welcome to the site! Read the description to the left for details regarding the theory behind this site. Some may know this section as an "Abstract"
The History of Energy
the beginning is the end
Under this section is a paper written for an Honours Psychology course, the History of Psychology. The task was to trace a topic from contemperary Psychology back through various historical stages to see how that topic has grown over the course of time. The topic I chose was energy, or Energy Psychology. Enjoy research from Feinstein (most recent) all the way back to Pythagoras.
The Future of Energy
the end is the beginning. This section includes all the previous homepage fails ;) enjoy!
This is the major veiwpoint taken on this site in regard to these topics, but since the completion of my Masters degree in Gender Studies, I've been trying to go back and make it more inclusive. This link includes a proposed field theory for Psychology because the two major branches of Psychology (quantitative and qualitative) find it hard to see eye to eye. This (and the next) section is for members only.
This section proposes a Grand Unified Field theory or "theory of everything" for Physics, backed up by a mathematical equation.
This section unites all sections together to unite the branches of Science and Religion. Many different perspectives are taken and these two seemingly opposing forces are united through many different angles.
This section looks at the conflicts or cycles between New Age free thought and Orthodox dogmaticism. The feud between these two opposing forces revealed the truth regarding the story of Jesus, what he really taught and to whom he truly gave the rites to teach his faith. This section explores why the movie The Last Temptation of Christ was banned in other countries, looks at the Da Vinci Code and presents a controversial paper/theory showing the hidden meaning of world religious symbols.
This section begins with a confusing paper about taking back the spirit. If the point can be penetrated, it tells an interesting story about Modernity and the Age of Reason, with a twist by providing evidence that emotion could be considered superior to reason. It also complicates Carteasian mind/body distinctions by adding spirit back into the equation. Have fun following that one lol. I can't even follow it ;) There are other papers about explaining Mystical experiences and others comparing Western and Eastern styles of consciousness. My favourite is the book review of Kabbalah. I like how this site allows me to go back and fix/reword old papers/ideas. This section really details what it is like to have a theory in the making and shows how ideas develop over time. One day my ideas/theory will be comprehensive to others outside my wacky brain :)
This section includes research done on the importance of emotional charge on ESP communication. It proposes that it is emotion communication that makes telepathy successful. The second paper in this section addresses dreams and dream interpretation. Two Dream interpretation methods (Freud's and Jung's) were analyzed to determine which method produced the most accurate results. The third paper presents research on Understanding Altered States of Conciousness and the last paper in this section is about Western Consciousness and how we are very individualized and perhaps out of balance due to us being lost in the Grand Illusion (Maya). The next paper looks at The Implication of Eastern Concepts on Western Ideals, to propose a potential balance between the two world views.
This section includes a paper about the subject-object dichotomy in Philosophy
This section begins with a work that is a detailed analysis of the screenplay/poem found in the Art section of this site. This paper looks at the research behind the play that inspired its manifestation (or why I wrote the play). It is hard to avoid the Book of Revelations when the topic of the Apocalypse comes up, so the next paper in this section is a comparison of the similarities and differences of the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelations. Many similarities were found and the research leads one to beleive that we are in the dawning of the Age when we will see great changes in the world as we know it today.
This section includes papers on 3 pathways to happiness (physical, mental, emotional), followed by a paper on how to end prejudice, a paper on the polarization of the sexes is next (as it is hypothesized by this site that the true or pure unification of All That is in the Universe is solved by the reunification of the energy of the sexes ;). Finally, this section ends with an empirical thesis exploring the equal validation or rational and emotional styles.
This section contains a play or screenplay called the Grand Drama that is written entirely out of prose (the owner and creator of this website has personally written everything that appears on it). This work of art reveals a hidden message, one that may unlock the key to the mysteries of the universe! This page also includes a shortened poem of the Grand Drama and provides a link to a song that is about Plato's Analogy of the Cave (members only).
this is a collection of my poetry - enjoy!
