1887
Volume 2016, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2218-7480
  • E-ISSN:

Abstract

The themes and issues pertaining to women and matters of gender have probably never received as much attention as they have in the last decades. The contemporary concerns for equality and freedom are obviously not foreign to this keen interest. There is a sense, quasi-inherent to the modern ethos, that women and feminine contributions have been all-too often ignored, that their voices have been oppressed or confined within restrictive areas of social and cultural activities. The religious domain, especially in its institutional dimensions -- in which leadership has been for the most part a masculine affair, has been particularly scrutinized in this respect. It has been the locus of passionate debates on the role of women and the feminine. In this regard, two questions have often emerged. The first is that of the "gender" of God, or that of the masculine and feminine as attributes or dimensions of the Ultimate. The second question has pertained to the role of women in religious universes. The two questions have often been connected as testified by most trends in feminist theology. A monotheist belief, or religious heritage, leads one to affirm that God is "masculine" since He is the Creator of heaven and earth. The Bible and the Quran unambiguously refer to "Him." And still, classical theology, in all three monotheistic faiths, did not fail to take account of the fact that there is no perfection in creation the principle and seed of which is not to be found eminently in God. If the feminine or femininity must be considered as perfections --and how would not they be so?, one must admit that they are to be found in God. The metaphysical reality of God must therefore include the feminine, even though it is obviously so in a way that cannot be fully fathomed in human terms, nor be taken down to the level of purely human concerns. The second issue relates to the modern, and post-modern, question of identity. In this regard, it appears that religions tend to affirm both identity and difference, or identity in difference, and difference in identity. There is clearly both a universal dimension and a differentialist bent in the discourse of religions, as also interestingly, but differently, in most feminist discourses. Should universality, and the equality between women and men that it implies, be incompatible with identity and difference? On the one hand, it would seem that there is no identity that does not entail difference, and no difference that does not imply a relative superiority: one being is superior from a certain point of view, another from a different point of view. This means also, and most importantly, that no human superiority is absolute, and must remain therefore open to its complement or its corrective. For instance, there is no woman who is not "masculine" in some way and no man who is not "feminine" in some ways. This is what is symbolized by the Chinese yin-yang. The connection of the two questions of the “gender” of the Divine and the identity and status of women is far from being one-dimensional and unidirectional, however. Some have demonstrated, for example, that a recognition of the feminine dimension of the Divine does not necessarily translate, far from that, into a socio-cultural promotion of women. It is actually sometimes the contrary that holds true, as appears for example in some religious sectors of South Asia. Others have suggested that one must distinguish between the metaphysical dimension, the spiritual realm and the socio-cultural realities. In this perspective, what can be highlighted is the complexity and, oftentimes, reversed analogy between inner values and outer phenomena, spiritual ranks and social hierarchies. For instance, Mary illustrates an inner supereminence that cannot be unrelated --nor limited-- to some feminine "values" or symbols, but she was not outwardly a priest or a preacher. Finally, others have argued, especially among feminists hailing from the Abrahamic world, that one must take care of distinguishing the normativity that has emerged from historical crystallizations from the scriptural sources and their intrinsic principles. Be that as it may, religions are keen to point to a transcendence of all differences, whether they are thought to be natural or socially constructed. In monotheistic religions, they do so by affirming the equality of all human beings before God. In Chinese, Indian and other wisdom traditions they tend to open the highest Way to all humans independently from gender differences, or from other differences that may differentiate them from one another. No human difference, whether of sex, race or gender can be absolutized since there is nothing relative that can limit or bind the Absolute. There is much evidence to suggest that the great religions teach that while one is born a woman or a man one is re-born beyond the limitations and boundaries that those identities involve or imply. The themes and issues pertaining to women and matters of gender have probably never received as much attention as they have in the last decades. The contemporary concerns for equality and freedom are obviously not foreign to this keen interest. There is a sense, quasi-inherent to the modern ethos, that women and feminine contributions have been all-too often ignored, that their voices have been oppressed or confined within restrictive areas of social and cultural activities. The religious domain, especially in its institutional dimensions -- in which leadership has been for the most part a masculine affair, has been particularly scrutinized in this respect. It has been the locus of passionate debates on the role of women and the feminine. In this regard, two questions have often emerged. The first is that of the "gender" of God, or that of the masculine and feminine as attributes or dimensions of the Ultimate. The second question has pertained to the role of women in religious universes. The two questions have often been connected as testified by most trends in feminist theology. A monotheist belief, or religious heritage, leads one to affirm that God is "masculine" since He is the Creator of heaven and earth. The Bible and the Quran unambiguously refer to "Him." And still, classical theology, in all three monotheistic faiths, did not fail to take account of the fact that there is no perfection in creation the principle and seed of which is not to be found eminently in God. If the feminine or femininity must be considered as perfections --and how would not they be so?, one must admit that they are to be found in God. The metaphysical reality of God must therefore include the feminine, even though it is obviously so in a way that cannot be fully fathomed in human terms, nor be taken down to the level of purely human concerns. The second issue relates to the modern, and post-modern, question of identity. In this regard, it appears that religions tend to affirm both identity and difference, or identity in difference, and difference in identity. There is clearly both a universal dimension and a differentialist bent in the discourse of religions, as also interestingly, but differently, in most feminist discourses. Should universality, and the equality between women and men that it implies, be incompatible with identity and difference? On the one hand, it would seem that there is no identity that does not entail difference, and no difference that does not imply a relative superiority: one being is superior from a certain point of view, another from a different point of view. This means also, and most importantly, that no human superiority is absolute, and must remain therefore open to its complement or its corrective. For instance, there is no woman who is not "masculine" in some way and no man who is not "feminine" in some ways. This is what is symbolized by the Chinese yin-yang. The connection of the two questions of the “gender” of the Divine and the identity and status of women is far from being one-dimensional and unidirectional, however. Some have demonstrated, for example, that a recognition of the feminine dimension of the Divine does not necessarily translate, far from that, into a socio-cultural promotion of women. It is actually sometimes the contrary that holds true, as appears for example in some religious sectors of South Asia. Others have suggested that one must distinguish between the metaphysical dimension, the spiritual realm and the socio-cultural realities. In this perspective, what can be highlighted is the complexity and, oftentimes, reversed analogy between inner values and outer phenomena, spiritual ranks and social hierarchies. For instance, Mary illustrates an inner supereminence that cannot be unrelated --nor limited-- to some feminine "values" or symbols, but she was not outwardly a priest or a preacher. Finally, others have argued, especially among feminists hailing from the Abrahamic world, that one must take care of distinguishing the normativity that has emerged from historical crystallizations from the scriptural sources and their intrinsic principles. Be that as it may, religions are keen to point to a transcendence of all differences, whether they are thought to be natural or socially constructed. In monotheistic religions, they do so by affirming the equality of all human beings before God. In Chinese, Indian and other wisdom traditions they tend to open the highest Way to all humans independently from gender differences, or from other differences that may differentiate them from one another. No human difference, whether of sex, race or gender can be absolutized since there is nothing relative that can limit or bind the Absolute. There is much evidence to suggest that the great religions teach that while one is born a woman or a man one is re-born beyond the limitations and boundaries that those identities involve or imply.

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2016-06-07
2019-10-19
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  • Article Type: Editorial
Keyword(s): Women, metaphysics, religion
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