What religion is really troubling

Whether lustful monks or unchaste priests: In the Middle Ages, members of the clergy were repeatedly accused of sexual immorality and perversion. There was more to this than just "sex and crime literature," as historian Dr. Sita Steckel from the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" says. In the Middle Ages, gender polemics were part of a debate in which various religious groups learned to argue about religion. "The initially anecdotal stories turned out to be effective arguments. Everyday violations of the gender order became evidence of the moral inferiority of the opponent." Sita Steckel's contribution "Perversion as an Argument" is one of the topics that the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" will deal with in its public lecture series until February: Under the title "As man and woman he created them", the well-attended series looks at the question, how religions influenced the gender order - from ancient times to today.

"Religious purity is equated with sexual purity, deviant belief equated with licentiousness."

Probably every religion contains norms that affect the order of the sexes, as the historian and spokeswoman for the Cluster of Excellence, Prof. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, who organized the lecture series, explains. The importance of religion for everyday life is hardly anywhere as tangible as in the gender ratio. "The roles of man and woman are anchored in a distant past through mythical narratives, reproduced through ritual practices and perpetuated through church structures," emphasizes the scientist. "Attacks against another religious community often appear as a defamation of their gender norms: religious purity is equated with sexual purity, deviant beliefs with licentiousness." Religious systems of meaning and ecclesiastical institutions therefore make a significant contribution to symbolically charging the gender difference, portraying the respective norms as "natural" and thus protecting a certain gender order against change.

According to the historian, the three world religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam traditionally represent an institutional subordination of women to men. "This has to do with the patriarchal societies from which the religions originate and which are reflected in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran." To this day, it is well known that women are not allowed to become priests or imams. "In this respect, the Catholic Church and Islam preserve a premodern, patriarchal social structure." The fact that the Protestant Church and Judaism no longer exclude women from clerical offices shows "that religious institutions can adapt to the historical change in the gender order. Sacred texts are open to interpretation".

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger rejects today's Islam as “misogynistic”. Many Muslims are not more patriarchal than many conservative Christians. "Such generalities serve not least to assure oneself of one's own progressiveness and moral superiority in the West. The question arises, however, whether this will not also divert attention from persistent injustices between the sexes in this country." According to the historian, beliefs can also help to question the prevailing gender order, "by referring to spiritual equality before God or to individual prophetic inspiration". The return to traditional gender roles is a central concern of today's fundamentalists, said Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger. They see "everything that worries them about modernity" in equality for women. Such pious elect in Christianity, Judaism and Islam often defined themselves through particularly strict gender norms. "They base the identity of their group on the particular sexual purity and chastity of women in particular, in order to distance themselves from the sinful environment."

Current questions of this kind are discussed intensively in the series of events of the Cluster of Excellence, from the role of women in the church and celibacy to headscarves and homosexuality in Islam to feminist awakenings in Judaism. Experts from history, sociology, theology, law, ethnology and literary studies will speak. The Catholic theologian and social ethicist Prof. Marianne Heimbach-Steins sheds light on the provocations that gender relations can represent for church and theology. The Frankfurt rabbi Elisa Klapheck describes the development of women in the rabbinate, from the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, to the present day. Legal scholar Dr. Bijan Fateh-Moghadam using the example of the burqa ban.

Viola van Melis