This is a collection of my songs - enjoy! =)
This is my photo collection
Key to the Legend
Red = Philosophy
Blue = Physics
Yellow = mathematics
green = hard sciences
grey = psychology
the parts under construction are labeled as such or blanketed by <<< ____ >>> indicating personal notes to self to improve the site, or the layout of the information presented.
Taking Back the Spirit
Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: A Book Review
Explaining Mystical Experiences
Psychology of Western Consciousness
The Implication of Eastern Concepts on Western Ideals
Feminist Theology and the Problem of Dualism
Examples of Equal Male and Female Validation in Various Religious and Spiritual Symbols
Click here to read Examples of Equal Male and Female Validation in Various Religious and Spiritual Symbols
Taking Back the Spirit
Running head: TAKING BACK SPIRIT
Taking Back the Spirit
January 1, 2012
Care-focused feminism is a particular type of feminism that “offers various explanations for why societies label some values, virtues and traits female…and others masculine” (Tong, 2009, p. 163). Examples of these labels include the common assumption that rationality or reason is superior to emotion and men are more rational and women are more emotional. Another example would be the assigning of men to spirit and women to body or earth and claiming spirit to be superior. It has been a fascination of mine how these associations come to be and through comparative research a twist in these connections was revealed. I hypothesized that if emotions could be shown to be superior to reason, then women can also be empowered due to association. I also hypothesized that if it could be shown that women have a closer connection to spirit, rather than the earth, women could also be empowered by reversing this association. Using comparative research from different disciplines and deconstructing the assumptions and functions of reason, emotion and spirit, hypothesis one was supported and a sort of purposeful usurpation of the importance of emotion was exposed. Also using comparative research hypothesis two was supported and a switching of symbols was discovered. The research in this paper revealed emotion and feminine spirituality to have primacy in evolution, history, and creationism, and also superiority through Descartes ‘Causal Adequacy Principle.’ It was also found that emotional capacities prefer to integrate whereas rational capacities tend to disseminate and argued that integration is a superior way of organizing and utilizing information. The information found in this paper can be used to change the preconceived notion that emotion is inferior by showing that it could be seen as superior. Through the association of women with emotion and the stronger association of women with spirit, this paper can ultimately be used to empower women.
NOTE: I realize that it is useless to make one aspect better than another in a binary. For example, the Age of Reason produced a mentality that reason is superior to emotion. To reverse these poles and say that emotion is superior creates the same kind of problems of disequilibrium. However, in this paper I am merely trying to point out that the advantages of emotion can rise emotion and emotionality to an equal level with reason by showing how it can be considered a 'stuff'. Descarte's idea of Causal Adequacy Principle will be used to declare emotion as something that could be considered on its own as a real substance or force in the universe. This I also understand this pointless because all things are connected and we live in a world of correlations where true causality cannot be determined. However, this paper is merely an exercise in showing that reason and emotion and men and women should be considered equal or of equal validation.
Taking Back the Spirit
In Ancient Greece, the rational movement was so strong that emotion was thought to be inferior, get in the way of rational pursuits and make a person weak. Since emotions supposedly made a person weak, they became associated with women as they were considered to be the weaker sex (Tavris, 1992). Care-focused feminism explores the dichotomy of reason and emotion and its associations with men and women respectively (Tong, 2009). It is important to change the way in which these associations are perceived because the implication of assigning reason superiority has placed women in an inferior position and has given an unfair advantage to men. By analyzing how associations come to be, the deconstruction of this labelling process may reveal a way in which emotions could be seen as stronger and wiser. If there is evidence to show that emotion could be considered superior, this may help change the assumption that emotions are weak and useless. This could lead to a better utilization and respect of emotional capacities thus empowering women in the process. Therefore, I hypothesize that if emotion could be seen as superior to rationality, both emotional capacities and women could be empowered.
