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Women, Faith and Culture

14/11/2018, Rome

The seminar - organized by the International Foundation of Interreligious and Intercultural Education (IFIIE) together with the International Affairs Institute (IAI) - was held at the premises of the Italian Ministry of International Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI). With scholars and theologians coming from the United States, Europe, and Asia, this event was set to discuss the role and status of women in the three monotheistic religions and beyond from a sociological, theological, and philosophical angle.

This interdisciplinary-oriented seminar was structured around five panel sessions. The first two sessions were set to discuss the status of women in Islamic exegesis and Catholic thought. The take away lesson out of these sessions was that contemporary challenges for gender equality stem from the misinterpretation of core Islamic principles and thus there is the need to refer back to the core foundations of religious principles. In the third session, which focused on the position of the woman in contemporary Jewish thought, the strong biblical figure of Esther was recalled in order to redirect the focus more on female characters in religious thought and leadership. Female religious leadership in various Jewish schools of thought has increased throughout the last century. A rather more macro approach towards religion was applied in the fourth session by asking in what way religions can contribute to the modern discourse on the rights and role of women in societies. Regarding the Muslim world, knowledge production in the field of Islamic exegesis as well as the rereading of Quran were perceived by the speakers as the key for social change of women in this region. Nevertheless, the persistence of legal and social restrictions in society and the ‘marriage’ of religious and political power are still preventing women from advancing in the socio-political sphere. A fifth policy-oriented session approached the question of how gender-sensitive policies should be designed against the backdrop of the heterogeneity of the international religious and cultural discourses.

Finally, the seminar was wrapped with some policy recommendations to improve the status of women within the three monotheistic religions. The often-made mistake of confusing religion and culture needs to be overcome. In so doing, religious and cultural discourses must be contextualized, since socio-political contexts are crucial elements in producing patriarchal and authoritarian systems, which put constraints on the situation of women and on their rights. Further, there the need to foster religious education on a national and international scale and in an intercultural manner, so that women (and men) have access to the skills needed to read the holy scripts in a history-critical approach. As it was mentioned several times before, women and the youth must be the leading actors in this process.