Against the Current: Rethinking Gender, Religious Authority and Interreligious Dialogue

Dr. Nadia Wardeh and Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Cyprus, 2018.

Dr. Nadia Wardeh & Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Cyprus, 2018Interreligious dialogue is all-too-often dominated by religiously authorized patriarchal spokesmen in Southwest Asia. Furthermore, feminists and liberals thinking and doing interreligious dialogue in the academic sphere are marginalized, especially those who forge an arena of religious/interreligious practice or construct a scholarly discourse on religions and interreligious dialogue. This reality is connected to the male and patriarchal domination of religious leadership, despite the emergence/re-emergence of women and feminist preachers, teachers and interpreters of religious texts in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Our paper first introduces two definitions of gender and authority; it then presents a few of the many aspects of our journey with thinking/doing interreligious dialogue, and addresses issues of gender and religious authority in Islam and Christianity; it also calls for a shift from complementarianism to egalitarianism, and presents the results of a survey with university students in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates that helped us assess the possibility of implementing this shift; and in conclusion, it identifies few ideas as food for thought to face some of the challenges to rethinking/doing interreligious dialogue in particular, and the gender-religious authority relation more broadly, such as:

  • Interreligious dialogue is the search for common ground between religious differences and a respect of those differences. Additionally, it ought to strive for comprehensive human rights rather than create normative systems in which power is consolidated in the hands of a few based on exclusionary characteristics, such as gender. Interreligious dialogue should be based on and promote gender equality; 
  • Theological and academic discourses regarding interreligious dialogue should include gender issues and open the door to thinking about gender equality in relation to religious authority;
  • Theology should respond to the different dynamics of our context, which, despite all obstacles and discriminations, is marked by the advancement of women’s rights and the continuous struggles of feminists and liberals for gender equality;
  • Interreligious dialogue (from the dialogue of life to academic and theological dialogue) that has gender equality as one of its main pillars and/or goals contributes to the inner-transformation of individuals and communities experiencing dialogue; 
  • Interreligious dialogue thought/practiced by hyphen individuals does help further advance the cause of gender equality in religious settings;
  • Solidarity and partnership across religious/sectarian borders empowers individuals and communities in their respective struggles within their context;
  • The path to gender equality in Southwest Asia requires an emergence from ‘within’ the religious communities. Christian and Muslim women, as well as women practitioners of other religions, must emerge from the margins through meaningful engagement with religious sources. To this, women must participate in the public sphere, both secular and religious. This is necessary because we believe that the marginalization of women from institutional forms of interreligious dialogue is not simply the fault of tradition. Harming the push for gender equality are feminists who are not eager to engage in dialogue within a religious framework because they see religion as a source of patriarchy;
  • Feminists/liberals engaged in interreligious dialogue are justified in pointing to sources/resources within their religious traditions which can be inspiring for asserting, promoting and implementing gender equality. We also believe, however, in the fact that most traditions are not free from patriarchy and that interreligious dialogue is an effective tool and process that helps in discerning what is egalitarian in the Scriptures from what is patriarchal; 
  • The contributions of women, feminists and liberals in dialogue are not/should not be limited to feminine arguments or to encounters of only women. Rather, interreligious dialogue is a path that men, women, and other genders must accomplish together. The combined efforts of critical deconstruction and reconstruction will aid in resisting gender-violence and gender-exclusions in the name of religion.

Read the full paper by Dr. Pamela Chrabieh and Dr. Nadia Wardeh in “Middle Eastern Women: the Intersection of Law, Culture and Religion“, edited by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, 2020. 

Blog post published first on TELOS MAGAZINE WANA:

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