In the process of assigning emotion to women and rationality to men, women were also assigned the body and the earth, and men the spirit and the heavens. In Ancient Greece, spirit was considered to be ontologically superior to the earth or the body. Plato has been blamed by feminists to have instigated this association and the power imbalance of spirit over earth (Tong, 2009). This particular assigning of traits sparked a movement called Ecofeminism which challenges the association between women and nature and believes this association leads to the subordination of both the earth and women (Tong, 2009). Upon further investigation into how associations such as these come to be, it was found that spirit is more aptly associated with women and men are more aptly associated with materialism/earth. Therefore, I also hypothesize that in order to change these common stereotypical associations and to attempt to abolish subordination of women; I will show that women are more closely associated with spirit than men.
Ecofeminism is useful to highlight its methodology of deconstruction. Care-focused feminism does not go as deep into the deconstruction of rational and emotional as Ecofeminism does to women with earth and men with spirit. I would like to apply the deeper deconstruction methodology of Ecofeminism to Care-focused feminism to further deconstruct emotion and rationality. There are three ways in which Ecofeminism deconstructs associations, one is to promote the association of women to the earth to show women to be superior, another is to sever the connection between woman and the earth, and the third is to transform the association into a different way of thinking that integrates emotional, rational and spiritual aspects (Tong, 2009). This paper will combine all three directions by embellishing women’s connection with emotion, severing men’s association to spirit thus reversing the associations to assign spirit to women, thereby transforming the association into a different way of thinking. (In the end there is an integration of emotional, rational and spiritual aspects as it will be shown that integration is a superior way to organize and utilize information).
In order to embellish women’s connection to emotion and show it to be superior, and in order to connect women to spirit, I will use comparative evidence. By comparative evidence, I refer to the type of research Darwin conducted in his theory of evolution. He noticed patterns in nature and concluded that the patterns were so prevalent, that they could be used as evidence to support his theory. I have also noticed patterns, patterns in different disciplines that can come together to support my theory that emotion could be considered superior and women are more spiritual. In other words, what is being compared is research from different disciplines regarding rationality, emotion and spirituality, revealing patterns that can be used as supporting evidence. Comparative evidence does not get the credit it deserves from the hard sciences and psychology as it is considered too anecdotal. So, in the spirit of gaining credibility for capacities that are assumed to be inferior, I will use comparative evidence to show it is just as useful and credible as any other research method. After all, it worked for Darwin.
This paper will be broken up into two parts: Rational vs. Emotional, and Spiritual vs. Material. Part one will explore hypothesis one, that emotion can be seen as superior to reason and empower women by association. I will embellish or keep intact the associations behind Care-focused feminism that men represent rationality and women represent emotion and use comparative evidence to reverse the power dynamic placing the power on emotion. In part two, Spiritual vs. Material, I will turn to arguments within Ecofeminism and by using comparative evidence, explore hypothesis two, that women are more closely associated with the spiritual, thus assigning the superiority of spirit to women.
Emotional vs. Rational
Within feminist research there is a lot of deconstruction of dichotomies to play with the power dynamics involved. Some researchers embellish associations, some try to reverse them and some try to blur the boundaries to create new androgynous interpretations. The problem with all of these approaches is that the socially constructed stereotypes of women and men end up re-confirmed or strengthened (Tong, 2009; Cranny-Francis, Waring, Stavropolous, & Kirby, 2003). It almost seems as though in order to dissolve dichotomies, dichotomies are needed. No matter how hard one tries, dichotomies do not die. To affirm hypothesis one, I have decided to work with the dichotomies. It has come to my attention that it is not necessarily that the associations are maintained, but what remains unchanged is the power dynamic that women are inferior and men are superior. By keeping the strict binaries intact and looking only at the power dynamic between them, I hope to avoid the conundrum of inadvertently re-affirming inferiority to women and superiority to men. Therefore, I hope to avoid this conundrum by maintaining the preconceived dichotomies and reversing the power dynamics behind them instead.
