

Carol Christ is critical of any religion which is based on the idea of there being ‘one true God’ or ‘one true interpretation’ of what religious practices people should engage in.

And although the Enlightenment challenged the authority of the church, Carol Christ is also critical of Enlightenment thought.

In the Enlightenment, knowledge was held to be something independent of the individual, and thus objective and true. The Enlightenment also championed the ‘rational man’, someone who was dispassionate and detached from the process of uncovering true knowledge.

However, Carol Christ believes that detached, objective knowledge is not actually possible, as it is always tied up with the values, beliefs and interests of the person who creates that knowledge.

In at least two significant ways, the Enlightenment attitude towards knowledge is similar in that of traditional religious organisations’: they both believe that the source of ‘true knowledge’ is external to the individual and yet within both traditions, knowledge is basically created by men and reflects male values.

An alternative to both is what Carol Christ calls ‘embodied spirituality’ in which

‘we think through the body, we reflect upon the standpoints embedded in our life experiences, histories, judgments and interests…. Embodied thinking enlarges experiences through empathy… Empathy reaches out to others, desiring to understand the world from different points of view.” (1997).

Carol Christ argues that through such knowledge, traditional theology (in which men interpret religion) can be replaced with a new thea-ology, which means ‘reflection on the meaning of the Goddess’.

She believes that if embodied knowledge is the basis of spirituality, then we can overcome dualistic ways of thinking such as rational and irrational and mind and body because The Goddess is found all around, in everything, forming a web of life which integrates all things into a universal whole.

Historical Representations of the Goddess

Symbols and statues of the Goddess have been found in a wide variety of civilizations going back 25000 years.

Mythical stories which pay tribute to an Ancient Mother Goddess whose fertility and abundance give nourishment to a culture date back to prehistoric times.

Goddess Sprituality FeminismOne of the earliest examples, from the Paleothic era, is the ‘Venus of Willendorf. She is fat, showing her abundant life-energy, and representing the nurturing and support which mother-hood offers.

Later examples from the Mesopotamian era are the clay figurines of the Ishtar (circa 2000 BC) in her characteristic breast-offering pose which suggests her function as the Goddess of all nourishment and fertility.

A more recent example is found in the Macha Earth Goddess – a fertility goddess who was worshiped in ancient Ireland by the Picts before the arrival of the Celts and adopted by them. She is associated with war, horses, and independence.

How individuals can find the Goddess

Carol P Christ believes that people need to find their own spiritual paths through personal experience.

Christ had something of a traumatic time discovering the Goddess for herself. As a student of theology, she became increasingly frustrated with traditional interpretations of God as male, with God always being associated with the father, with Kings, and even with war. This all built up to a head one evening when she shouted out

‘I want you to know how much I have suffered because you let yourself be named in man’s image’, after which she heard a female voice in her head that said ‘In God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering.’  

Christ’s ideas on the Goddess were further developed by attending a workshop led by a woman called Starhalk who saw the Goddesss as Mother Earth, who was found in nature and in the spirit, emotions, mind and body of everyone.

Her understanding and spiritual awareness developed further in a women’s spirituality group called Rising Moon.

Carol Christ ultimately believes that personal experience has to be the starting point of valid knowledge. She believes that every woman on a spiritual path has a story to tell and their own spiritual journey to go on, but each finds a similar power through the Goddess.

In terms of Feminism, everyone can work together with other Feminists and valid spiritual knowledge can be co-created.

Evaluations of Goddess Religions

While it is hard to doubt the authenticity of Carol P Christ’s views (i.e. it is clear that she really believes what she saying), there are certain problems with this approach.

Firstly, It is difficult to evaluate an approach which rejects empirical research. It is difficult to assess its reliability or validity.

Secondly, it is difficult, if not impossible to make generalisations from personal approaches – for example, it is easy to find examples of religions which are not patriarchal.

Sources/ Find out More

Haralambos and Holborn (eighth edition) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

Faces and shapes of ancient mother goddesses

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Nawal El Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eve

In The Hidden Face of Eve (1980), Nawal El Saadawi considers the role of religion in perpetuating female oppression in the Arab World. She offers an Egyptian Feminist perspective on the role of religion and thus broadens our understanding away from the typically white female voices of feminism.

El Saadawi.pngEl Saadawi is a women’s rights activist, who has herself experienced oppression within Egypt. She has campaigned vigorously for women’s rights in the Arab world and has been imprisoned for her activism.

