UConn Women's Center hosts panel discussion on feminism in religion

The human tendency toward selective attention to detail, especially where women are concerned, was a running theme Thursday evening at “Faith and Feminism,” a panel discussion about the intersection of religion and gender. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

One well-known practice of traditional Hawaiian religion is the ritual of human sacrifice. Additionally, the fact that women had their own goddesses and shrines is of equal importance.

“But if you read the male accounts of the Hawaiian religion, you’d never know it,” said Jocelyn Linnekin, a professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut and author of “Sacred Queens and Women of Consequence,” a book on the impact of colonialism on Hawaiian culture.

The human tendency toward selective attention to detail, especially where women are concerned, was a running theme Thursday evening at “Faith and Feminism,” a panel discussion about the intersection of religion and gender moderated by Venida Jenkins, director of the Speicher-Rubin Women’s Center for Equity & Diversity in New Jersey City.

Linnekin, who teaches several courses about world religions at UConn, said that while cherry-picking passages of scripture can be problematic when it’s done to serve an agenda, the existence of sexist sentiments in religious texts like the Bible doesn’t make them inherently anti-feminist.

There are numerous female religious scholars - as Linnekin demonstrated with a pile of at least a dozen books on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - who support for equitable interpretations of their given faith.

“I know women who say those monotheistic religions are too patriarchal, they’re irredeemable, I’m going to be a pagan, I’m going to be a Buddhist - and that's a personal choice,” Linnekin said. “But obviously there are a lot of smart, intellectual women who aren’t stupid, who aren’t hopeless, that believe in them.”

That doesn’t mean that all religions are feminist, however. Linnekin’s simple yardstick was this: if a religion isn’t compatible with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s a bad religion for women.

For Joyce Wong, assistant area director of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Hartford, said part of her process for reframing Christianity was coming to the realization that, despite the father/son imagery throughout the Bible, God is not a man.

“That’s one of the things that really has been stirring in me that doesn’t get talked about in churches,” Wong said.

Audience members, whom Jenkins encouraged to participate in the discussion throughout the evening, were also concerned that the silence surrounding women’s issues have made it difficult to discuss abortion, transgender women’s rights and other queer issues in religious communities.

Jenkins, who is also an adjunct professor at the New York Theological Seminary, said that some of her students have tried to address this by creating an LGBT-friendly group on campus so that everyone can have a seat at the table.

“This is their way, and our way, of helping those students deal with a pressing issue,” Jenkins said. “I think that it’s important for them to know that they have a safe space, a space where they can connect with God.”

Linnekin was quick to stress, however, that no matter how compatible feminism and faith may be, most religions are as much about self-examination and repentance as they are about providing a source of strength.

“It’s certainly a stereotype among privileged white Western intellectuals that religion is just a comfort. It's a stereotype that’s based on ignorance, a refusal to actually look into what modern religious texts are saying,” Linnekin said. “It’s a struggle, it’s not just some sort of easy sop to ask religious questions.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.