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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sexuality, religion, and spirituality; a study of the role of religion in the oppression of women Kaufman, Howard James Ruben


This thesis is an examination of the relations between sexuality, religion and spirituality. The use of these terms is not conventional, and my introductory chapter is to a large extent concerned with elucidating what I mean by each of them. This unconventionality is itself crucial to the thesis: I am calling into question some of the basic assumptions behind traditional anthropological questions. I am using Burridge's definition of religion from his New Heaven New Earth: The redemptive process indicated by the activities, moral rules, and assumptions about power which, pertinent to the moral order and taken on faith, not only enable a people to perceive the truth of things, hut guarantee that they are indeed perceiving the truth of things (1969:6-7). I examine how religion, insofar as its assumptions about the truth of things are to he taken on faith, is at odds with spirituality, which is the essential quality of a life which is lived to experience the truth for oneself. Religion, which upholds the moral order of society, is static; spirituality is dynamic - it implies change and growth. Sexuality is defined as "... the biological differences between female and male, and the real or assumed psychological differences dependent on these". It is shown that the only such difference is the fact that women are able to bear children, and men are not. There are no innate psychological differences between the sexes. However, people are differently socialized on the basis of the one biological difference mentioned above, so that the social personalities of women and men may, on the average, be different. My understanding of the causes of this difference in socialization rests on Simone de Beauvoir's approach to the problem in The Second Sex. Cultural assumptions about what it means to be female or male are discussed as being oppressive to spirituality. Insofar as the religion of a culture is its rationale, religion is focused on here as the arena where the sexual division of society takes place. Cultural definitions of sexuality are seen as the major cultural obstacle to spiritual growth. The particular religions examined are 1) those of the Australian Aborigines and the BaMbuti Pygmies; 2) that of Hindu civilization as manifested in the Kama Sutra ( I explain why I feel it is legitimate to consider the Kama Sutra a religious work); and 3) Buddhism. I discuss how anthropologists avoid questioning the morality of sexual oppression, and why they are concerned only with examining its effects upon the members of society. My basic conclusion is that all definitions of sexuality which attribute more to females and males than the fact that the former can bear children while the latter cannot are sexist: they are akin to religion and inimical to spirituality.

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