Women and the Maintenance, Growth and Renewal of Religious Communities

Internationales Symposium, Thursday 6th - Friday 7th June 2013


Religionswissenschaftliches Seminar
Sigi Feigel-Gastprofessur für Jüdische Studien (link)


Prof. Dr. Tamar El Or
Prof. Dr. Dorothea Lüddeckens

Conference venue

Universität Zürich
Theologische Fakultät
Kirchgasse 9
8001 Zürich
Room 200
Site map

Conference language

Englisch (German)


Current scholarship tends to agree that the reach of secularization was overestimated. Decrease in religious practices and belief, as well as the declining influence of religious communities, are indeed crucial processes in contemporary societies. However, they do not enjoy dominance or exclusivity, nor are they linear “progressive” trends.

Parallel to these processes, and in close relation to them, the impact of religion is growing. In certain communities, cultures and states, different religious powers are more influential, while an increasing number of individuals throughout the world search for religious experiences and themselves become committed believers.

Most religions endorse some sort of demarcation between men and women. They allocate and legitimize power on the basis of sex and gender; they police the female body and its sexuality, controlling access to religious knowledge and leadership via this binary opposition. Nonetheless, women play a major role in the maintenance, growth and renewal of religious communities, seeing themselves as true believers.

Over the last 30 years, a rich body of research in the social sciences and gender studies has sprung up in relation to this “paradox” . Its “undoing” was a socio-political endeavor as well as an analytic challenge. Our conference intends to build on this research, while addressing several new issues such as: What makes women more subjected to religious authority? What kinds of socio-political conditions lead them to engage in religious practice? Why are they on the forefront of trends of “returning” to religiosity? What turns them into active individuals within religious communities, and what religious communities are growing as a result of women’s commitment?

Women can contribute to the growth of religious communities on various levels. They often create new networks or organizations in order to pursue a shared interests such as healing, religious ritual, or improving the status of women and their children. These developments can result in certain re-interpretations of traditional meanings ascribed to religious actions or symbols by the patriarchy.

Such re-interpretations enlarge the scope of the meaning systems of a certain community, thus attracting and make room for new devotees.

This conference will attempt to go beyond the contributions of women to the growth of religious communities in terms of membership by describing and investigating the expansion of orthodox doctrines through practical critique, fresh interpretations, alternate performances of piety and rituals, and alternative lexicon of faith – to name just a few.