Both women and religion have been around for many, many years. However, their roles have at times, been very separate from each other and as time goes on, they have begun to intertwine with each other more and more. At one point, women were solely child bearers, and workers at home (Cooking, raising children, sewing, etc.) and had little or no respect bestowed upon them from men as far as the practicing of religion went. It was very rare in the past to see women hold any key position in a church somewhere. There were even points in time when women couldn’t worship in the same buildings as men did.
Of course, the role of women in religion has differed with various religions, as early on, Greek women were treated with much more respect and equality than Jewish women were. Some theorists believe there is a direct correlation between a woman and her status regarding whether she is in the public eye or if she is a domestic housewife. Before religion spread to American, and after as well, women couldn’t be both at certain points in time in certain religions. A woman received more respect from a man if she was involved in business operations, or held a key position in society, but her level of respect decreased if she was forced by her husband to stay at home and care for the house and for the children.
Women and men have always been distinguished by certain traits that the other gender is not known for having. Women are known for encompassing qualities of intimacy, nurturing, and dependence, while men are known for having qualities such as rationality, autonomy, and freedom. Of course these traits can be disputed because a male or female could possess any of these qualities or none at all, but people didn’t accept that idea, and there are people even in today’s American society that don’t believe that.
A lot of times, before religion spread to America, women in the past were taken as being passive, meek, and unintelligent. In the Bible, women are often included in a story, but they don’t hold the key positions that say, the Apostles did. Women were present at different scenes in the Bible, but they are not included in the way that men are. In the Bible there are stories that tell of women meeting together will the men regularly for congregational prayer, but again, men were in charge of those groups, not women.
Also, women were not only excluded from participating in religion to different extents, but they were not always treated fairly by men in a non-religious setting. For example, as we learned in class, there were men like Paul who were sometimes very cruel and ambiguous towards women. At times Paul was very helpful and supportive to women, but there were times when he would put them down and say that men came first in God’s eyes. He believed the men were there to serve God, and the women were there to serve the men. Women came secondary to men in his opinion.
In the times after the point when Jesus was on earth, when churches were being created and multiplying, and when people were moving to America and beginning new denominations of religions, women were not often the ones who created churches. More often than not, women were the ones who opened hospitals and such. Again, they were expected to practice their quality of nurturing, and care for others instead of taking on a business aspect and open a church.
Looking more ahead into the future, in the mid 1800’s, women began to play a more important role in the religion aspects of the times, and they began attempts to hold key roles, as well as key roles in political aspects of that time such as anti-slavery movements. Women began to be respected more also, when prominent men in the public had successful, intelligent daughters who decided they wished to participate in the creation of churches. Also, they helped establish female seminaries and colleges and began to travel in hopes of learning more.
Women were very important in the development and creation of spiritualism. A group of women called the Fox Sisters followed the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg and developed a system of worship techniques that would later on be known as spiritual practices. Some of these practices included séances, hypnotic trances, and another mechanisms they used to communicate with the dead. This is something that happened in the early 1800’s, at a point where these practices were discouraged, because only a couple hundred years earlier, things like the Salem Witch Trials occurred.
Women have always been treated unfairly and being treated unfairly in the aspect of religion is just another thing we can add to the list of historical discriminations against women. Women had to fight for the right to vote among many other things and they had to also fight for equality in their churches and places of worship. To this day, women are still not always held at the same level as men are, as they don’t always hold the same professional positions as men do (President of the United States of America) and depending on the religion and denomination, women don’t always have the opportunity of work in their church as the figurehead of the church. Often, as we talked about in class, they are stuck working in the school, or in the offices of the church. As time has gone on, the rights of women have changed and they will most likely continue to do so. I believe at some point in time, women will be holding the same positions in the church that men will be holding.