Tag Archives: religion

Link Wednesday 6: Mucho Feminism…and Some Sexuality, Too

This Link Wednesday, admittedly doesn’t have a lot of feminism, but it does comprise the majority of the links. Here we go.

1. “An Update on the Gay Debate: evolving ideas, untidy stories, and hopes for the church

Julie Rodgers
Julie Rodgers
Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan
Julie Rodgers was a “Ministry Associate for Spiritual Care” at Wheaton College until she resigned yesterday. She is a celibate gay Christian whose shift in view on same-sex marriage seems to have been the reason for her resignation. If you are not used to reading gay Christian perspectives, check out her blog. Another gay Christian voice to check out is Matt Vines at The Reformation Project.

In other religio-sexual news, Reza Aslan encouraged his fellow American Muslims to fight for marginalized groups like the LGBT community in a public letter after the SCOTUS decision. In case you weren’t aware, 42% of American Muslims support same-sex marriage (21+21). Maybe you weren’t surprised by the figure. I was. It helps to look at data.

2. “Media Literacy 101

Here are the four takeaway questions quoted (except for the “And”) from the transcript:

  1. What is the content of this product? As in, what am I looking at here?
  2. Is it really selling what it’s advertising? Like, if you have a woman in a bikini in your commercial, it better be for swim wear and not for, ya know, hamburgers.
  3. Who made this?…
  4. Why do they want me to consume it? That is, which demographics benefit from me internalizing this message and which demographics are hindered by it?

My wife and I discussed this while we walked by Victoria’s Secret in the mall. She wondered why the store would have an image of a woman with no top, covering only her nipple (probably through Photoshop or a nude suit) when what it was selling was a bracelet. I speculated that marketing experts project that it will have a significant impact on the tastes of women’s significant others to push to buy that product so that their women can exude the image shown: free-spirited, virile, trophy, etc. But then I thought about it today, and realized that women (or men if they want the bracelet) don’t need other agents encouraging them to exude free-spirited, virile, trophy images; they have agency of their own.

3. “Is secularism still Christian?

This article talks about the origins of Western secularism. I modify it because not all secularisms are the same. Turkish secularism, for example, looks different from American secularism because of the different histories of the peoples. Even in the West, secularism in the United States differs from that in the United Kingdom which differs from that in France. For more elaboration on the various secularisms, see the interview with Tariq Modood at The Religious Studies Project.

4. “How the Justice System Hurts Survivors Through the ‘Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline‘” and “How ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Misrepresents Women’s Federal Prison (And Why It Matters)

Orange Is the New Black
Orange Is the New Black
These two articles discuss how women entering prisons are primarily non-violent drug offenders. The feministing article highlights that the major contribution to drug use/penalization occurs among sex-abuse victims. The everydayfeminism article highlights that while men’s prisons still have far more prisoners population-wise, women’s prisons are growing at double the rate of men’s: growth in prisons in general are fueled by the failed War on Drugs.

5. “An Explanation for Why It’s Not Just Men Who Pressure Women Into Feminine Norms

Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Celia Edell applies Foucault’s reading of Bentham to explain that patriarchal norms for femininity come from many directions (men, other women), including from the self. Gender expression is a show for everyone and no one. This was an article that gave me a check regarding my thoughts on the Victoria’s Secret ad.

6. “The Coming Gay Rights Letdown” (The Daily Beast)

While happenings in one place aren’t guaranteed to replicate in another, a Canadian LGBT activist warned American LGBT activists that marriage equality brings apathy among the public. It reminds me of the unfortunately failed Equal Rights Amendment. Women in the United States gained suffrage in 1920, gained lots of momentum in the 1960s and 1970s through second-wave feminism, but the culture at large seems not to have given that Amendment as much weight as they.

7. I’m going to wait on #PlannedParenthood. The story is still developing. Color me cautious (I guess you can color me cowardly if you want; I just think big stories need more development).

Because of Caitlyn Jenner in the news last month, I thought it worthwhile to cover a less well known group. Intersex persons are the little known group in the longer LGBTQIA acronym. Political recognition of them at times overlap with transgender persons, hence the upcoming post, “The Politics of Intersex.”


My Weird Views on “Religion,” Part 4: Institution

(Religion in Bruce Lincoln:

  • Discourse
  • Practice
  • Community
  • Institution)

4. Institution

Bruce Lincoln
Bruce Lincoln

According to Bruce Lincoln, religion as institution indicates regulation of communities, practices, and discourses. It reproduces these three elements over time, and manipulates them as needs arise but presents them as eternal and transcendent.

