Feminism and religion have always had a rocky relationship. I just read an excellent article by Elina Vuola called God and the Government: Women, Religion and Reproduction in Nicaragua. She argues that a shallow or condescending view of religion on the part of feminist scholar has meant that they do not see the full picture.
On the one hand, there is a kind of feminist “blindness” of, or resistance to, the importance of religion for women. On the other hands, there is a “religious paradigm” type of feminist studies in which women are seen mainly through the lens of religion, especially in research done by western scholars on Muslim countries.
The consequences of seeing religion in these 2 ways are:
- the real historical, social, political and ethical importance of a given religious tradition is negated, because secularization is considered to have won over religion in modern societies, even though this secularization has only happened in western Europe (wait, is that what they mean by modern?);
- many people in different cultures ar deprived of their agency when their religious traditions are considered unchangeable and dialogue/critique inside these religious traditions are ignored;
- if we see secularization as the inevitable path for everybody in the world, we are not able to understand the complex and often contradictory relationship between women and their religious traditions, identities and beliefs.
A feminist perspective should also be careful about not judging religion as per se oppressive for women, without listening to different voices of real women all over the world who are balancing between their identities as women and their places in religious communities.
Many women feel the need for BOTH a non-sexist interpretation of their religious traditions – and, in fact, try to do so – AND for a feminism which would be less black-and-white and hostile about religion and which would stop seeing women for whom religion is important as the most alienated ones in need of a feminist saviour.There are similarities between religious fundamentalists and anti-fundamentalist feminists: both tend to see women as passive recipients of brainwashing, and both see religious institutions and traditions mainly as men’s territory.
A feminist critique of religion stresses the dismantling of religious legitimization for certain political and cultural practices; it critically analyzes the power structures of religious communities; it reminds us that there is no one Christianity of Islam but different forms and interpretations; and that the determinant role of religion in society should be questioned.