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Lecture 20:  Religion & Gender

May 14, 1999



The question of religion and gender—

McGuire’s Premise: A group’s approach to defining women’s roles merely reflects its general attitude about relationship of its tradition to conditions of modern society.

e.g., ordination of women.
Relationship of religion to class.
Religion generally supports the values and goals of the ruling class.


Zuckerman’s main point/thesis: understandings of gender and religiosity are inextricably woven together; and efforts to challenge or change gender roles will inevitably involve religion (370).

Zuckerman’s focus: cultural significance of gender.



What is "gender regulation"? "Process by which a community attempts to define, institute, and justify ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ behavior and roles for its members."


Gender regulation concerned w/ public—not private—roles & practices.

Two sets of issues:
  1. "women as human beings who have various degrees of agency"
  2. "Woman" as symbolic construct or ideal consisting of allegory, metaphor and fantasy and men’s psychological projections.


Synagogue members disagreed over the central meanings of gender.
Gender regulation is a major element of Jewish religious identity.


Purpose of Zuckerman’s article: to place gender regulation explicitly in context of a Jewish religious schism.


Several sources of this schism but issue of gender most salient.

Key source of schism: use of the mehitzah, or a partition, separates men and women during prayer.
Core values under Rabbi Kinberg’s tenure: diversity, universalism and egalitarianism.
N.B.: Symbolic nature of the mehitzah issue.
The mehitzah symbolized tradition for some; for others it represented oppression.


Durkheimian stress on importance of symbols.

"competing systems of moral understanding"
orthodox/progressive or conservative/liberal divide

Assumption implicit in Zuckerman’s arguments: religion is a culturally unitary blueprint. But what about religions as a morally multi-vocal, dialectical conversation, even argument?