To reverse the power dynamic from the superiority of reason to the superiority of emotion, the comparative evidence used in this section will utilize the research from different disciplines such as neuroscience, Care-focused feminism, biology, history and philosophy. The research in neuroscience and Care-focused feminism will help assign superiority to right-brain (emotional) functions while embellishing the stereotype that women are associated with the right-brain. The research in biology and history will expose a pattern in which the younger usurps the power position of the older and suppresses its importance to maintain its superiority. This research also reveals a pattern of primacy in emotive and/or feminine characteristics as they precede that of rational and/or male characteristics in evolution and time. This primacy is important for the philosophy section because I will utilize the primacy of emotion and apply it to Descartes ‘Causal Adequacy Principle’ to declare emotion ontologically superior.
Neuroscience/Brain Structure. Gazzaniga developed a theory called Left-Brain; Right-Brain Mania which he defined as a bias within Western culture towards rational cognition and the suppression of the intuitive or creative cognitive styles (1985). Gazzaniga noticed that rational tendencies were more revered in schools than creative tendencies and suggested a balanced curriculum (1985). The assumption of strict lateralization, that the left-brain is rational and the right-brain is emotional, is a common assumption that I will work with and embellish. Research has shown that this strict lateralization is not as black and white as commonly thought, but researchers do agree that the left-brain is mostly in charge of language, detail and categorization and the right-brain is better at non-verbal communication, creativity and synthesizing (Farthing, 1992; Santrock & Mitterer, 2004). From these specialization in hemisphere function, it could be seen how it was assumed that the right-brain is emotional and the left-brain, rational. Men were assigned to left-brain and women to the right-brain. The idea that the rational side of the brain divides while the emotional side integrates will be important for declaring superiority of right-brain function.
Care-focused Feminism. To embellish the connection between right-brain function and emotion to women, research in Care-focused feminism also supports the idea that women are more likely to integrate or compromise. Both Kohlberg and Gilligan have done research on the difference of moral thinking in boys and girls and found that boys tend to use justice to come to their decisions and girls tend to compromise (Rachels & Rachels, 2010; Coon & Mitterer, 2007; Santrock & Mitterer, 2004). It could be seen that compromising is a form of integration. Both Kohlberg and Gilligan found similar patterns in their research, but their interpretation of the data and their conclusions were different. For example, using the same findings, Kohlberg concluded that compromise was an inferior way of moral thinking and Gilligan concluded that “women are no less morally developed than men” (Tong, 2009, p. 164). This is an interesting example in itself about how men and women interpret data, because the man (Kohlberg), advocated for supremacy of one over the other (Santrock & Mitterer, 2004), and the woman (Gilligan) advocated for integration of both male and female ways of thinking (Tong, 2009). Therefore, showing once again, that women tend to integrate (right-brain) and men tend to exclude and divide (left-brain).
Gilligan also concluded that male dominance in morality has created a type of morality based on justice and autonomy, excluding the importance of interpersonal relationships and empathy. She even suggests that males are slower to develop empathy and caring for others (Johnson and Reath, 2007). This not only highlights the patterns of women’s integration and men’s tendency to divide, but also suggests rationality (hence men) are slower to develop in the areas in which women are skilled. In The Need for More than Justice, Annette Baier believes equality, in men’s view of justice, excludes emotional needs and the need for attachment: This, in turn shatters society by making persons individualized and autonomous (Johnson & Reath, 2007). She believes interdependence to be superior to independence and points out that men’s view of justice and equality is not equal at all because it favours the elite. In men’s justice system, women and children are “shunted to the bottom of the agenda” (Johnson & Reath, 2007, p. 451). This example points to flaws in left-brain functioning that place too much importance on independence and division which could end in the shattering of society. Right-brain integration may be superior. Since women are more associated with right-brain function, women are empowered through this association.
In regard to the left-brain, right-brain laterality, it is agreed that the language centre is generally located in the left hemisphere (Farthing, 1992; Santrock & Mitterer, 2004), and if language is considered to be the element that makes us different from other animals, then the left-brain becomes superior. Thus, language becomes associated with men. However, recorded differences in language ability show that the female average is higher than the male average (Coon & Mitterer, 2007). Therefore, disrupting common assumptions and assigning superiority to women.