She was forced to undergo female circumcision as a young girl, without any warning or explanation and points out that male violence against women within the family is common in many Arab cultures. Young females are frequently the victims of violence at the hands of their fathers, uncles or brothers. In addition, women are also victims of forced prostitution and slavery which provide further evidence of patriarchal dominance of Arab men over Arab women.

However, despite the prevalence of female oppression across the Islamic world, El Saadawi does not believe that female oppression is caused by Islam.

She points out that male female oppression exists in many non-Islamic cultures and is in fact just as common in Christian cultures. A classic example of this is in the 14th century when the Catholic Church declared that women who treated those who were ill, without special training, could be executed as witches.

(Possibly our fixation with the oppression of women in Islamic cultures is a result of a broader anti-Islamic prejudice?)

For El Saadawi, the oppression of women is caused by ‘the patriarchal system which came into being when society had reached a certain stage of development’. It just so happened that Islam developed in those areas of the world which already had extremely patriarchal social structures. Over the centuries, Islamic doctrine was thus shaped by men and reflected their interests, with women’s voices being effectively unheard in this process.

Ultimately, El Saadawi believes that where religion evolves within patriarchal cultures, men distort religion to act in their own interests and to help justify their own privilege and the oppression of women.

The Origins of Oppressive Religion

El Saadawi argues that religion became patriarchal through the misinterpretation of religious beliefs by men.

She uses the Greek myth of Isis and Osiris as an example of this in which the evil Touphoun overpowers the male Osiris. His body is cut into small pieces and dispersed in the sea, and fish eats his sexual organ.

To El Saadawi, this story clearly implies female superiority, but men have interpreted it quite differently. They have emphasised the superiority of Osiris because he was created from the head of the god Zeus, who was greater than Osiris, according to Homer and other writers, because he was more knowledgeable.

However, the above is a narrow interpretation which conveniently leaves out the next link in the ‘creation chain’: all male gods were created by or given the ability to move by the greatest deity of them all, the goddess Isis.

Similar distortions have entered the story of Adam and Eve. Males usually portray Eve as a temptress who created sin in the world. However, if we read the original story as described in the Old Testament, it is easy for us to see clearly that Eve was gifted with knowledge, intelligence and superior mental capacities, whereas Adam was only one of her instruments, utilized by her to increase her knowledge and give shape to her creativity.

Monotheistic Religions and Female Oppression

El Saadawi argues that forms of religion that were oppressive to women developed as monotheistic religions (believing in a single god). Such religions were interpreted in the context of patriarchal societies, primarily by men. For example, male representatives of early Judaism interpreted Abraham as a patriarchal figure which served to justify the patriarchal family in which wives and children came to be under the uncontested power of the father.

Islam similarly developed patriarchal doctrines because it was established in the context of a patriarchal social structure: Authority in Islamic society belonged ultimately to the political ruler (the Khalifa) or the religious leader (the Imam), and then down through a small male minority who had power due to their ownership of herds of horses, camels and sheep, and finally down to the level of the lifeworld via the male head of household.

As a result, the enforcement of many laws in Islamic culture remains highly unequal. For example:

  • Although the Qur’an states that both men and women can be stoned to death for adultery, this fate rarely befalls men.
  • Men are permitted many wives, but women are not permitted many husbands
  • Husbands can divorce their wives instantaneously.

Fighting back against religions which oppress women

El Saadawi concludes that female oppression is not essentially due to religion, but due to the patriarchal system that has long been dominant. She is not hostile to religion, but only to the domination of religion by patriarchal ideology.

‘The great religions of the world uphold similar principles in so far as the submission of women to men is concerned. They also agree in the attribution of masculine characteristics to their God. Islam and Christianity have both constituted important stages inn the evolution of humanity. Nevertheless, where the cause of women was concerned, they added a new load to their already heavy chains. (El Saadawi,1980.)

She believes that the only way for women to free themselves from oppression is to themselves fight for their own liberation.

Thankfully, there is a long tradition of religious radicals doing precisely this, probably the best-known example being Jesus Christ himself who El Saadawi describes as a revolutionary leader who opposed oppression. She also points out that early Christianity tended to have codes which enforced the equal treatment of men and women.

Finally, El Saadawi believes that revolutions are generally beneficial to women and so can thus be regarded as a Marxist Feminist as much as a Radical Feminist.

Sources

Adapted from Haralmabos and Holborn 8th edition 2013

Find out More

El Saadawi (2015) The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (new edition)