Women and Religion

Eve--Western European Christian

Woman is the Mother of Humanity and the Devil's Agent in its Fall. She is Virgin and Whore. She is source of Enlightenment and Wisdom. She is temptation, a hazard to be condemned and avoided on the path to perfection. She is the Giver of Light and the highest expression of Spirit. She is Man's inferior. She is the equal partner of Man. She is man's superior. She is evil in human form. She is Deity Incarnate.

The images of women presented by contemporary religions are often contradictory, not only among different faiths, but also within the same faith. Every Christian is familiar with the images of conniving Eve and devout Mary. Every Hindu is familiar with Shakti, Divine Energy in woman's form, and Radha, humbly washing the feet of Her lover.

The relationship between women and religion is a complex subject which would require volumes to study in depth. This chapter, therefore, is not intended as an in-depth study; rather, as an introduction. A variety of views, both misogynistic and philogynic, are presented. Sources include both well-known and little-known theologians/thealogians and historians/herstorians. The faiths studied here include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Shinto faith, the Baha'i faith, Paganism and Wicca, and the surviving native traditions of North, Central and South America, Africa. and Australia. Each section contains a brief overview of the history and precepts of the faith/s, followed by a more detailed analysis of the place of women in the faith/s. In some cases (as in Australia), very little information is available; in others (eg, Christianity), enough information is available to fill entire libraries. A short list of recommended readings is included in the Bibliography. If any reader is aware of valuable information not included here, or sources of information, please mail me.

As always, any critism or suggestion is welcome. And, this site is under construction, so please be patient.

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Judaism

Judaism is the religion of the Jews. Judaism is defined by the belief in a single, whole, transcendent God Who is the Creator of the universe; Who delivered the Jews out of slavery from Egypt; Who revealed the Law (Torah) to them; and Who chose them to be a bright light for the world, e.g., the Covenant. The Hebrew Bible is the primary sacred text of Judaism, followed by the Talmud. The Talmud is composed of the Mishnah (codification of oral Law) and Midrash (rabbinic commentary). The Halakhah, a standard code of Jewish law developed in Europe during the Middle Ages, is also important. The synagogue is the center of the community, worship and study, and the traditional family (mother, father, children) is the basic social unit.

The Jewish year encompasses a number of holidays. Yom Kippur is the New Year. Passover celebrates the descent of the Angel of Death upon Egypt, in which the first-born of the Jews were spared. Purim centers around the Book of Esther and celebrates the delivery of the Jewish people from destruction by the Persians. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jeruslam in 165 BCE, at which a menorah with only a day's worth of oil burned for eight days. The Sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) is the Jewish day of rest. New Moon festivals, common in ancient days, have seen a resurgence in popularity. The Bar Mitzvah (males) and Bat Mitzvah (females) commemorates the coming of age and integration of a new member into the Covenant; for males, this is thirteen years and one day, for females twelve years and one day.

The Jewish people have experienced periods of great prosperity and terrible oppression. They could become citizens of Rome and were respected physicians and scholars, yet their great Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. They were bankers and jewelers in Medieval Europe, yet many thousands were raped and massacred in pogroms. They were an integral element of the Moorish kingdom of Spain, only to be forcibly converted or exiled by the Catholic monarchy.

Though they consider themselves to be one people, modern Jews are divided by a number of historical and cultural elements. As a result of the Diaspora, Jews were driven to different parts of the world. In each region, slightly different rituals, customs, dialects and pronunciations of Hebrew were developed. The Ashkenazim are the Jews of Eastern Europe, and form the core of the Jewish population in the United States. The Sephardim are descended from those Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal, and were then exiled to Italy, Turkey and North Africa. There are also Jews of African (particularly Ethiopian) and Asian descent. Within Judaism, there is also contention between Orthodox, Reform, Liberal and Conservative groups, each of which proscribe different attitudes towards the Law, the Sabbath and non-Jews.

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Christianity

Christianity is centered around the birth, life, works and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity developed out of Judaism. Jews were the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth who, after his death, declared him to be the Messiah, the Christ promised by the Jewish Prophets. By the fourth century of the Common Era, Christianity had grown distinct from Judaism; had developed the Doctrines of the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Trinity; and, in 315 CE, was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great.

Numerous sects of Christianity developed in the first centuries CE; the majority of these were declared heretical and their adherents persecuted, murdered or exiled. In 1055 CE, Christianity split into two main bodies as a result of linguistic, cultural and theological differences: in Western Europe, Catholicism centered around Rome and was headed by that city's Bishop (the Pope). In Eastern Europe, Orthodoxy centered around Constantinople and was headed by the Patriarch. Orthodoxy has itself since split into a number of branches (Russian, Syrian, Armenian, et cetera), while Catholicism was sundered in the sixteenth century by the Protestant Reformation. Coptic Christians remain a minority in Egypt. Though the dominant faith in Europe, Australia and the Americas, Christianity is a minority in Africa and Asia. Many former European colonies have developed their own distinct sects of Christianity, often drawing on native traditions. An Ecumenical Movement in recent decades has sought to unify divided Christians.

Central to Christianity are a number of Doctrines. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth decrees that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of Mary of Nazareth who conceived and bore him while remaining intact; that is, Jesus was not conceived through any physical means and had no mortal father. Jesus was, in fact, the Christ, the Anointed One, God Incarnate, God Made Flesh. God was born in mortal form to teach, prophesy and, through his agonizing death, atone for the sins of the world. After three days, however, Jesus rose from the dead (was Resurrected) and rose to heaven; and so all who follow in his ways can look forward to a similar Resurrection. These Doctrines, while central to Christianity, are interpreted in a number of different ways; these "non-traditional" interpretations are particularly common among Asian and African Christians.

Like Judaism, Christianity conceives of God was a unitary transcendent Being. But because God is an infinite mystery, incomprehensible to finite humans, the Doctrine of the Trinity was developed to partially explain the nature of God and God's relationship with humanity and the universe. God is Three-in-One, Three Beings Who are in fact One: Father, Son and Spirit/Wisdom. The three leaf clover and the three forms of water (gas, liquid, solid) have been used to illustrate this mystery.

In recent years, the Doctrine of the Trinity has undergone some revision, particularly in response to the women's movement. Some Churches have adopted gender-neutral or mixed-gender language, e.g., It, S/He, Parent, Mother, Being, Christ as Sister, and so on.

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Islam

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Sikhism

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Zoroastrianism

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Hinduism

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Buddhism

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Shinto

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Baha'i

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Paganism and Wicca

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Native American Traditions

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African Traditions

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Aboriginal Traditions

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