The real problem behind these examples, however, is the assigning superiority to one function of the brain over the other. It seems as though as soon as binaries are created, it necessarily follows that one side in the binary is considered superior. Postmodern feminists believe the tendency to “privilege one member of a dyad over another” is the root cause of “all forms of human oppression” (Tong, 2009, p. 243). I agree, but would like to suggest an extension of this definition to include non-human animals and the earth. The idea that one variable in the binary has to be superior is flawed because integration is more useful and exclusion is destructive. There are some situations where it is better to be more rational (at work) and in other situations it is better to be more emotional (at play). Attending a funeral, for example, would not be a suitable time to be rational, but crying at work would be just as inappropriate. If one were to become aroused with anger, the rational capacity should kick in to over-ride the impulse and emotion should over-ride cold calculated reason when it is inappropriate. Therefore, it makes more sense to integrate and utilize the talents of both, again assigning superiority to right-brain and emotive functions.
In regard to the right-brain-left-brain dichotomy, we do not have a binary that simply assumes one side is better than the other, we have a binary in which one side (the left) assumes it is better than the other, and the other side (the right) wishing to unite and utilize the talents of both. The rational side of the brain does not want to ‘get along’ and wishes to remain superior. Thus, pinpointing the origin of the necessity to assign superiority and locating the driving force behind maintaining hierarchies. It would be counterproductive for the side of the brain that wishes to unify to have a superiority complex. Therefore, the superiority problem is associated with the left or rational side, thus placing the problem within male tendencies. The tendency to integrate is better in the long run and is associated with the emotional, right side of the brain and therefore with women. It does seem ironic to declare the need to assign superiority as flawed, and then declare the right side superior, but because both sides become equally useful and respected, as opposed to one side being neglected, it could be said that the right side’s tendency towards integration is superior because it leads to equality.
To show that the left-brain tendency to exclude is inferior, to focus only on one side of the brain, such as rationality and exclude emotion can cause an unhealthy imbalance (Levant, 2006). For example, a condition called Male Normative Alexithymia has been found in men who were raised to control their emotions (Levant, 2006). “Lexi means without, and thymia means emotions. This is when emotions get suppressed and can build up and come out in inappropriate ways and at inappropriate times. For example the “Rubber Band Syndrome” is when unrecognized emotions build up until they erupt in an explosion of anger, and excessive strength and aggression” (Levant, 2007). Therefore, in the long run, rational supremacy is flawed because it could lead to psychological imbalance.
To use another example, if only the tendency to divide is utilized, it weakens the overall structure of the system in which it is connected. Plato surmised centuries ago in The Republic, that to ‘divide and conquer’ is a strategic way to break down a system because when divided, the people argue amongst themselves; they lose focus on the common goal and can easily be destroyed (Johnson & Reath, 2007). This provides supporting evidence for Baier’s idea that independence leads to the shattering of society (Johnson & Reath, 2007) and builds a case against the superiority of left-brain/rationality and the neglect of right-brain/emotive functions.
Biology/Brain Anatomy. Paul MacLean’s (1990) Triune Brain theory displays an evolutionary progression of the human brain. As the human brain develops, it first progresses through stages or layers considered to be ‘primitive’ (the brain stem), to layers thought to be of superior capacity (the cortex). The brain stem, or as he terms it, the ‘reptilian brain’ is the first to develop in the foetus (MacLean, 1990). It is called the reptilian brain because it is also found in reptiles. This part of the brain is in charge of basic needs such as breathing, nourishment sleep/arousal and sex. The limbic system or the ‘mammalian brain’ grows on top, and wraps around the ‘reptilian’ brain. It is called mammalian because this part of the brain is also found in other mammals as well as humans. This part of the brain is in charge of emotion. Lastly, the cortex develops on top of the limbic system and is in charge of thinking and rationality (MacLean, 1990). The cortex keeps growing and is not fully developed until a person is between 21-25 years old (Coon & Mitterer, 2007).
