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Religion 37 (2007) 175 e 183 <a href=www.elsevier.com/locate/religion Conclusion: Construction sites at the juncture of religion and gender Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer * Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA Abstract The articles in this special issue o ff er fresh definitions of ‘new’ and ‘old’, of ‘local’ and ‘world’ religions. The themes of purity, danger and fundamentalism; female leadership, mediumship, self-sexism; and natal- ism and nationalism are discussed. This conclusion stresses the ‘folk’ sources of ‘mainstream’ religions, and focuses on the way the articles show women to be at the juncture of changing values concerning religion and gender, reform and fundamentalism. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Religion and gender In religious studies, how do we judge what is a ‘great tradition’ and what is a lesser one? Are tensions concerning appropriate gender roles central or peripheral to the formation of religious canon? When is gender salient? Can semiotician Peirce’s (1960) analytic categories of ‘index’, ‘icon’, and ‘symbol’ help illuminate the multiple ways that women, as religious actors and poten- tial sacred power holders, are portrayed and portray themselves? Can the women of Asia, already a huge and diverse category, teach us something new in our quest to understand local specificity and more general patterns that structure the human relationships we call ‘religion’? Rather than committing the academic sin of over-generalised ‘Orientalism’ (see Said, 1979 ), the articles in this collection represent a commitment to subtlety. The authors demonstrate * Tel.: þ 1 202 687 3658. E-mail address: balzerm@georgetown.edu . 0048-721X/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.religion.2007.06.003 " id="pdf-obj-0-2" src="pdf-obj-0-2.jpg">

Religion 37 (2007) 175e183

Religion 37 (2007) 175 e 183 <a href=www.elsevier.com/locate/religion Conclusion: Construction sites at the juncture of religion and gender Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer * Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA Abstract The articles in this special issue o ff er fresh definitions of ‘new’ and ‘old’, of ‘local’ and ‘world’ religions. The themes of purity, danger and fundamentalism; female leadership, mediumship, self-sexism; and natal- ism and nationalism are discussed. This conclusion stresses the ‘folk’ sources of ‘mainstream’ religions, and focuses on the way the articles show women to be at the juncture of changing values concerning religion and gender, reform and fundamentalism. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Religion and gender In religious studies, how do we judge what is a ‘great tradition’ and what is a lesser one? Are tensions concerning appropriate gender roles central or peripheral to the formation of religious canon? When is gender salient? Can semiotician Peirce’s (1960) analytic categories of ‘index’, ‘icon’, and ‘symbol’ help illuminate the multiple ways that women, as religious actors and poten- tial sacred power holders, are portrayed and portray themselves? Can the women of Asia, already a huge and diverse category, teach us something new in our quest to understand local specificity and more general patterns that structure the human relationships we call ‘religion’? Rather than committing the academic sin of over-generalised ‘Orientalism’ (see Said, 1979 ), the articles in this collection represent a commitment to subtlety. The authors demonstrate * Tel.: þ 1 202 687 3658. E-mail address: balzerm@georgetown.edu . 0048-721X/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.religion.2007.06.003 " id="pdf-obj-0-8" src="pdf-obj-0-8.jpg">

Conclusion: Construction sites at the juncture of religion and gender

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer *

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA

Abstract

The articles in this special issue oer fresh definitions of ‘new’ and ‘old’, of ‘local’ and ‘world’ religions. The themes of purity, danger and fundamentalism; female leadership, mediumship, self-sexism; and natal- ism and nationalism are discussed. This conclusion stresses the ‘folk’ sources of ‘mainstream’ religions, and focuses on the way the articles show women to be at the juncture of changing values concerning religion and gender, reform and fundamentalism. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Religion and gender

In religious studies, how do we judge what is a ‘great tradition’ and what is a lesser one? Are tensions concerning appropriate gender roles central or peripheral to the formation of religious canon? When is gender salient? Can semiotician Peirce’s (1960) analytic categories of ‘index’, ‘icon’, and ‘symbol’ help illuminate the multiple ways that women, as religious actors and poten- tial sacred power holders, are portrayed and portray themselves? Can the women of Asia, already a huge and diverse category, teach us something new in our quest to understand local specificity and more general patterns that structure the human relationships we call ‘religion’? Rather than committing the academic sin of over-generalised ‘Orientalism’ (see Said, 1979), the articles in this collection represent a commitment to subtlety. The authors demonstrate

* Tel.: þ1 202 687 3658. E-mail address: balzerm@georgetown.edu.

