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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss gender issues within a variety or religious traditions.

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Source: Music: Fair Use: The Holy Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 1769. Print. Authorized King James Vers.; King James Bible Online, 2008.

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Hello, and welcome to gender and religion.

Today we're going to look at notions of gender in several of the religions. We'll see that gender construction and priority applies not only to the content of religion, but also to the form of expression of tradition. We'll use examples from several religions, paying particular attention to the relationship between gender and authority in the different religions. For the most part, we'll be getting a better idea of how men and women participate in religious life in several of the traditions.

The perception of the roles of men and women in religious life has been known to shift and change over the years. And this has not only affected religious organizations from within. It has also influenced the institutions of government and institutions of education. Gender and religion also related to notions about the nature of God, gods, deity in general. Many traditions have cosmologies and creation myths that are very gender specific.

As far as who's allowed to teach and transmit the material of religion and lead a religious community, there's a fairly broad range of what is accepted and what is not accepted. In Roman Catholicism, women are not ordained to the priesthood. And Islam also, religious leadership is almost always restricted to males. So while Imams, or religious leaders in Islam have traditionally been male, this is changing a bit. In spite of the controversy over female leadership, there are situations where women are allowed to lead all-female worship services.

In Christianity, that is shifting as well. Many branches of Protestantism, which is a Christian denomination, allow women in leadership roles. They are given the right to be ordained as priests and other important positions of authority and positions of guidance and support. And in both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations, for example, women often ordained to the deaconate to become deacons, which is a position of service and support to the priest or the leader and authority of a particular church.

However, there are differing opinions and perspectives on it. The history of female deacons traces back to the first centuries of Christianity with references to passages in the New Testament. In defense of restricting leadership to men, the first book of Timothy is often cited. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the men, but to be in silence. And for those who believe that there has historically been legitimate place for women in the deaconate, the very next chapter is often cited in Timothy-- one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. And another verse-- even so, must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own house as well.

Based on these passages, you can see how there might be ongoing debate around the issue. There are female religious leaders in two branches of Judaism-- Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, which are both relatively recent, Reform Judaism from the early 19th and Reconstructionist from the early 20th.

Reconstructionist Judaism places a high value on equality in all its forms. From the very beginning, they have ordained women to be rabbis, leaders of their religious communities. This branch of Judaism has also recognized patrilineal descent in determining who can be considered Jewish. Traditionally, it had been, and is the most part, matrilineal descent. But reconstructionist Judaism has a value of equality which recognizes patrilineal descent as well.

Before going to review the lesson, let's take a quick look at the last key term-- sex segregation in a religious context. Sex segregation has traditionally been practiced and recognized in many of the religions. Again, there are countless references to the value and the meaning of this in almost all the sacred text.

For example, in orthodox Judaism, there has traditionally been a strict adherence to separating the sexes during certain services of prayer and worship. This is called the Mechitza. It's a barrier and a separation. Its traditional purpose has been to ensure modesty and to ensure good attention.

Now we can review. Let's work from the end working to the beginning. Most religions have their own views on gender roles. And while some attitudes toward gender and religion have been known to shift, some religious maintain a traditional separation of the sexes during certain services. We discussed leadership roles for men and women, noting that reform and reconstructionist Judaism as well as certain denominations of Protestantism ordain women to leadership positions. We noted Roman Catholicism and Islam have traditionally functioned under only male leadership, but that in Islam, some women can lead all-women prayer services. In Roman Catholicism, women have been and sometimes are ordained into the deaconate.

However, in both of these cases, there's no shortage of controversy over the issue. And to demonstrate the two sides of the issue, we heard some examples from the New Testament from the book of Timothy.

That wraps it up for now. Good luck and take care.

Terms to Know

A partition separating women and men during religious proceedings in the Jewish tradition.

Ordination of Women

The admission of women into Holy Orders or other significant positions of religious leadership.

Sex Segregation

The practice in some religions of separating men and women during worship.

Women as Imams

In Islam, the ordination of women to religious leadership positions over other women and related Muslim ministries.