Religious Education aims to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in students as a means of understanding one’s self and society. The subject matter of Religious Education has always been surrounded by controversy and debate, as it always needs to be considered within the current political and social climate. In recent years, the growing popularity of Religious Education suggests that young people have tuned into the fact that religion is a major influence in the world in which they live. In this resource page we outline two key gender issues in relation to Religious Education: its greater take-up by girls than boys in school and beyond; and arguments of that religion is male-biased.
The (re)masculinization of Religious Education
The fact that the majority of students taking Religious Educatuon classes are girls has raised concern in some quarters and has turned the focus of teachers, and the Curriculum Authority in England, to boys’ presence and achievement in the subject. Religious Education tends to be understood as a ‘feminine’ subject area and a ‘soft’ vocational option for girls. In response to the higher number of girls, some people have called for the masculinisation of the subject area to attract more boys and improve boys’ motivation and attainment. Often the methods to attract more boys are accomplished by subverting the ‘feminine’ in Religious Education and highlighting topics and issues that will specifically attract boys to the subject area.
At the same time as the call to masculinise Religious Education, feminist theologians and philosophers have argued that religious discourse is already fundamentally masculine and sexist.
Over the last two decades, feminist educators have voiced their concern about the ways in which women and girls are stereotyped, ignored and marginalised within the teaching of Religious Education. Feminists who believe that religious discourse is male-biased and sexist maintain that any form of Religious Education interacts with the topic of gender, as religious traditions, beliefs and practices have for so long determined how gender is understood.
Feminist theologians point to the fact that scholarly studies of religion are largely shaped by men, and any study of religion is a study of androcentric views and systems of belief. Three main areas which feminist identify as perpetuating patriarchal practices within religion include: the masculinisation of God, attitudes and beliefs about women found within religious texts, and androcentric ways of approaching the philosophy of religion.
Feminist educators, and philosophers of religion, continue the debate as to whether women should be “written in” more to religious teachings and philosophy, or if the fundamental principles of religious discourse need to be reformed, as current teachings about religion only perpetuate androcentic systems of belief.
The picture shows a Hindu deity who is part male and part female.
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Clanton, J. A. (1991) In Whose Image? God and Gender. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.
Griffith, R. M. and Savage, B. D. (eds) (2006) Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: knowledge, power and performance. Baltimore, John Hopkins.
Hanlon, D. (2002) Not ‘either-or’, more a case of ‘both-and’: Towards an inclusive gender strategy for Religious Education, in: Broadbent, L. & Brown, A. (eds.) Issues in Religious Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Morgan, P. and Lawton, C. (eds) (2007) Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
Slee, N. (2000) A Subject in Her Own Right: The Religious Education of Women and Girls. Hockerill Lecture, London.
Tamminen, K. (1996) Gender differences in religiosity in children and adolescents, in: Francis, L. J., Kay, W. K. & Campbell, W. S. (eds.) Research in Religious Education. Leominster: Gracewing.
Page author: Jeannine Heynes
Updated: 15th January 2013