0048-721X/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.religion.2007.06.003

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open-minded exploration of the conundrums of Asian women’s and men’s self-definitions, espe- cially when gender roles within particular religions may be changing. While focus is on ‘women and power’ in ‘world religions’, fieldwork has sensitised these alert ethnographers to case-specific variations on socially embedded perceptions of gender. In the process, they highlight the selective blending of local and world religions in ways that transcend conventional descriptions of syncretism. Predictions of twenty-first century secularisation seem doomed or highly premature. Scholars in the fields of religious studies and anthropology have demonstrated the increasing social, political and spiritual salience of ‘new religions’ (Carter, 1996; Adams and Salamone, 2000; Pike, 2001; Lester, 2002; Daschke and Ashcraft, 2005). By problematising issues of ‘new’ and ‘old’, ‘local’, and ‘world’ religions, the articles in this collection fit with the spirit of regenerated interest in re- ligion. Three provocative themes are relevant: purity, danger, and fundamentalism; female leader- ship, mediumship, and self-sexism; natalism and nationalism. I conclude with a few observations on ‘folk’ sources and currents of ‘mainstream’ religions, as well as on the flood of contemporary religious diversity. In the process, I discuss my initial framing questions using data inspired by the authors, as well as other comparative material.

Purity, danger and fundamentalism

Early anthropological studies of the juncture of religion and gender looked for roots of religion in ancient matriarchies and fertility rituals. But deterministic assumptions about finding origins of religious beliefs in culturally constructed control of fertility, virility and survival are outmoded. We cannot presume to know how early humans thought about critical issues of life and death through conversations with contemporary individuals or with selected groups of indigenous peo- ples. Similarly, we can no longer justify earlier anthropological generalisations concerning the religions of hunter-gathering or agricultural societies (compare Hamayon, 1990). Nonetheless, var- iations on widespread themes of ‘purity and pollution’, as Douglas (1966) has suggested, surface in many structurally similar forms. Places of greatest ‘pollution taboos’ seem to be where mixed signals, ambiguity and outright contradictions have accrued in attitudes toward women and their roles as sacred mothers and ritual practitioners (see Gottlieb and Buckley, 1988; Tedlock, 2005). Interestingly, the complex cultural logics that underlie restrictions on women’s behaviour, often on the basis of perceived danger-laced ‘female impurity’, prevail in societies where fundamentalist canon may be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist (see also Shapiro and Linke, 1996). While the articles here discuss Buddhist and Muslim variations, a Far North Asia comparison can expand perspective on issues of gender and sacred power. My fieldwork in Western Siberia, with Ob-Ugrian Khanty (Ostiak), illustrates social tensions and ambiguities that were expressed in elaborate attention to ‘female impurity’. Pre-Christian be- liefs and behaviours survived and were transformed during Russian Orthodox missionising and intensive Soviet-style secularisation. Khanty women in relatively ‘traditional’ Far North commu- nities negotiated their way into greater power and authority as they grew older, past the age of fertility and menstruation, and into a life cycle stage where they could become ‘old and sacred’ (Balzer, 1983; compare Child and Child, 1985; Balzer, 1985). Some of these women became the most honoured shamans. In other parts of Siberia, transgendered shamans, who combined