In sociological terms, religious institutions are churches. Emile Durkheim collapses (or rather, Lincoln expands on Durkheim) what Lincoln calls “community” and “institution” into “Church,” a group that has unified beliefs and practices. While the Catholic Church has official documents, regulation, and governmental structure that is ostensibly the same everywhere, it doesn’t take a social scientist to understand that Polish Catholics differ from Bolivian Catholics who differ from Ugandan Catholics. So we don’t get mixed up, the “Catholic Church” would be the institution, and Polish Catholicism (and breaking down into smaller divisions) would be a community. It’s like the difference between federal and state government in the United States: they both set norms, but one is more specific (community=state) and one extends further (institution=federal). But church understood as a sociological term is not the sole domain of Christianity. There would be the Muslim church, the Buddhist church, etc.

Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

Institutions differ from communities in that they are larger and broader in scope. They are larger in that they contain communities. They are broader in scope because they regulate communities. The relationship between communities and institutions (and persons?) might seem more stable than it is. As Lincoln discusses in Discourse and the Construction of Society, the ties that bind communities and institutions together are not natural; they can be made, reformed, renegotiated, or dissolved.

Pierre Bourdieu offers some insight into institutions in his concepts of doxa, heresy, orthodoxy, and habitus. Doxa, according to Bourdieu, represents what is held by a society but at an unconscious level. These are norms that are actually arbitrary, but seem natural or <abbr title=”this word is funny; I think one of my favorite quotes is ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident…’ since it wasn’t self-evident until they articulated it; it definitely hadn’t been self-evident for centuries”>self-evident.

Pierre Bourdieu (Getty/BBC)
Pierre Bourdieu (Getty/BBC)

When someone articulates doxa, and then challenges it, Bourdieu calls this heresy. The process attempting (and at times succeeding) to reinstate the doxa he calls orthodoxy. Orthodoxy and heresy have a reciprocal relationship. There is not one without the other. Once doxa has been questioned, thereafter there is only orthodoxy and heresy; societies can never go back to “the way things were before.” (Some of this seems a rehash of how Emile Durkheim explained religion but in reverse. For him, societies would arbitrarily separate certain beliefs and practices from everyday life, understand those separated elements as ‘sacred,’ leaving the leftover things in life as ‘profane’)

Before this (at least in his Outline of a Theory of Practice), Bourdieu speaks of habitus. From this, I take Bourdieu to mean that every social marker contains certain normalizing structures that enable them to exhibit heavy influence on personal and social lenses of reality. These structures are both regulative and generative, meaning they inspire new behavior in the future: compliance or dissent. The structures also operate largely in the background of society though not always. Similar to Foucault, no one person pulls all the strings, but in a web, multiple actors are defining, forcing, negotiating, or negating social markers. Habitus is a web of actors contributing constantly to the structure, both changing it and being changed by it. So while rulers are influential actors in a web of actors, they are not the only thing exerting power.

Why do I employ Bourdieu’s concept of habitus—something largely unconscious and not the under the sole control of any one group or person—when I also present religious institutions as quite conscious of what they are doing? I’m not sure yet. I’m still mulling that one over. It may be that habitus includes institutions under its umbrella much the same as institutions include communities under its umbrella.

Chief Justice John Roberts
Chief Justice John Roberts

Recently, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to wonder (“Just who do we think we are?”) that the Court could change what had ostensibly been an unchanged institution throughout time and across cultures. Take a class on history or anthropology and you might wonder at his wonderment. Yes, institutions are relatively stable; that’s what makes them institutions and not movements. But they do not remain the same over time or across cultures. The variety of actors entering and exiting the institution leave their mark.

Became God (and took whiteness upon himself soon afterwards) in 325 CE
Became God (and took whiteness upon himself soon afterwards) in 325 CE

Jesus wasn’t officially (=institutionally) God until actors defined him as such at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Let’s return to doxa, heresy, and orthodoxy. Probably the majority of Christian communities up until that council believed that Jesus was God until Arius of Alexandria proposed that “There was a time when the Son was not.” Since it ruffled enough feathers (and it helped that an emperor had taken special interest in Christianity), church leaders met, and simultaneously defined Arius a heretic and the doctrine of the trinity as orthodoxy. This is a ridiculous simplification of those events, but many church institutions that derive from those events don’t stop and consider Jesus’ divinity or lack thereof. For the vast majority of Christian communities, Jesus is God and it’s not up for debate. That is the power of institutions.

