This interdisciplinary conference focused on religion as a powerful force in shaping our conceptions of gender, a force which can be simultaneously liberating and oppressive, its institutions more often than not mirroring but also reinforcing patriarchal social structures and oppressive definitions of gender and sexuality even as its teachings may call for equality and/or androgyny in the pursuit of spiritual transformation and for compassionate individual action. The religious traditions of the world have had to begin to confront their complicity in often violent oppression of women in the twentieth century. This has included self-critique but also the recovery of women’s voices and exemplary figures from the past as well as re-readings of scriptural traditions, reinvention of rituals and practices, and re-envisioning of institutions, leadership and teachings. This process is by no means complete. The twenty-first century brings the additional but related challenge of confronting religious attitudes toward sexuality, magnified for LGBTIQ individuals.
Studies of the relationship between religion and gender have often fallen into bifurcated camps, some focusing on religion as a source of empowerment, others seeing it as a source of repression and control. Social critiques and movements of liberation are also often portrayed as wholly separate from spirituality and the oppression and/or empowerment of women as separate from that of men. This conference was designed to call these sharp contrasts into question, with presenters addressing religious genderings in a more holistic and comprehensive way, one that takes into account their impact on both men and women, the effects of shifting notions of identity in the context of globalization, and the intersection of constructions of gender with attitudes toward sexuality.
The program included five extraordinary scholar-activists who delivered plenary addresses and 15 paper presentations across two full days, Thursday and Friday, February 27 & 28, with an afternoon of undergraduate student papers Wednesday, February 26, co-sponsored by Chapman’s chapter of the National Religious Studies Honor Society, Theta Alpha Kappa. Additional co-sponsors of the conference included the Huntington and Francis Memorial Lectureship Funds, the Fish Interfaith Center, the Office of the Chancellor, Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and the Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies, and Asian Studies Programs.