Women in Religious Leadership: A New Framework

Women in Religious Leadership: A New Framework

Leemamol Mathew (Bangalore University, India) and H. S. Ashok (Bangalore University, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch019


The chapter proposes a framework to understand women religious leaders. This operates on two axes: The first axis is that of power where the extremes are 1) Weberian idea of power as authority and 2) power as radical source. While power as authority views it individualistically reinforces patriarchy, power as radical source views it systemically and aims to reverse the power relations in the society. The second axis used in this chapter is that of societal change. In the societal change axis, the extremes are prophetic leaders and institutionalist leaders. While institutionalist leaders focus on reform of the religious structures, prophetic leaders act as the conscience keepers against any injustice in religion. These two axes give us four types of religious women leaders: traditional prophetic (TP), traditional institutional (TI), radical prophetic (RP), and radical institutional (RI). Mother Teresa, Matha Amruthandamaye, Marie Dentiere, and Jamida Beevi are few women leaders of religion the authors explore in this chapter to explain this framework.
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The Concept Of ‘Power’

Power is a much contested concept among philosophers, politicians, and social scientists. Conceptualization of power depends primarily on its context of power relations (Lukes, 1986, 2005). Many scholars accept the classic formulation given by Max Weber. Primarily, Weberian conception of power is considered in this chapter. For Weber, power is “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance…”(1978, 53). Weber assumed that people comply with the state because the state or authority is seen as good, right, or just. A pure subjective evaluation of domination is involved here. Authority perceived in this manner may be best conceptualized as Power. Traditional, charismatic and legal-rational are three types of legitimate domination given by Weber (1978). These types explain the intricacies of power relations in two ways. On one side, how some people become powerful to exercise power over others, and on the other hand, how people perceive this domination as a regular and natural phenomenon.

Traditional authority is given pivotal emphasis in this chapter while talking about the subordinate positional hierarchy of women. Traditional authority is power that stems from the age-old customs or practices of a society. Even today, the traditional form of authority exists in many societies across the world. Religion may be ahead of anything else to propagate/promote this kind of authority. This authority is never challenged, but accepted by the other individuals. Patriarchy is the primary form of traditional authority. The hierarchical structure, where the oldest male member is the head, of traditional Indian families is one of the many examples of patriarchy. According to Weber, “Patriarchalism is by far the most important type of domination the legitimacy of which rests upon tradition. Patriarchalism means the authority of the father, the husband, the senior of the house, the sib elder over the members of the household and sib; the rule of the master and patron over bondsmen, serfs, freed men; of the lord over the domestic servants and household officials' of the prince over house- and court-officials, nobles of office, clients, vassals; of the patrimonial lord and sovereign prince over the 'subjects.'” (Gerth & Mills, 1958, p. 296). Though Weber did not specify Patriarchy in terms of gender-based domination and subordination, the chapter emphasises patriarchy in this sense.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Radical Leaders: Are those leaders who aim to restructure the power relationship.

Prophetic Leaders: Are leaders who raise their voice against injustices in the religion.

Gender Gap: Is the inequality between male and female in accessing justice and is evident in all spheres of life such as education, employment, property rights, leadership, etc.

Traditionalist Leaders: Are leaders who remain in the patriarchy performing traditional role of women, but emerge as leaders.

Women’s Emancipation: Is the struggle against patriarchal power structure.

Leadership: Is the capacity to influence and bring change in the societal structure.

Institutionalist Leaders: Are leaders who bring new rules for the organizational structure.

Patriarchy: Is a social system where the power lies with a dominant male authority. This may also be defined as a system which has male dominance over female.

Hierarchical Structure: Is a multilayered societal structure where the eldest male member is the head of the social system.

Women Leaders of Religion: Are women leaders who have influenced large groups of people of their respective religion and became a reason for some structural change.

Power: Is the ability to influence the behavior of others.

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