Through this example it can be seen that emotion develops before reason. But it is strange that this late arrival (the cortex), is considered to be superior. It is flawed to think that the older parts of the brain are inferior because their age suggests that its functioning is more perfected. The emotive system works like a well oiled machine due to its experience, not only with humans, but reptiles and other mammals. The cortex does provide us with rational thought, which is impressive and incredibly useful, but to call the older parts of the brain inferior and weak, and the newest part superior would be like agreeing a child is smarter and wiser than her or his parents and grandparents. Even though it would be unlikely that one would agree with this, there is a tendency for the younger to be considered superior to the older in Western society because the elderly tend to be seen as a burden on the system and not as a useful contribution to society, just like how emotions were also considered a useless burden to humanity. Here begins the pattern of the younger usurping the power position of the older and suppressing the talents of the older.
Compared to emotion, rationality is slow (Santrock & Mitterer, 2007). Have you ever gotten up, went into another room to do something and completely forgot what you were doing? This is an example of the reptilian and limbic parts of the brain activating to create behaviour without the cognitive regions being consciously aware of the purpose of the movement. Much like how cognition develops last in evolution, it is also the last to comprehend a situation. Thus, rationality could not be considered superior as the information sent from the critical thinking areas of the brain is far slower than the information sent from the older parts of the brain. Emotional and motivational centres are far quicker and more efficient. Therefore, the power dynamic from reason to emotion can be reversed when it is realized that emotion is older, wiser, faster and more efficient.
Brief History. Emotions may be archaic, but it does not mean emotions are less valuable. Empathy and emotional attachment have a longer history, long before the ‘Age of Reason.’ Jeremy Rifkin believes empathy to be our “essential nature” and a key underlying force that binds society together (2009, p. 21). Empathy involves taking the perspective of the other and includes an affective quality that matches the other person’s feelings which is representative of the definition of care in Care-focused feminism. Rifkin (2009) states that societies were largely “egalitarian and matrilineal” up until around 4400 BC (p. 22) and therefore, helps pinpoint a time in history when “matriarchal forms of familial relations gave way to new patriarchal forms of power” (p. 23). Since then, women have taken the role of the weaker or inferior sex and emotional relationships and caring was left to them. Empathy took the back burner to more “socially constructive ends” (Rifkin, 2009, p. 21). We can see from this example that empathy is the rule, not the exception. Empathy came first, before militarism and rationality and therefore deserves respect because it is older and wiser. Here again, is the pattern of the younger usurping the power position of the older and neglecting the older ways.
Philosophy/Mind-Body Problem. In regard to the mind-body problem and which is superior, Descartes made the faculty of emotion inferior by considering it as a mere sense modality (Baker & Morris, 1996/2002). Since the senses were flawed and did not allow a person to perceive exactly what is in reality, they were inferior to the mind, which, according to Descartes, could not be doubted (Biffle, 1992). Descartes declared there to be two “stuffs,” in the universe, mind stuff and physical stuff, thus creating a split between mind and body, rather than seeing the mental world and physical world as connected (ibid).
The mind-body problem can be considered ontological in that it questions what exists or what is real or what is more real (Farthing, 1992). According to Descartes’ “Causal Adequacy Principle,” in order for something to be considered real, “’there must be at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in the effect of that cause,’ which in turn implies that something cannot come from nothing” (Skirry, 2008). Descartes “causal theory…implies whatever is possessed by an effect must have been given to it by its cause” (Skirry, 2008). The principles of cause and effect come into play because it can be seen that if something can cause an effect in something else, it must be ‘real’ or more real than the thing effected (Farthing, 1992). “For where could an effect get its reality if not from its cause?” (Biffle, 1992, p. 49).