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elements of maleness and femaleness, were considered particularly powerful (see Balzer, 1996). Gender was used and transcended to various degrees in ritual contexts. A striking way of dealing with tensions between the burden of the sexual body and the sublime nature of spiritual cultivation is exemplified by Hillary Crane’s female Buddhist nuns who pro- claim they are men (see also Humes, 1996; Tsomo, 2000). These nuns admit that they are women with curves that need cover, but they proclaim that they are just as spiritual as the male monks (see also Goldstein and Kapstein, 1998). Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist scriptures tout men as superior in reincarnation opportunity. The nuns’ ‘samsara’ female selves, objects of dangerous lust, and bowed by childbirth, children and poverty, have been left behind. But has gender been transcended here? No. Like a Zen riddle, the nuns ‘can assert that women are indeed inferior to men, but then not identify with the category’. The Buddhist nuns of Taiwan, conforming to Mahayana canon, sit behind the monks in their temple’s meditation and dining halls, to avoid distracting the monks sexually. This familiar rea- soning is similar to that of Orthodox Jews as well as to many practitioners of Islam. For Muslims, on occasions when men and women are not able to pray separately in mosques, then the women should kneel behind the men. I attended a ‘teach-in’ on Islam, held at Georgetown University after 9/11, that included a group prayer. Several of the students, male and female, were upset af- terwards that the women had been ‘forced to stay behind’. ‘No’, explained the female president of Georgetown’s Muslim Student Association, ‘We want it that way, just as we wish to wear head scarves: to show our modesty, and through this, our purity of purpose’. While the sincerity of Crane’s nuns and this young Muslim woman leader shine through, one of the most jarring aspects of revelations about the self-proclaimed fundamentalist Muslim Taliban of Afghanistan is that some of their male leaders were engaging in sexual practices that appear to have defied their own rhetoric: prostitution, homosexuality and the physical abuse of women and boys (see Kramer, 2003; Rashid, 2000). While it is not appropriate to blame an entire group of men for the violence of a few, the implication of emerging reports is that attributions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ contributed to the ability of Taliban men to dehumanise and sexualise those they considered to have compromised their own ‘purity’. The roots of these exploitative power games appear to be more pre-Islamic than Islamic, in eclectic customary law (adat) rather than religious text (shar’ia). They suggest that focus on female purity breeds special (‘customary’ or ‘folk’) rules, and that strict definitions of deviance are conducive to its social mitigator, hypocrisy. Audrey Mouser’s Malaysian Muslim case also raises delicate questions about gender-based var- iations of belief, the degree of permissible sincerity and the intensity of ‘fundamentalism’. Mouser stresses the ability of Dakwah-practicing Malay women, who are far from passive victims, to wear veils as cloaks for greater personal freedom. Like Abu-Lughod (1986) on Muslim women of Egypt, Mouser emphasises the agency of women, even if within certain constraints. Her most dra- matic case involves a young veiled woman who was caught in a compromising sexual position in a shopping mall with her boyfriend. The woman’s initial behaviour was less monitored precisely because she wore the trappings of religion, the symbol of modesty and purity, the veil (tudong). Mouser unveils several layers of Malaysian women’s motivations. She stresses women’s conscious ability to manipulate Islamic style in order to move more easily through a changing, modernising society, where female work labour as well as fertility is needed. However, non-Dakwah ‘liberated’ Malay women who are more educated and Western find themselves less free, their virtue and religiosity challenged.

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Female leadership, mediumship and self-sexism

