Notes from BPU Sri Lanka - Third Year

Gender and Religion A (lectured by Mr. Samantha Illaṅgakoon, recorded by Mon monk Nai Suriya) 31st of May, 2011

                 31.05.2011  LISTEN  >>>

                 07.06.2011  LISTEN  >>>

Gender and Religion A (31st of May, 2011) 

 -        there is a distinct difference between gender and sexuality. While gender is rather issue that may be seen on the surface, in the public life, sexuality is rather inner, private issue.

            In religion it is evident, that women are mostly excluded from power, as well as in many areas of social life. This is very clear in Christianity, but it is also characteristic of all the major religions. The Christian religion is a male affair in its symbolism as well as its hierarchy. While Mary, the mother of Jesus may sometimes be treated as if she had divine qualities, God is the father – the male figure and Jesus took the human form of a man. Woman is portrayed/depicted as created from a rib taken from man, there are many female characters in the biblical text and some are portrayed as acting bravely. However, the prime/major parts are reserved for males. There are no females comparable to Moses and other prophets, and in the New Testament all the apostles (except one – Mary Magdalene) are men.

-        Symbolism and hierarchy are two ways how to examine gender (in)equality) in religions. From symbolism, we may see, that Eva was created by rib of Adam – thus some may say, that women are lower than men, however according to some this is a proof that both are on the same level.

            In 1985 Elizabeth Caddy published a series of commentaries titled the woman's bible. In her view, the deity had created women as beings of equal value, and the bible should fully reflect this fact. Its masculine character did not reflect the authentic view of God, but the fact, that it was written by men. In 1870 the Church of England established a committee to revise and update the biblical text. As she pointed out, there was not a single woman attending the committee. She asserted, that there is no reason to suppose, that God is male, since it was clear in the scriptures, that all human beings were fashioned in the image of God.

            Female deities are quite often found in religions across the world. These are sometimes thought of as womanly, gentle and loving. In other instances, goddesses appear as fearful destroyers, e.g., Kālī in Hinduism. Women warrior gods, for example, are found fairly often. Even though in actual social life, women are only very occasionally military leaders.

            In Buddhism females appear as important figures in the teachings of the Buddha. In Mahāyāna Buddhism women are represented in a favorable life, however, some scholars, such as Gananath Obeyesekere and Richard Gombrich have remarked, that Buddhism, like Christianity, is an overwhelmingly male created institution dominated by patriarchal (male-dominated) power structure in which the feminine is mostly associated with the secular, powerless, profane and imperfect. Contrasting pictures of women that appear in the Buddhist texts are the attitudes of men towards women in the secular world. On one hand, females appear as wise, maternal and gentle on the other hand, as mysterious, polluting and destructive.

Gender and Religion B (lectured by Mr. Samantha Illaṅgakoon) 7th of June, 2011

              In Buddhism women have traditionally been allowed a role as nuns, which has also been the main avenue for the direct expression of female religious conviction within Christianity. The Christians monastic life derives from the practices of very early Christian groups who lived a life of extreme poverty given over to meditation. These individuals and groups had sometimes few connections with the established church. However, by the early middle age the church had managed to gain control upon most of the orders they had founded. Monasteries became fixed buildings with their inmates bound to the authoritarian system of the Catholic Church.

            Some of the most influential male monastic orders were founded in the 19th century. For example, Augustinians and Crusades. The majority of women's orders were not established until the 15th century. Their membership remained relatively small until the 19th century. Many women at that time became nuns partly because of the carriers, which were there by open up (giving freedom) to them in teaching and nursing. Since these occupations were controlled by the religious orders, as the professions became separated from the church, the proportion (quota) in the orders fell.

            Although the rituals and observances of different orders vary, all nuns are regarded as brides of Christ. Until changes were made in some of the orders in 1950's, sometimes elaborate, special marriage ceremonies were carried out for the purpose of ordaining female novices. During those the female-novice would cut her hair and receive a religious name and be given a wedding ring (because she would be supposed to be a bride of Jesus Christ). A novice is free to leave after several years, in spite of vows of perpetual membership had been taken.

            Women's orders today show a considerable diversity in their believes and moods of life. In some convents sisters are dressed in full traditional habits and keep established routines. Other communities, by contrast are not only housed in modern buildings, but have dropped many of the old regulations . They wear ordinary dress and restrictions regarding talking to others at certain periods during particular days have been relaxed together with rules with regards to the position of their body, such as walking with their hands folded and hidden under their habit. The existence of women orders has never given them any direct power in the wider religious organization, which in the Catholic and Anglican churches remain almost exclusively dominated by men.

            With the rise of the feminist movement women's organizations began to place pressure on Catholic authority to liberalize its position in the role of women in the church. Supporters of female ordination argue, that women can represent Christ as capably as men, because they also have been made in God's image. Yet, the issue of the women's ordination has been consistently turned down by the Catholic authority. The reason was, that Jesus did not call a woman to be one of His disciples. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed, saying: “I declare, that the church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitely held by all the Churches faithfully.”