Study Questions: Chapter 11
1. Why do the Hutterites have the youngest median age of any religion in Canada and why have their numbers have increased? What role does their gendered division of labour play in these statistics?
Answer: The Hutterites’ high fertility rate is attributed to several sociological factors, including the following:
- cultural/religious norms opposing contraception
- farming as the main industry, requiring a large population of strong, young farmhands
- the practice of communal living, which ensures that childcare, a shared responsibility, is always available.
We must also consider that it is when young people are aged 19–25 that they must decide whether or not to become baptized as full members of the community, a decision that involves a very critical testing of the individual. Young adults in their mid-twenties electing to leave the fold could keep the median age down. (p. 296)
2. What are the similarities between the experiences of the British children sent to Australia and the First Nations children sent to residential schools in Canada?
Answer: In looking at the treatment of British and Irish orphans and North American Aboriginal children, we can see several common themes that characterize this discontinuity between religion and family:
- the marginalized (in terms of “race,” class, and sexual behaviour) backgrounds of the families from which the children were taken
- the statistically deviant choice made by religious workers such as missionaries, priests, and nuns to opt for “religious life” over “normal” family life in their own society
- the strict hierarchical nature of religion operating in institutions such as religious orders, residential schools, and church-run orphanages
- the strict codes of discipline that are associated with religious-based institutions
- the ease with which religious concepts such as “sin” can be associated with negative judgement and used to justify harsh punishment. (p. 295)
3. What is the significance of the following statement? “Christianity—in fact, all Abrahamic religions (including Islam and Judaism)—has much to answer for from a feminist perspective.”
Answer: Organized world religions are generally characterized by patriarchal power structures. Women tend to have subordinate roles that marginalize their participation. During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and early 1970s, women in North America and western Europe became increasingly critical of Christianity and Christian practices. They viewed Christianity’s embedded patriarchy as an influential cultural factor in the reproduction of gender inequality. Consider, they said, just a few examples from the Bible:
- “Man” was created in God’s image, while “woman” was created from spare parts (a rib, we are told) to be his companion. (Male and female humans have the same number of ribs.)
- The first woman, Eve, is blamed for having all humans banished from the paradise Eden after she succumbed to temptation by eating an apple supplied to her by the devil.
- The most memorable female characters in the Bible are associated with sin and destruction; among them are Mary Magdalene, who is customarily identified as a prostitute; Delilah, who brought about Samson’s downfall; and Jezebel, who was denounced for introducing the worship of rival gods into Israel, and whose name is synonymous with immorality.
Add to these points the Christian tradition of a wife’s obedience, subservience, and even belonging to her husband, and you have some powerful examples that inform, transmit, and reproduce patriarchal structures of inequality, including androcentrism (from andro meaning “man”) and sexism. This same patriarchal inequality is blamed for numerous instances of women’s oppression in society, from the denial of voting privileges and work opportunities to sexual objectification and male violence. (pp. 296–297)
4. What are some of the differences in how jihad has been portrayed to western audiences and how it is actually practised by Muslims?
Answer: Western audiences tend to believe that jihad means “holy war.” Yet in the Qu’ran, you will find the Arabic word translated as “struggle, striving, endeavour.” For Muslims, some practical examples of jihad include the following:
- donating money to a charity rather than spending it on yourself
- studying for an exam rather than watching television
- working hard at a job you don’t like because your family needs the money
- avoiding temptation in all forms (similar to the Christian avoidance of the seven deadly sins). (p. 303)
5. What is sacred and what is profane?
Answer: Durkheim distinguished between experiences, acts, and objects that are sacred and those that are profane. Sacred objects and acts are set apart from more ordinary (profane) ones as being positively regarded, holy, and therefore deserving of reverence or respect. Sacred objects include prayer beads, crosses, flags, and items in the medicine bundle of an Aboriginal shaman; sacred acts include prayer and keeping kosher. But Durkheim used the term sacred also for those objects and acts that are forbidden or taboo. Durkheim argued that objects were not sacred by nature, but acquired the status of “sacred” as they were either set apart or forbidden by social groups. (p. 289)