Sexism in religious institutions
Topic: Site of choice (Hindu Temple): sexism in religious institutions (churches, mosques, temples, etc.), and overall religion. Focus on Hindusim primarily, but feel free to explore this topic in other religions to draw parallels.
Analyze the site of your choice. Methods may include participant observation and others that go beyond library research. The paper should be 8-10 pages of text for undergraduates
Here is what I have so far that you can work off and make better:
Segregation at a Swaminarayan Hindu Temple
Growing up as a Hindu in Chester, Virginia, Hindu Temples were very scarce. I wasn’t as fortunate as a lot of my Christian friends who were able to go to their local church every Sunday for prayer. In Hinduism, just like many other faiths, there are multiple sects. One of those sects is called Swaminarayan. There is a Swaminarayan temple fifteen minutes from my house, so my family and I went there to pray because its close proximity, even though we aren’t Swaminarayan. I remember going there when I was younger and noticing extreme segregation between sexes, something I was never used to in Hindu temples. I decided to visit the Swaminarayan temple again to refresh my memories about the sexism I experienced and observed when I was younger.
I walked into the temple with my family and as soon as I enter there is a man delegating men and women to their appropriate closets to take off shoes. Men and women were not allowed to place their shoes and/or belongings together in the same closet. After taking off my shoes, my family and I filed into a large prayer room where men sit in the front where the priest and gods are, and women sit in the back farther from the gods and deities. I observed that every man had a chair to sit on, while only elderly women received a chair in the back. I thought to myself that this clear hierarchy in a place of worship implies that men’s relationship to god is more valued than a woman’s. I asked my friend, who frequently attends the temple, why women have to be subjected to the seats in the back of the room. She explained to me that there are two reasons for this: menstruation and priest celibacy. Hindu priests are supposed to be celibate their whole life, so if women were to sit in front of the priests it would cause them to get distracted. Women cannot have the same connection with God as men because of a priest’s inability to stay focused on preaching with a woman in his vision. If priests cannot look at a woman without thinking sexually, then should he really be preaching to people about how to be more holy and godly?
When the religious ceremonies began, men were allowed to perform them first, and then women proceed. In Hinduism milk is required to perform many religious ceremonies. After all the men finished performing the ceremony, the milk had run out, so all of the women had no other choice but to use water. I was outraged that the women, especially the very religious ones, did not find this unjust. Keeping ceremonies traditional is really important in Hinduism. If customs and traditions are changed, like replacing milk with water in a religious ceremony, it is considered bad luck and karma. After the ceremony, men were invited into the cafeteria to eat first. After they got their food, they left the cafeteria to a separate dining area. After all the men have gotten their food, women proceeded to the cafeteria. The other women and I got our food and went to the dining area to sit, but we found that many men were still seated eating. There was not enough room for all of us, so many of the younger women sat on the ground so that the older women could sit at the table. Women were being treated like second class citizens, in a space where everyone is supposed to be equal under God.
The clear inequalities I witnessed at the temple made me rest uneasy. I have always hated how culture interferes with religion. Hinduism does not preach sexism. There are Gods as well as Goddesses. One of the most important deities is a goddess named Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and purity. Another example of how women are equal to men in Hinduism is that Hindu women get equal share in the ancestral property as her brothers. And most importantly the main deity, Lord Shiva, is depicted as half male and half female. I have always valued and took pride in how Hinduism does not glorify God as man, like most other religions.
It is so frustrating to me that a religion that promotes equality between men and women, is not reciprocated into the culture, in particular Indian culture. I became curious as to why there is a stark difference between Hindu religion and Indian culture, so I did some research to find out, and was appalled at my findings. Internal conflicts and foreign invaders were the two big reasons why Hindu women’s status and equality dwindled away over time. Back when India was frequently invaded, foreign invaders would use rape as a weapon against Hindus, so it became impossible for women to leave the house. This threat of rape from invaders resulted in restrictions against Hindu women. After these restrictions were enforced, it became normalized for women to be care-givers and homemakers. Women were deprived their freedoms because of the threat of rape, and now they are just gaining their freedoms back and becoming dominant forces in the political, social, and economic world. Men, in many cultures, but in particular Indian culture, are so used to seeing women being inferior that they believe it is true. When a culture actively puts men before women in every aspect, socially, politically, economically, then men develop a mentality of superiority. This mentality results in women experiencing sexism in the workplace, school, and even the holiest of places: the temple.
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