In the Gender and Diversity Center (GDC) off to the side of the Hamilton “Ham” Center, on March 29, a group of interested staff and students, consisting of Catholics, Jews and godless alike, joined together to discuss a topic important to them, women in religion, over dinner. The dialogue focused on the roles of women in the Christian and Jewish faiths. It was the first dinner about this topic and was led by third-year Rachel Atwood and organized with the Pluralism Club.
Before discussion commenced, three large poster boards were placed where anyone could comment on, baring with the questions: “What are stereotypes of women in religious cultures?” “What is your experience as or of a woman in religion?” and “How have women’s roles changed in religion?” These three questions started the conversation among the assembled group.
Many of the participants from the Pluralism Club are currently studying religion and, in an effort to prepare for the night, had planned and researched discussion questions to guide the group through the many questions concerning the roles of women in modern day religion. This made good “food for thought” as throughout the talks, conversation would often halt suddenly, and a new topic could and would be chosen to help spur conversations once more.
A particularly well-discussed topic was the place of women in leadership positions within religions, especially women as Catholic priests. The notion that women cannot become priests spurred many inquiries within the group simply due to a lack of understanding. The main reason behind the ban, according to the Catholic Church, is that Jesus never ordained a female priest during his period on Earth, and humans therefore cannot assume that Jesus would approve of ordaining them. The Catholic Church is therefore loathe to do something that is not “approved” by God. This segued into a discussion on should the Church not approve any idea not specifically sanctioned within the Bible.
Another topic that was the subject of much attention was language of religion and how it positively and negatively affects women. One participant brought up the fact that scripture can be interpreted in so many different ways with so many different agendas that dealing with gendered language in Christian and Jewish scriptures causes people — namely religious leaders — to read into the scriptures as a way to argue their point and not as specifically pro-male or female. The topic brought forth the idea of religious texts being reinterpreted to not be focused on the masculine — whether that s through gender-neutral language or through more feminine language was left up to debate. The discussion led to the question of whether God could be considered a woman, but the majority consensus was that, in the Christian theology, because Mary was the mother of Jesus it was practical to consider God as a father-figure. However, the Holy Spirit, as it was discussed, is without gender and a part of everything, bringing the concept of gender neutrality to the Holy Trinity.
All in all, the “Women in Religion” dinner dialogue seemed to be a moderate success. Although the attendance was low, it allowed for a more intimate discussion space with less jockeying and fighting for talk-time. The dialogue itself covered a range of topics relating to the modern-day view of women and religion and discussion, while occasionally stunted, contained insightful thoughts and inquiries.