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Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 01:45:35 -0800 (PST) From: Joseph Afful Subject: Gender and the Language of Religion
EDITOR Julé, Allyson TITLE: Gender and the Language of Religion PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2005
Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language & Literature, National University of Singapore
This edited collection starts with the table of contents, followed by brief notes on the contributors and acknowledgements. Next are two important aspects: foreword and introduction. Fourteen papers (each constituting a chapter) and are spread over three parts: a) Gender, language patterns in religious thought, b) Gender and language use in religious communities and c) Gender and language use in religious identity. At the very end of the book is an index to assist readers in easily locating topics of immediate interest.
The editor of the collection, Allyson Julé, starts with a brief but illuminating introduction, 'Introduction: The Meeting of Gender, Language and Religion'. Allyson Julé offers a concise but persuasive exposition of how gender, language, and religion are inextricably linked. The fourteen papers then follow.
Part 1: Gender, Language Patterns and Religious Thought The first paper in this part, Tekcan's 'An Overview of God and Gender in Religion', (pp.9-24) examines the notion of God in some major world religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The thrust of Tekcan's paper is that these religions differ in the genderization of the supernatural (godhead, deities, etc.). Tekcan argues, for instance, that in Christianity, there is a great measure of masculine centrality with respect to the godhead, whereas the issue of gender is not highlighted in Buddhism as in the first place godhead is unimportant.
Next, in 'The Gender of God: Judeo-Christian Feminist Debates' (pp. 25-40) Francis Britto boldly challenges the notion of God from a feminist perspective. This theme is organized around four issues: the challenge of women scholars in religion; the maleness of the Judeo- Christian God; the feminist challenge to this notion; and, finally, the need for alternatives in discussing God.
Farwaneh's 'Asymmetries of Male/Female Representation in Arabic' (pp. 41-62) discusses linguistic variables such as personal names, titles and address, and terms of reference in Arabic. Her analysis suggests that through linguistic effects such as avoidance, semantic shift, and incongruity, women are rendered invisible and denigrated.
In the last paper in this part, 'American Women: Their Cursing Habits and Religiosity' (pp. 63-84), Timothy Jay shows the tenuous link between the sacred and the profane through a discussion of a common speech act, cursing. He makes a cross-cultural comparison, leading to the observation that women generally curse less than men ostensibly due to religiosity and sexual anxiety. He adds, however, that American women might change in future as the church is now less powerful in censoring speech, including cursing.
Part II: Gender and Language Use in Religious Communities Liao's 'Women and Men: Languages and Religion in Taiwan' (pp. 87- 100), which opens this part, explores the relationship between language choice and usage on the one hand and the main religions practised in Taiwan on the other hand. Two important conclusions are derived from this study. First, language (e.g. Taiwanese and Mandarin languages, English, and Arabic) usage in Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam is influenced by pragmatic considerations. Second, women are noted to frequently participate in church and temples in line with the need to stay connected.
Kniffka's paper, 'Women's Letters to the Editor: Talking Religion in a Saudi Arabian English Newspaper' (pp. 101-132) in turn underscores the culture-specific and religious-specific nature of both the letters women write to editors and the editors' replies. But a more significant point in this study is the use of the media as an avenue through which Islamic women express their views, albeit with modification by male religious editors. The next three papers are located within the Christian community.
Sage Graham's 'A Cyber-Parish: Gendered Identity Construction in an On-Line Episcopal' (pp. 133-150) suggests that Christian women occupy position of greater power in terms of their rate of participation and their ability to shape group identities and expectations in conflict management using an on-line interaction (ChurchList).
In the ethnographic study entitled 'Language Use and Silence as Morality: Teaching and Lecturing at an Evangelical Theology College' (pp. 151-167) Allyson Julé observes that the question-time session after lectures in a theology college alienates female students, thus validating the feminine/masculine verbal behaviour typical of evangelical Christianity. After all, as the paper argues, the choice of lecturing and more importantly how it is used highlight male domination.
In the last paper, 'The Children of God Who Wouldn't, but Had to' (pp. 168-184), Mooney shows how women are sexualized for men (especially, the male religious leader) in a religious community, while men are not.
Part III: Gender and Language Use in Religious Identity The final part of Julé's collection begins with Amy Peebles' paper entitled 'Restoring the Broken Image': The language of Gender and Sexuality in an Ex-Gay Ministry' (pp. 187-202). It investigates how a group of ex-gays in a Christian ministry attempts to transform their sexual identity to conform to their understanding of traditional Christian theology of sexual ethics.
Though the next two papers relate to the Islamic community, they are located in different geographical areas: Britain and America. Fazila Bhimji's '*Assalam u Alaikum*. Brother I have a Right to My Opinion on This: British Islamic Women Assert Their Positions in Virtual Space' (pp. 203-220) examines the discursive practices of Islamic women in Britain an on-line discussion. The analysis offers us a glimpse of women's complex identities: religious, assertive, knowledgeable, and young. Shartriya Collier's 'Inshallah, today there will be work: Senegalese Women Entrepreneurs Constructing Identities through Language Use and Islamic Practice' (pp. 221-239) is more complex in thematic orientation as it explores a nexus of issues such as language, religion, economics, interpersonal relation, and power. Collier argues that while maintaining their Senegalese identity -- Wolof, French, and Arabic -- these immigrant women need to negotiate an American identity through investing in and using English.
