University of Calgary

Morny Joy to lecture on women and religion

UToday HomeJanuary 30, 2013

By Heath McCoy

Religious Studies professor Morny Joy (second from left) has lectured on religion and the rights of women in such countries as Malaysia and Indonesia. This photo was taken at Joy’s lecture at the University of Brawijaya in Malang, Indonesia.Religious Studies professor Morny Joy (second from left) has lectured on religion and the rights of women in such countries as Malaysia and Indonesia. This photo was taken at Joy’s lecture at the University of Brawijaya in Malang, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Morny Joy It will surprise no one that both eastern and western women of moderate to liberal religious orientations have often had to fight for their rights.

But, as Religious Studies professor Morny Joy points out, many women still face considerable obstacles from forces both inside and outside their religions when they endeavor to seek their rights, particularly in areas such as reproduction and violence against women.

Joy will be addressing this topic at a noon lecture on Feb. 8, as part of an Eyes High on Research lecture series sponsored by the Advisor to the President on Women’s Issues.

“In our society we have seen fit to separate religion from politics,” says Joy, “We have the secular world, which is public, and religion, which is considered private. And we believe that each should stay in their own domain.”

This has led to many abuses being perpetrated within that private religious domain, adds Joy, which until recently had not always been dealt with by criminal courts in the public domain.

Joy sites specific cases where the rights of religious women have come under attack. These include a coalition of fundamentalist religions at the UN, which, following the 1995 Women’s World Conference in Beijing “were basically filibustering any debate that came up about violence against women.”

Then there are secular scholars such as Susan Moller Okin – who argues that religion is inherently conservative and therefore no quarter should be given to minorities within the religions. University of Chicago law professor Martha Nussbaum begs to differ in her latest book The New Religious Intolerance.

At the same time, there are officials of various religions who insist that women are betraying their tradition and culture by seeking to change the system by demanding their rights.

Certain postcolonial scholars also criticize rights by asserting that the very notion of equal rights for women “is a modernist importation of western ideals, which falsely lumps women of all cultures under one universal category,” says Joy.

Critical theorists such as Judith Butler and Wendy Brown have pointed out that such criticisms gained momentum with the U.S. deployment of women’s rights as propaganda in the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts.

“There’s a lot of suspicion of human rights from various corners,” says Joy.

“We need to understand how rights can be constructed for women and how that can interact with religion. I’m arguing that rights and religions don’t necessarily need to be positioned in a strict binary opposition.”

For more information and to register on these public lectures, visit Eyes High on Research – Winter 2013.