When it comes to religious history, Spain has a pretty rich, if not tumultuous, past. Although home to the "Moors" or Muslims, as well as Jews, Spain has traditionally been a homogenous Catholic country. However, many different religious and ethnic groups have called this land home. From the viewpoint of a German/Irish American Catholic studying abroad in Spain, I have had many interesting observations about religion, its role in society, and what it means to be Catholic in a "Catholic" country.
I should have been prepared for the backlash! I stepped right into the middle of a heated controversy when I co-authored a report for Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs in November about the role of religious organizations in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Just last week, an angry letter from the Gerard Health Foundation in Boston to Georgetown University’s president actually called for the report’s withdrawal, with a litany of accusations. The complaint? That our report gives insufficient “credit” to promoting abstinence and faithfulness as a central approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and that it reveals an “anti-Catholic bias” in its treatment of Church teaching on condoms. Perhaps nowhere is the role of religion in public policy and service delivery more significant than in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The storm around the Berkley Center report is a depressing illustration of how hard dialogue can be. And how important.
The emergence of religious fundamentalist movements in many parts of the world is the result of a variety of historical and socio-political processes. By examining women’s attraction to the Islamic revivalist movement in the Middle East general themes emerge which are applicable in other countries albeit within their own unique religious and cultural contexts. Contrary to popular beliefs of Muslim women as complacent and docile, in supporting Islamic fundamentalist movements women in the Middle East operate as active agents seeking to advance their own interests through the revival of religious traditions.
Interactions between religion, the status of women, and fertility rates are the subject of intense academic, economic and political debate in South Asia. They are typically influenced by two observations: First, significant differences in rules and accepted marriage mark practices across religious groups in this region; Hindus and Muslims for example, differ in their views of the acceptability of polygyny, the prevalence of dowry, the preferences for marriage to a first- or second-cousin, and the opportunities for a woman to divorce and remarry. The differences in these systems of marriage and household structure have often led to contentious social, political and religious debates about morality, the role of women, and the role of the family in economic development in South Asia.
Women are at the crux of changing values concerning religion and gender, reform and social change, including religious and secular fundamentalism. As social changes transform communities in widely differing societies, women are redefining practical and intellectual categories and issues. Religion is a central part of the change process, as women engage in a selective blending of local and world religions in ways that transcend conventional descriptions.