The penultimate paper in the collection co-authored by Debra Cohen and Nancy Berkowitz, 'Gender, Hebrew Language Acquisition and Religious Values in Jewish High Schools in North America' (pp. 240- 256) explores the possible gender differences in achievement, motivation, self-efficacy, and general satisfaction within a Hebrew language course as applied to three sub-cultures within the Jewish North American community. Three main conclusions are derived from this study: a) girls are slightly superior in second language learning; b) girls have a more positive attitude towards second language learning; and c) there is a connection between attitudes and achievement.
The final paper by Kalyani Shabadi 'Speaking Our Gendered Selves: Hinduism and the Indian Women' (pp. 257-269) discusses gendered terms in order to ascertain how gender identities are constructed in Indian society with relation to Hinduism. While admitting gender bias in gendered terms such as general masculine terms and taboo expressions, the writer supports attempts by non-governmental organizations to empower men, arguing that social change is not only desirable but also possible.
Rather than evaluate the papers on an individual basis, I will comment on the overall collection.
The strengths of this collection can be seen in three areas: the use of language, the element of variety, and organization. First, for readers who share the same religious affiliation as the presenters, the use of vocabulary, expressions, and terms are likely to be viewed favorably as they do not only strike a note of familiarity but are also used with conciseness and clarity. Moreover, because these papers are not replete with religious terms, readers who do not share the same religious beliefs as the presenters or do not subscribe to any religious beliefs are not likely to be offended. Where the writers use religious- specific or culture-specific terms, they take pains to provide explanations or translations in parenthesis. Thus, in general, the language in all the papers is reader-friendly.
The second key strength of this collection is how the editor brings together varied papers in terms of topics and approaches. Of course, as the title of the book indicates, it is the relationship between religion, language, and gender that links all the papers together. Beyond this, however, in order to add a touch of interest, the editor does a good work by attempting to bring together papers that deal with different geographical contexts (e.g. The United States of America, Britain, India, and Taiwan). As well, the papers cover both mainstream and alternative sexual orientations. Similarly, among the papers that are located in the Christian community, minority groups often referred to as the New Religious Movements or Cult as in Mooney's 'The Children of God Who Wouldn't , but Had to' are included. In terms of approach, two kinds of papers are generally noticed: the more theoretical (e.g. Tekcan) and the empirical studies (e.g. Kniffka). While Tekcan's paper provides a very broad but illuminating introduction to the collection, Kniffka's paper is in every way illustrative of the more dominant empirical studies in the collection.
The last strength of the collection lies in its organization. The editor's introduction before the fourteen papers offers an important means of preparing readers who may not be familiar with the scholarship in feminist writings, women's studies, sociolinguistics, or critical discourse analysis. Besides, in general, the division of the papers into three parts seems to be well motivated, offering gradual transition from the more general issues to the specific issue dealing with the construction of identity in religious communities. Also, the differing use of metatextual elements and the use of multimodal expressions such as tables and graphs add to the perfect organization of Julés' collection. .
Notwithstanding these strengths, there are two concerns. First, the cautious reader is likely to question the basis of the labeling of the three parts. The point is that the papers in Part 2 can also be said to examine the construction of identities just as the papers in Part 3 do. It is not clear to me why Graham's paper is found in Part 2. Could the arrangement of the papers have been motivated by more than thematic consideration? The second concern relates to the focus on major world religions and women. A quick read through the papers, for instance, shows that about six papers are devoted to the Judeo- Christianity community, four to Islam, and the next four to other religions. Though this attempt to widen the number of religions in the collection must be applauded, all too often knowledge construction and dissemination have tended to neglect the 'non-centre' areas such as Latin America and Africa. A more inclusive collection could have covered other non-scripted religions in other parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa; the inclusion of immigrant Senegalese in America does not help much. Reading the collection, one also sometimes has the feeling that most of the papers in the collection pay much more attention to women than men. In this case, the title for the collection seems misleading. In future, a collection on a similar theme as treated in this book can be expected to be more inclusive in terms of gender, sexual orientations, class, ethnicity, religion, economics, and geography.
On the whole, Allyson Julé's 'Gender and the Language of Religion' represents a useful collection of well-written papers by scholars of varying backgrounds (measurement and evaluation, sociolinguistics, education psychology, language education, theoretical and applied linguistics, and communication). It can easily become a compulsory reading for students in various interdisciplinary studies, people working in the relevant disciplines, and for several others who want to broaden their knowledge on the intersection between religion, language and gender. I enjoyed reading every paper in this collection.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful is a research scholar at the last stage of his doctoral studies at the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore. He recently submitted his doctoral thesis on the interface between rhetoric and disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level. His teaching and research interests include (critical) discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, academic writing/literacy, general linguistics, and the interface between linguistics and literature. He has presented papers at international conferences in the United Kingdom, the USA, Australia, and Singapore and has papers that are currently being reviewed for publication.