In the cases discussed here, women’s abilities to take religious leadership roles are constrained by competing cultural values, yet social-political limits are creatively bent in diverse ways. Chan- ces for female leadership are greatest, yet declining, for the fascinating Okinawa priestesses de- scribed by Sered (1999), and are probably least viable among Malay Dakwah women. In the case of the De’ang of Southern China, as Shanshan Du explains, women can turn to a colourful local mythic tradition to stimulate their confidence in the face of the Theravada Buddhist privileg- ing of men. The De’ang religious tradition that best elicits contemporary women’s religious sensibilities and activities is that of a Mother of Grain fertility goddess. Women play key roles in the mostly do- mestic rice fertility rituals that both augment and change Buddhist male-monk oriented ceremony by valorising indigenous De’ang myths. By portraying the confrontations and reconciliations be- tween the Grain Mother and Buddha, many versions of De’ang myths declare the indispensable position of the Grain Mother in the male-dominant cosmology of Theravada Buddhism. Rather than depicting her as a deity, another version gives the Grain Mother the form of a simple object, namely, rice. She must be sly to gain the respect of Gautama Buddha, which raises questions about Buddhists’ attempted historical demotion of Grain Mother’s powers. Female ritualists gain their peak of prowess just after threshing, when they publicly call on the ‘Mother of Grain, Soul of Grain’ to return home with them and renew the seasonal cycle. Some women of China also take on shamanic roles of spirit mediators, simultaneously gaining prestige and suspicion within their communities (see White, 2001; Xingjiang, 2000, pp. 81e6, 162e6). The minority Zhuang of South China, like many De’ang, have lived since pre-Communist times with competitive tensions between indigenous and male-dominant traditions of Daoist tra- ditions. Here women religious practitioners, especially female ritual specialists (me mo:t), appear to be at the centre of those tensions. James Wilkerson outlines a fascinating incident when local authorities discouraged a particular Zhuang female ritual specialist from participating in a major community ritual. But she opted to show up anyway, despite lack of pay, and used the opportunity of her spiritual mediumship to critique the politics of competitive male ritual specialists. At a disadvantage without the literacy of her male counterparts, her discourse was veiled and not directly combative, suggesting interest- ing parallels to the work of Scott (1988) on ‘weapons of the weak’. She used the voice of specific spirits and communication with ancestors. On the one hand her performance attracted special attention to the rituals, thus bringing the community ritual to its climax with great emotional in- tensity. On the other hand her ‘social commentary’ was especially popular with women. Among the significant aspects of this case, Zhuang female ritual specialists appear to transcend simplistic correlations linking women’s ritual practice only to the domestic and men’s to the public sphere (see Rosaldo and Lamphere, 1974; MacCormack and Strathern, 1980; Sered, 1994). The Buddhist nuns of Taiwan have their own female leadership within their monastery. But their whole conservative spiritual community appears to be subsumed under the ritual leadership of the male monks. The nuns have assimilated the Buddhist canon that deems women stingy, greedy, jealous, sensual and lustful until proven otherwise. Their leaders repeat these points when goading the nuns to spiritual advancement in a male mode. They have accepted messages about their limitations, in a process that could be termed self-sexism. Yet delayed gratification

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provides a way out of the bind: in their next life they can be men. In addition, the temple-based nuns have opted out of a cultural system of social constraints that other women have had less power to abandon. As they try to leave familial ties behind, they find this harder to do than men. Like other monks, their special position enables them to interact in sacred ways with the outside community, playing roles as spiritual advisors, for example, among local Taiwanese women and men.