Institutions also have material concerns in addition to their prescriptive work on belief and behavior. Issues of education, employment, and state and community relations come to mind. Institutions of religion can differ markedly from individuals in a religion. Institutions provide accreditation to their imams/priests/ministers/etc., come up with architectural and sartorial expression, parlay with governments, and define what the believers are to believe to belong to their group. If you want to see a difference between institutions and individual believers, compare some Christian institutions’ worries that their tax-exempt status might be lost due to the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage with a single dad baking a pie for his sick neighbor out of love duty to him. Institutions and individuals differ in that they belong to the same group, but have different concerns.


Russell McCutcheon
Russell McCutcheon

I feel like this last post in my series on religion is kind of weak. I’m am still in the process of working out my thoughts on religion. Maybe I shouldn’t feel bad. There are authors who write in prefaces to their books that that book is the product of ten years of reflection; I have only been thinking about theories of religion for around a year. I also admit that my theory of religion is heavily tied to Christianity. Russell McCutcheon brings up that point in his intro to religion book, Studying Religion: An Introduction, in his chapter on resemblances between

Talal Asad
Talal Asad

religions. If a religion besides Christianity doesn’t fit my template for religion, is it then a religion? He cites Talal Asad in saying that a definition of religion that privileges certain aspects while ignoring (overlooks even?) others stigmatizes what it ignores (61-63). But I think it’s a good starting place for me. The little I’ve delved into Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism seems to bear the mark of Lincoln’s categories.


A Change for This Link Wednesday

I had said in last week’s Link Wednesday that I would offer two strong cases each for and against same-sex marriage in light of the upcoming decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. However, I have decided to provide the arguments each side makes in the case. Then I will comment on their relation to religion, if any, as I have been discussing the topic for the past few weeks. Hope to see you on Wednesday.


My Weird Views on “Religion,” Part 3: Community

I have been presenting how I view “religion” for the past two weeks. This is the third of four installments on it. While it can get maybe too theoretical, I have tried to make it like the dentist: touch on the essentials (but not essentialism) but as quickly and painlessly as possible.

3. Community

Religion is at least, though not necessarily reducible to the following, in Lincoln’s thought:

  1. discourse
  2. practice
  3. community
  4. institution

holyterrorsuofcpressRegarding “community,” Lincoln speaks of a group that defines itself upon certain discourses and practices. He really expands on this in another book of his I’ve already mentioned: Discourse and the Construction of Society with his concepts of affinity and estrangement based on social markers.

Part of my piece last week included a conversation with Russell McCutcheon about the use of rationality and persuasion in public “discussion.” He had remarked how public debates weren’t so much about rationality and persuasion (though they may include those) as gaining control of the rules to your side’s benefit (e.g., getting to define what is “fair”). Sometimes this last piece is not conscious on the group’s part. They have processes and modes of authorization that to them are universal, though in reality, they are contingent. It is not beliefs that make a religion but that things are believed. At least.

Russell T. McCutcheon
Russell T. McCutcheon

For a group to form, they must have an identity based on agreed upon markers. Social borders are maintained on what Lincoln calls affinity and estrangement. The former refers to “feelings of likeness, common belonging, mutual attachment, and solidarity” and the latter entails “feelings of distance, separation, otherness, and alienation.” You can probably easily fill in ways in which people set up markers for belonging or exclusion. He lists some, to which I added some more. The first list is his and those that follow are mine. I have tried to include as many real world religious examples of the following categories, but they can really apply to any sector of society. These are by no means exhaustive, as we humans seem boundless in contrasting and distinguishing from among themselves.


  • language
  • space: physical or geographical
  • diet
  • economy
  • marriage
  • customs
  • aesthetics


  • music
  • leisure
  • work ethic
  • access to resources
  • body composition
  • body alteration
  • type of job
  • accent
  • eloquence
  • dis/ability
  • ethnicity
  • sexuality
  • race
  • technological prowess
  • age
  • gender

I contend that group identification depends as much on what you aren’t at least as much (sometimes maybe more so) as what you are. Difference is inevitable, but in defined communities, an othering process sometimes starts, particularly among competing religions. Various strategies are available. Within a tradition, you can try to cast your competitors as not as faithful to the discourse (“original teachings”) as your group is. You can say that times have changed and the other group has not handled the change in a way your group sees as ideal. You can say your group is original and established and the other is aberrant or “heretical.” You can say the other is old and irrelevant while yours has its finger on the pulse of humanity.

Not a Muslim
Not a Muslim

Othering of groups outside your tradition is where things can really get nasty (though Catholic/Protestant wars in Europe weren’t exactly tame). Consider the treatment of Muslims post 9/11. At the time of this Pew article, 24% of the United States public viewed American Muslims increasingly supporting extremism, while only 4% of Muslims agreed; significantly, 48% of Muslim laity said their leaders had not spoken resolutely enough against terrorism.

