Feminist Politics and role religion in Public Sphere

In the preface to ‘Beyond Accommodation’Drucella Cornell[1] claims feminism to be nothing but a dream. She does so within the context of intersection between religion and the existence of feminism in the public sphere. Similarly, Margaret Davies’s anti-manifesto namely ‘Law and Religion in Public Life’[2], discusses the intersection between women’s rights, law, religion and their existence in the public domain.

Rather than stating what is right and what is not, Davies merely tries to engage the reader with such questions without providing a policy prescription as to what must be the next step and what should not. When complimented by Cornell’s piece, these readings bring to light the idea of feminist discourse being limited to the private sphere and centering around it. It evokes thought provoking ideas and open-ended questions with respect to the disregard of intersectionality through such centralization within the minds of the readers. 

Modernization in the current world may try to shift our superstitious and religious beliefs to tangible and rational ones. However, as stated by Davies, such beliefs are ingrained in the minds of people and is simply ‘cloaked’ by the outward progressive mindset we believe to have. Unless we, the children of modernity, come to terms with this rather than dismissing the implications of such religious beliefs have on feminism, Cornell’s feminist dream will never be achieved[3]. As rightly pointed out by Davies, women are the real victims of religion. At every juncture of life, women are expected to uphold the patriarchal structures within religious texts while being discriminated against and oppressed. However, this must not lead to a complete disregard of religious beliefs as even in the modern world, numerous feminists do not wish to abandon their faith and religion. They use a tolerant language within the movement to be abundantly intolerant towards the critique of religion. Being dismissive of their religious beliefs would mean questioning their religiosity and failing them. Therefore, doing away with patriarchal religious beliefs and amending the religious texts in a manner that interpretation of the same puts everyone on an equal footing should the primary focus for now. Therefore, Davies reinforces Cornell’s idea of feminism that is to be achieved, just as an Identitarian movement. She reinstates that feminism as a movement can help us introspect and re-evaluate our stance. Therefore, rather than focusing on complete dismissal of religion, this aspect must be recognized and acted upon accordingly.[4]

In the public discourse, a tolerant language is used as a veil to hide the religious beliefs of the people. People hide their real intentions and beliefs behind this veil of secularism. As claimed by Wendy Brown, a complete exclusion of religious beliefs does not change the mindset people hold. A formal acceptance of secularism through constitutional texts help hide the real issue. It silences the dissidents who are unwilling to give up their religious beliefs while continuing to engage and participate in the feminist movement. Therefore, if law does not engage with religion, it will be disregarding the choice of dissidents. This gives rise to Davies’s probability of religion not being the only rhetoric encouraging intolerance and dogmatism.[5]

Even when the state takes a tolerant and a secular position to dissolve conflicts, it is simply a ‘cloak’ to hide the religious basis of it.  This veil is used to completely disregard the fact that religion plays a massive role and has immense influence on the lives of the people. Without acknowledging the scope of it, and using it as a tool, Cornell’s feminist dream is nowhere close to being achieved. Within religious structures, a hierarchy exists with men having the most influential positioning within the structure, while religious texts like Manusmriti are misogynistic to the extent that they treat women as a possession who are to be owned and protected.[6] Therefore, reforms within the religion cannot be made unless women have climbed up this hierarchy to bring about change. Moreover, Davies states “Privatization or segregation of religion may in other words compartmentalize religions and reinforce the power exercised by religious leaders against dissidents, critics and reinterpreters, including feminists and other subversives of course, who are relegated by secularism to a position exclusively within a faith group.” Therefore, rather than being compartmentalized to the private sphere, this issue needs to be acknowledged and recognized within the public discourse so as to gain support and make reforms in such patriarchal structures[7].

I believe, engagement with religion in both the private and the public sphere will help fight these patriarchal ideas through reforms in such religious structures and their texts. As Davies reiterates, viewing a society through a feminist lens where religion exists in the public sphere would be advantageous for the society’s progress towards being tolerant of diverse and disingenuous religious speech. 

[1]  Drucella Cornell, ‘Beyond Accommodation’ [1991].

[2] Margaret Davies, ‘Law and Religion in Public Life’ [2011].

[3] Drucella Cornell, ‘Beyond Accommodation’ [1991].

[4] Margaret Davies, ‘Law and Religion in Public Life’ [2011].

[5] Margaret Davies, ‘Law and Religion in Public Life’ [2011].

[6] Pundita Sarasvati, ‘The High-Caste Hindu Woman’ [n.d.] < https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ramabai/woman/woman.html> accessed 1 July 2021.

[7] Margaret Davies, ‘Law and Religion in Public Life’ [2011].

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.


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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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