I am going to use Descartes “Causal Adequacy Principle,” to conclude the argument that emotions can been seen as superior to reason. In order to do this, emotion needs to be seen as a real “stuff,” and be separated out of the definition of the mind. I am not saying emotions do not have an element of intelligence. I am going to show that emotion can stand on its own as a third “stuff” or substance of the universe because it too, has causal power. Hume would agree because he states that “[r]eason is and ought to be the slave of the passions” (as cited by Johnson & Reath, 2007, p. 165),
Emotions do not always follow a thought or a physical injury/occurrence, most of the time emotions come first. The psychoanalytical concept of ‘deferred reaction’ realizes that “the force of an event is felt before it can be understood” (Pitt and Britzman, 2003, p. 758). This is consistent with the example used in the Triune Brain section that cognition is the last to comprehend a situation. Another example of this would be if you are walking in the forest, and out of your periphery see something that might be a threat, fear arises first, which causes your feet to run away, then later your mind catches up to assess the situation and realizes that it must have been a bear. If you were to wait for your cognitive capacities to catch up, you would be mauled by the bear. In this situation, if one suppressed their emotional tendencies and only relied on rationality, they would be dead. Also in this example it is clear that the information sent from the emotional centres of the brain is far quicker and produced before information sent from the rational parts of the brain. Therefore, if emotion is produced first, and reason comes later, this assigns emotion the cause and reason the effect. Therefore, emotion could be considered ‘more real’ or ontologically superior.
Using these examples from research in different disciplines, emotion and right-brain tendencies could be seen in a new light that could challenge commonly held assumptions of the inferiority of emotion. Emotion is not inferior because they are older, wiser, faster, and more efficient than rationality. In conclusion, the power dynamic could be switched from rationality to emotion because integrative tendencies and the desire to utilize the talents of both sides is a superior way of processing and utilizing information. Emotion could also be considered superior using Descartes ‘Causal Adequacy Principle.’
Spiritual vs. Material
This section will focus on the assigned dichotomy of women with the earth and men with the spirit. But, will be approached in the opposite way of part one by keeping the power dynamic intact, and reversing the associations (as opposed to keeping the associations intact and reversing the power dynamic). Using comparative evidence, this section will show that women are more associated with spirit, while maintaining spirit’s assumed superiority. The interdisciplinary comparative evidence in this section will draw from research in religious studies, experiential psychology and Ecofeminism. Once again, patterns of primacy and the younger usurping the power position of the older and neglecting the older can be seen throughout this research. Also, the connection of women to right-brain integrative tendencies can be seen as well as the stronger connection of women to spirit and spirituality.
Religious Studies. Tracing spirituality back to antiquity, figurines found at Catalhoyuk Turkey date back to early ninth millennium BC and “were seen as representational and as religious, relating to a cult of the mother goddess” (Hodder, 2010, p. 15). The legends and findings of mother goddess worship date further back than the introduction of “female inferiority claimed by Genesis” which dates back to between 3500-5000 years ago (Read, 1989). This denotes primacy of the mother goddess, thus feminine characteristics and ways of spirituality came first. “The spiritual journey began thousands of years before the Bible, and was centred on the goddess” (Read, 1989).
The Bible is said to teach inferiority of women because it gives ‘men’ dominion over the earth and “over every living thing that moves upon it” (as cited by Tong, 2009, p. 239). Also, in Genesis 3:16 when Adam and Eve are being punished for eating the fruit, God says to the woman “[y]our desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (New International Version). Around 6000 years ago, the feminine became ignored and the “conqueror has replaced the nurturer as the symbol to be respected” (Read, 1989). This is very similar to Rifkin’s (2009) research above, which recognizes that the male form of power took over the feminine importance of relationships. These examples highlight primacy of feminine ways and the pattern of the younger usurping the power position of the older and neglecting the older ways.
Early Hunter-Gatherer societies, which includes paganism, were largely egalitarian and according to Aztec tradition, androgyny was considered to be the “ideal gender” (Tedlock, 2005, p. 48). In Shamanism, it is customary in training to “take on the social role of the opposite sex” (Tedlock, 2005, p. 247) because the talents and roles of both genders are appreciated. Anyone could be a shaman, male or female and the shaman is the most important figure in the culture as they were healers and religious leaders. Dreams are extremely important in Native culture because relatives or symbolic archetypes would appear to them and show them visions of the future, how to stave off illness or heal members of the community, and the ability to ward off evil (Davis, 2003, p. 140). Both women and men had equal access [to dreams]” (Davis, 2003, p. 139). If early Hunter-Gatherer spirituality is considered to be egalitarian (equal rights for all), this also suggests feminine characteristics are embedded in this spirituality because egalitarianism could be considered a right-brain integrative tendency.