If you are religious (or not: this is a rather human thing), think who and what you have affinity with and whom and what you estrange or are estranged from. Are those distinctions natural? Are they contrived? How often are they actively said over and over again as if not saying them would make the distinctions evaporate? Consider someone you usually think as quite different from you.

I’ll be honest: when I see a transgender person at Walmart, my bodily reaction is to stare. I do not mean to do this; I am simply not used to seeing transgender persons, and have unfortunately never had a conversation with one. My somewhat legitimate excuse is that my job and family situation limit who I see in any given day. If I step back and think about what differentiates me from a transgender person, I only notice one thing: they do not appear in the way that I would express my gender. However, like me, they are shopping at Walmart. They are purchasing food, games, clothing, medicine, electronics, decorations, office supplies, and diapers. How different does a difference make us? Are they unworthy of dignity and respect? Do they need to be forced toward assimilation? Does their appearance encapsulate their persons?

Groups are fluid. And yet they persist over time. What makes some elements stick around and others slough off? How often are group members included and excluded? How sharp is the inclusion/exclusion? I will be covering this next week in Part 4: Institutions.


Link Wednesday #3: Attack of the Transgenders!

This Link Wednesday is going to be short and sweet. It will be links, very quick intros, and questions.

1. Albert Mohler and the Transgender Attack on Women’s Colleges

Albert Mohler albertmohler.com
Albert Mohler
I’ve introduced Al Mohler here, so I will leave you to read about him there. He introduced a story that detailed how the last of the “Seven Sisters,” Barnard College, had admitted transgender students while still holding to its mission as a women’s only college. Notwithstanding that some of these colleges admit men, Mohler cast the decision as a moment of “conflicting absolutes” between feminism and the “transgender revolution.”


  1. If elements within a movement shift on things are they no longer part of that movement?
  2. Are movements stable enough in the first place to be identified as one thing?
  3. Who gets to speak for a group and who decides? Is it within or outside the group?

2. Elinor Burkett: The Transgenders Are Coming for Your Abortions and Your Sororities!

Laverne Cox Author: Dominick D via Flickr
Laverne Cox

I found out about this article from Mohler. Elinor Burkett is a journalist, author, former professor, and producer. Her recent op-ed entitled “What Makes a Woman” appeared in The New York Times. Apparently a woman consists of a vagina and the ability to have children. Do with that what you will.


  1. Burkett draws a parallel between former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers and then-Bruce Jenner: each said that men and women have different brains, while one was treated with scorn and one with bravery. Does who says something change what is said? If a white supremacist or an African-American rapper say the word “nigger” (and I record it), is it the same thing or not?
  2. Burkett claims that Jenner makes use of feminine stereotypes of appearance and emotionality; does the kind of woman Burkett lauds—liberated, with fuller agency—have room for the classically feminine woman she critiques?
  3. Burkett treats transgender women as a threat to women as a whole. How do you define woman? Is Caitlyn Jenner the same as Laverne Cox or Leslie Feinberg?
  4. Leslie Feinberg
    Leslie Feinberg

  5. Burkett says that Jenner does not get to define women, but then goes about defining women herself. Does Burkett represent women of all classes, politics, religions, races, and ethnicities?
  6. Burkett claims that transgender claims on womanhood trample her dignity as a woman. Did women’s suffrage trample the dignity of male votes? I don’t know how much Burkett would like that her position sounds similar to arguments like legalization of same-sex marriage would trample the dignity of traditional marriage.
  7. Burkett lists universal experiences that Jenner has never experienced, such as forgetting to take the pill. Can you name ONE universal female experience?
  8. Burkett remarks that Jenner has experienced privilege as a man, employing his sponsorship during the 1976 Olympics as an example of how he cannot understand the lack of privilege women experience. Is privilege static? Does the privilege of Bruce Jenner in 1976 match that of the 65 year old Caitlyn?
  9. Burkett is not without her points. Jenner does seem to buy into stereotypes of women as emotional and sex objects. Why did she transition to her current gender expression, and not the butch gender expression of someone like Leslie Feinberg?
  10. Burkett overtly links owning a vagina and working uterus with being a woman. Does having a non-functioning or absent uterus make one less a woman?

As June comes to a close, we will know the result of Obergefell v. Hodges. That case will determine whether or not same-sex marriage is legal. Next Link Wednesday will involve two strong cases each for and against same-sex marriage. As always, I hope for your interaction. If you do not feel comfortable commenting, please email me at ilostmyprayerhanky AT gmail. I truly enjoy conversation (I won’t berate you on differences of opinion) and seeing how people come to their conclusions. I thrive on what can occur when two people are open about where they are coming from and can open new possibilities beyond their current place.