Spiritual abuse can be defined as the weaponisation of religious beliefs in order to coerce or control someone who shares that same set of beliefs.
This may take the form of someone with power within a religious institution using their position of authority to manipulate their congregation or followers into doing what they want them to.
However it can also occur in domestic settings, with one more dominant partner using religion to exert coercive control their partner and/ or children. In most cases it is the male partner (husband) controlling the female partner (wife).
The concept of religious abuse, and the unfortunate existence of it, is most relevant to the Beliefs in Society module within A-level sociology,
Examples of religious abuse include..
- Authorities not allowing Divorce even when there is rape within marriage.
- The interpretation of religious texts to justify physical and economic control over another person.
- Men hiding women’s head coverings so they can’t go out.
- Using religious beliefs to shame people into behaving in a particular way.
Religious Abuse…. Relevance of the concept to A-level Sociology
The fact that religious abuse happens both at an institutional level and within domestic settings suggests that religion is used as a form of control, and thus is support for mainly feminist perspectives on religion.
HOWEVER, we need to be careful about how strong this evidence is – while there are no doubt cases of religious abuse, there are no statistics on them, so we have no idea of how widespread religious abuse is.
Also, the fact that we are finally seeing the concept being discussed suggests that more conservative, traditional religions are being challenged and thus losing power, which supports some postmodern views of religion.
The increasingly vocal sources criticising traditional religions views and ‘labelling’ them ‘abusive’ basically saying that such views are only one interpretation among many and the victims of such abuse are free to take on their own interpretation and ‘break free’ of cultural and domestically imposed ‘spiritual abuse’.
The very existence of a discussion which challenges such abusive practices makes it less likely that people will be prepared to put up with being victims in silence, even though being a victims is still obviously grim, and getting out of the cycle of such abuse can still be very challenging when you are trapped within it, very much a case of ‘easier said than done’.
Spiritual Abuse: Find Out More!
There is a useful definition of Domestic Abuse here at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.
This article puts spiritual abuse in the context of Covid-19.
Dr Maryyum Mehmood is one of the main dudes studying the concept in the UK today.