Natalism and nationalism

In many European cultures the strongest assumptions of religious conservatives concerning ap- propriate female roles lie in the significance of women as sacred mothers producing children for a homeland quite literally defined as a Motherland. The Eastern Orthodox Church canon empha- sises Mary as theMother of God over images, icons and ideals of the Virgin Mary. In India, women’s fertility is a core value of Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, and an important symbol of Mother India’s purity and prestige. When are women needed for natalist projects? Hillary Crane, citing Paul (1979, p. 61), notes the contrast between Hindu texts that ‘accord women religious status almost exclusively through their function as mothers’ and Buddhist ones, including Mahayana and Theravada, that see motherhood as ‘pain, suering, bondage, and dependency’. Leaving aside the possibility that Diane Paul’s statement may somewhat exag- gerate the contrast, tendencies towards support for the elevation of motherhood in Hinduism but not Buddhism may be partially explained by the contexts out of which those canons arose (see Humes, 1996). Hindu texts are in eect proto-natalist, encouraging of fertility when it may have been crucial socially and politically in India. The discourse of extreme Hindu nationalists today continues this trend, including in chauvinist ways against Muslims. In contrast, Buddhist texts, focused on individual enlightenment over group action or identity, seem to illustrate the flip or negative side of women’s fertility. Were the Buddhist canons born in an environment of less active encouragement of large families? In Southwest China, large families are the heart and soul of the layers of kinship associations outlined by Wilkerson for the Zhuang, and they are implicitly important in De’ang and Lahu tra- ditions discussed by Du (2002). Here, the emphasis on fertility goes against the grain of current Han Chinese policy, and it clearly stems from indigenous ‘minority’ traditions that are pre-Buddhist. While not defined as nationalist (too politically dangerous), De’ang and Zhuang religious ideolo- gies perhaps have the potential to become politicised along these incipient natalist lines. Understanding precisely how the female Zhuang ritual specialists used conversations with the dead to negotiate, encourage, console and stimulate agnatic solidarities within the kin units is cru- cial. Some of the dynamics, including during funerals, appear to resemble the kinds of dialogues that Vitebsky (1993) has described for the Sora of India. In that case, however, Christianisation has put most traditional spirit mediators, also predominantly women, out of business. Christian missionaries have thus cut any incipient natalismenationalism umbilical cords. The most blatant of the natalistenationalist projects described here is that of the Dakwah movement of Malaysia. It is no accident that the place where women are least likely to be religious leaders is where religious authorities most emphasise women’s significance as mothers. Mouser highlights the ‘retraditionalisation and increased Islamisation of Malay identity’. While the

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government has championed Dakwah pronatal values since 1982, this is channelled bureaucrati- cally through an aptly named Ministry of Women and Family Development. Implicit in the tension between modernisation and retraditionalisation is women’s loss of ability to make use of their Western-style educations. When elite women stay home to produce male leaders and soldiers for the country, then the voices of women in the ministries that most influence their lives become muted. This unbalanced and changing equation is critical to understanding in- ternal social conflicts over reform throughout the Muslim world. Women’s education was at the heart of the Tatars’ Jadid reform movement of the early twentieth century and is dominant in cur- rent debates about ‘Euro-Islam’ and ‘neo-Jadidism’ (see also Khalid, 1998). Here Mouser’s work can be compared productively with that of Mahmood (2001, 2004) on Egyptian Muslim women, including female conservatives, as well as with that of Siapno (2002) on the Muslims of Indonesia (Aceh).

‘Folk’ and ‘world’ religions

In sum, the greatest contribution these articles provide is insight into the ways in which streams of folk religion mingle into mainstream religions, especially into Islam, Buddhism and Taoism. Tensions between the old and the new seem to ebb and flow in each case. The river metaphor only takes us so far, however, since striking continuities of traditions, against many odds, are also found in these cases. In the Dakwah case active retraditionalism is advocated, but of course one can never step into the same stream twice. In the Zhuang and De’ang cases minority ‘self-governing’ villagers have been able to preserve some of their more egalitarian gender values in the face of decidedly hierarchical Han bureaucrats, starting with infusions of Buddhist and Taoist counter-ideologies and moving to Communist ones. This plays out in kinship relationships and interethnic tensions. It is projected onto sym- bolic, cosmological levels (see Durkheim, 1965; Duara, 1996). Particularly poignant is the ‘special- ized’ Zhuang spirit ‘the Flower Matron’, who seems to have had an ideological sex change operation and a social status upgrade, becoming in Han Chinese terminology a ‘Flower King’. I am impressed by the power of ‘new’ religions, or more precisely ‘variant’ religions, to build on yet adapt the forms, messages and symbols of older ones, whether Dakwah of Islam, or De’ang variations of Dai variations of Theravada Buddhism, itself a variation. Women and men find their own ways to be Muslim or Buddhist. Interviews with them illuminate processes of change. Non- judgmental understandings of sectation follow, rather than hasty conclusions about ‘cults’ and cultification. Our definitions of ‘world’ religions can expand in the process, although keepers of ‘fundamentalist’ canon may balk. Debates about variant practices and beliefs should enable deeper thinking about what makes some religions ‘world’ and others ‘local’. Is the crucial dierence missionary activity, dierential canons, literacy, aggression, or various combinations of these? Focus on specific power relations over time enables the concepts of ‘tradition’ and ‘great tradition’ to become matters for query and specificity. Precisely by using the lens of gender relationships, core values are revealed within changing re- ligious ideologies. The sometimes chafing ways these ideologies play out in actual human lives are illustrated here, as women ‘negotiate’ change and also live with constraints. We learn not only

