Anthropology of Religion and Gender Lecture Series
Co-sponsored by the Anthropology Department and the Berkley Center, this lecture series featured well-known anthropologists of religion, gender, and feminist theory over the course of the 2009-2010 academic year. The talks were based on fieldwork conducted in a range of ethnographic settings including Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. The series was intended to bring together anthropological work on religion and more recent work in the discipline on gender, sexuality, and feminist theory to consider the complex relationship between religion and gender in the contemporary era.
April 8, 2010
Jewish feminism has existed in many forms since the 19th century, but it took a particular turn during the late 1960s in response to the early stirrings of second wave American feminism. Its effects were more radical and far reaching within Judaism than any previous movement because it challenged fundamental assumptions about gender and Jewish law that were grounded in the western enlightenment. Riv-Ellen Prell examined the ways in which gendered boundaries have challenged efforts to create American Jewish practices since the late 19th century and why Jewish feminism(s) continues to complicate, rather than resolve, the challenge. She discussed the meaning of equality in a pluralist system in order to understand the cultural dynamics of boundaries. The discussion drew on both ethnographic studies of American Jewish women in egalitarian Jewish communities and Jewish feminist writing about equality.
February 25, 2010
This talk focused on the issue of domestic violence in Muslim societies in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The analytical framework was comparative, emphasizing four factors and the interplay among them: shari'a (Islamic law), state power, intrafamily violence, and struggles over women's rights. The comparative approach historicizes the problem of domestic violence and impunity to consider the impact of transnational legal discourses (Islamism and human rights) on local struggles over rights and law. The use of shari'a creates some commonalities in gender and family relations in Muslim societies, notably the sanctioning and maintenance of male authority over female relatives. However, the most important issue for understanding domestic violence and impunity is the relationship between religion and state power. This relationship takes three forms: communalization, in which religious law is separate from the national legal regime; nationalization, in which the state incorporates religious law into the national legal regime; and theocratization, in which the national legal regime is based on religious law.
November 5, 2009
The power to interpret religious knowledge and define the terms of religious propriety is contested in many countries throughout the Muslim world today. Yet beyond analysis of curricular content, very little scholarly attention has been focused on the role of schools in such contests. This event
addressed struggles surrounding moral authority through an ethnographic exploration of religious teaching and practice in a girls' secondary school in Jordan. It examined both the formal or official religious curriculum, as well as the unofficial religious educational efforts underway in school. It also provided a glimpse of the daily struggles between text, teacher, and students to define proper Islamic mores for women in Jordan today. Outside the formal and intended curriculum there are a myriad of ways and spaces in the classroom, prayer room, school yard, and teachers' room within which actors in school are engaged in efforts to teach each other about religion, religious practices, and living as pious Muslim women. Competing visions of Islamic orthodoxy come to the fore in schools in unique ways and schools provide a space and new tools for negotiating the ensuing tensions.