Religion, religious institutions and the Women’s Liberation Movement

Equality in religion and religious institutions

Although women make up a large part of the congregation in many religious institutions, they rarely hold positions of institutional power. Discover how some feminists campaigned for equality in religious institutions or even explored alternative spiritualities.

Una Kroll talks about the struggle for the ordination of women

Nadira Mirza discusses religious rights and freedoms

Although women make up a large part of the congregation in many religious institutions, and are often passionate believers, they rarely hold positions of institutional power, whether in church, mosque, synagogue or temple. Moreover, traditional theologies tend to involve contradictory views of gender and sexuality, often involving practices of gender segregation. Although many feminists were sceptical of all religions for these reasons, and sought humanist systems of faith in social justice, an interesting strand of the WLM was led by women such as Asphodel Long and Monica Sjoo. Such women explored alternative spiritualities and feminist theology, unearthing matriarchal and goddess-centred belief systems, which also sometimes touched on concerns raised by eco-feminism, a movement which brings together environmental and gender justice. Others lobbied for equality in religious institutions. This exploration has become increasingly important as religion has returned as a political force since the 1980s and the end of the Cold War. Many important feminists led the way in thinking about religious life in the 1970s, including the Roman Catholic hermit Sara Maitland, the Moroccan analyst of Islam, Fatima Mernissi, and the Jewish Rabbi and LGBT rights activist Sheila Shulman.

Mukami McCrum talks about religious challenges faced as a child

  • Sisterhood and After Research Team
  • This article was researched and written by the Sisterhood and After Research Team, who are experts in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. The team included Abi Barber, Dr Polly Russell, Dr Margaretta Jolly, Dr Rachel Cohen, Dr Freya Johnson-Ross and Dr Lucy Delap. Further information about the team and project is available in the About the project section.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.