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what is negotiable or reformable, but also where and how conservatives, including female conser- vatives, prevail (see Bacchetta and Power, 2002; Grith, 2001). Old debates that helped jump-start gender studies, concerning mythic matriarchies, mother goddesses, ‘third sex’ phenomena, or domestic/public gender divisions have been superseded in favour of cultural complexity (see Mead, 1950; Leonardo, 1991; Ortner, 1996; Ramet, 1996; Lang, 1998). No longer can we generalise about women as relatively more ‘natural’ (read emo- tional) and men more ‘cultural’ (read logical) when we see diverse streams of customary and religious law come out of specific relationships between men and women. The famous Muslim dis- tinction between adat [customary law] and shar’ia [in Malaysia Syaria, law from the Koran] is mir- rored in many other cultural histories permeated with fundamentalist scriptures. Comparing these ‘traditions’ helps us realise that these distinctions derive more from the political hegemonies of particular groups than from the purity of particular sacred texts. Winners (often men) write his- tory, sometimes in stone, but anthropologists search for the cacophony of diverse, especially less privileged voices (often women) (see Commaroand Commaro, 1992, 2004). ‘Karma’ can in- deed be culturally contextualised, as one of Crane’s nuns perceptively acknowledged. I close with an experiment combining Peirce’s (1960) progressively abstract categories of index, icon and symbol with Susan Sered’s useful distinction between women as agents and Woman as symbol. Asian (Malay) women become indexes of well being when they are wealthy enough to stay home and to breed, in the name of the Muslim Dakwah movement. De’ang women, along with the Dai and some other Theravada Buddhist women in Southwest China, treat their Goddess of Grain as an icon of fertility and as a marker of a time when they had greater ritual power. Images of Buddha have yet to eclipse symbols of the Goddess, whose key role in feeding the peo- ple is ritually acknowledged in De’ang religious practice. Female and male monks of Buddhist monasteries in Taiwan, removed from the tumult of society, become at once agents and symbols of Buddhist (Mahayana) striving for spiritual perfection and transcendence. A ‘heroic man’, sym- bolised by a ‘retractable penis’, becomes the ideal. Women resist, conform and negotiate their way through the cultural values that have alternately placed them on pedestals and brought them down to earth. In the process women are crucial cultural mediators when they are literally spirit mediums and when they metaphorically stand at the juncture of religion and gender.

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Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer is Research Professor at Georgetown University in the Department of Sociology and An- thropology and the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES). A social and cultural anthro- pologist, she is editor of the journal Anthropology and Archaeology of Eurasia. In 1976, while on the ocial USeUSSR cultural exchange, she was one of the first Americans allowed into Siberia since the 1917 revolution. After many sub- sequent trips, she helped organise exchanges of Native American and Native Siberian leaders in the 1990s. She is the author of The Tenacity of Ethnicity: A Siberian Saga in Global Perspective (Princeton University Press, 1999) and the editor of Shamanic Worlds: Rituals and Lore of Siberia and Central Asia (Sharpe, 1997). Her current work focuses on gender, religion and nationalism.