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The Role of Gender in the Distinctions between Religion, Secularism and Spirituality

A227
Panel Chair: Kim Knibbe | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

In recent years, a large body of literature on 'the secular', secularism and secularity has emerged, showing how ‘religion’ emerges as a category in relation to the secular. However, the relationship of the category of ‘spirituality’ to the secular is not discussed very often. This panel intends to broaden the discussion about religion and secularity to include the category of what is popularly recognized as ‘spirituality’. Furthermore, we intend to use the lens of gender to discuss the ways these categories are related to each other in diverse contemporary cultural contexts. Religion is usually associated with conservative gender politics, whereas secularism prides itself on promoting gender equality. Meanwhile, spirituality often acts in specific ways on both the ‘patriarchal’ tendencies of religion and the disenchantment of secularity. How do these generalizations attached to each of these categories influence the lived realities of participants in various cultural contexts?

Lauren Zwissler

“Spirituality” as Feminist Third Choice: Gendering Religion and the Secular

If we approach the “secular versus religious” dichotomy as a contestation between political and religious institutions for control of public space, then it becomes logical that not all social categories would easily fit themselves into such a divide. Women, historically denied access to public power in either arena, yet policed by both, are such a category. Based on fieldwork with feminist activists, who also participate in religious communities (Catholic, United Church Protestant, and Pagan), in Toronto, Canada, this paper investigates their use of the language of “spirituality.” I argue that their political engagements and religious practices require them to confront conflicts between “religion” and “secularism,” yet, by articulating their own worldviews as “spiritual,” they create a third alternative. Further, such naming may be particularly powerful for feminists who critique structural inequalities, such as gender-based violence, homophobia and Islamophobia, that they understand as jointly perpetuated by both religious and political institutions.

Brenda Bartelink

Exporting disenchanted sexualities: religious/ secular dynamics in humanitarianism

Religious humanitarian organizations are generally seen as an example of how religion continues to be play an important role in an assumed secular public domain (Clarke and Jennings 2007). It has also been suggested that, because they cross-cut categories of religion and the secular, these organizations more easily mediate between sanctifying and secularizing tendencies in humanitarian contexts (Barnett and Stein 2012). However, sexuality and gender are highly symbolic in historical and contemporary discourses on secularism in Western Europe (Scott 2011). Based on empirical fieldwork, this paper explores how Christian development organizations from the Netherlands propose to understand and tackle problems around young people’s sexual and reproductive health in Uganda. It investigates how these discourses interact with how Christian organizations in Uganda understand and approach sexuality education for young people

Anna Fedele

Goddess Spirituality and its Entanglements with Religion and Secularism

In recent years several social scientists and religious historians have observed that a growing number of individuals in Western society state that they are not “religious” but “spiritual”. These individuals refuse to consider themselves as part of established religions and prefer to create their own spirituality. Does the end of religion predicted by the social scientists in the 1970’s and 1980’s imply not secularization but rather a sort of ‘spiritualization’ of religion? Is ‘spirituality’ indeed something that can be distinguished from ‘religion’ on an analytical level? Does spirituality represent a way of “formatting” religious ideas and practices making them acceptable to an increasingly secularized society? These questions will be explored drawing on ethnographic data about contemporary Goddess spirituality in Southern Europe paying particular attention to gender and corporeality.

Kim Knibbe

A global view on the role of gender in relating and dividing religion, secularity and spirituality

It seems that whereas the last decade of the twentieth century after ‘the end of history’ was marked by the unexpected (and global) rise of ethnicity as a source of contention, nowadays religion seems to have taken over that role. There is one common factor in these conflicts that deserves more attention: gender. There seem to be two camps: those who espouse secular projects of emancipation and depart from a non-essentialist notion of gender, and those who feel (often backed up by a religious tradition) that biological sex should determine one’s position and behavior. To complicate things, a third category has emerged with its own take on gender: that of contemporary spirituality. This contribution will discuss some of the recent developments in the role of religion and secularity worldwide in the development of sexual nationalisms as well as how the option of spirituality attempts to overcome the religious-secular divide while working on genderideologies.

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Thematic Outline

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