The “First Shaman” was considered to be female (Furst, 1974, pp. 50/51). The legend tells of a “principal deer” that is male, but its “antlers had their origin in the magic arrows which the female deer plucked from the fire” (Furst, 1974, pp. 50/51). This legend, of a primordial “Deer Girl,” places women first in succession. The symbol of the “divine deer’s maleness…are here seen as the gift of woman (Furst, 1974, pp. 50/51). Again we see the pattern of feminine characteristics and spirituality having primacy. When considering the history of spirituality, there is no evidence that men should claim the association of spirit over women.
Another important piece of information regarding women in early Hunter-Gatherer societies is that most of the shamans were women as they had a greater affinity for mystical trace states (Ross, 2001; Hunt, 2003). This denotes primacy of women in shamanism.
In fact, the linguistic evidence, ethnographic data and oral traditions
of several cultures point to their earliest shamans being women. There
is also a belief in some hunter-gatherer cultures that women have a more
natural aptitude for the altered states of consciousness of shamans and that
the more dramatic and difficult initiation procedures used to prepare men’s
consciousness are not necessary for women (Ross, 2001, p. 544).
The fact that shamans were mostly women in the past is important when comparing this information to historical records of European peoples coming to North America. They recorded what they saw in the Aboriginal culture and reported that it was extremely rare to see the women as ‘soothsayers’ and stated that women were barred from “handling the sacred shamanic objects…” (Davis, 2003, pp. 140, 143). To take these records as fact is problematic, but this source assumes that the role of the shaman was held mostly by men and very rarely by women suggesting a shift in shamans from women to men. I also use this example to show the pattern of the younger/newer shaman (male) usurping the power position of the older shaman (women) and neglecting the older ways. It might be interesting to note, however, that this source did report the elders to be revered as the wisest, supporting the idea that older is wiser.
Experiential Psychology. Going back to the quote above and the idea that women have a natural affinity towards altered states of consciousness is not only found in some hunter-gatherer societies as this quote suggests, but is also found in recent research involving altered states of consciousness. “Empirical research on openness to altered and transpersonal states of consciousness [show] that women tend to have more of these experiences than men” (Hunt, 2003, p. 279). Women not only have more mystical experiences than men, they report more and also “respond more immediately to aesthetics” (Hunt, 2003, p. 279). Women also score higher on measures of absorption which denotes a readiness to trance-like states that allow a deeper connection to beauty and empathy (Hunt, 2003). This makes sense because if women are connected more closely to right-brain functions, mystical experiences, response to aesthetics and absorption are functions of the right-brain (Hunt, 2003; Farthing, 1992).
In regard to mystical experiences, people are likely to report a loss of control or helplessness that Rudolph Otto calls “creature feeling” (Hunt, 2003, p. 282), therefore, “stereotypically, men…will have more difficulty than women in fully accepting or allowing these states to develop” (Hunt, 2003, p. 282). This finding is due to men’s affinity toward the need to be in control and their “agentive bias” (ibid). Therefore, considering the fact that women have more affinity toward spirituality and mystical experiences provides support for the idea that women are more closely connected to the spirit than men, thus reversing the association.
Ecofeminism. It may not be necessary to sever women’s association to the earth in order for women to be considered more closely associated with spirit. According to Starhawk (2004), her “spirituality is rooted in the experience of the earth as a living, conscious being” and considers the earth to be sacred (p. 261). It is thought by some feminists that “the people running the country see the earth only as a resource and don’t see the interconnectedness of nature” (Read, 1989). When it is accepted that the earth is a mere tool, it produces a certain world view that the earth is an “inert, lifeless machine,” rather than an organism or a “nurturing mother” as the earth was conceived to be prior to the seventeenth century (Tong, 2009, p. 240). In Ecofeminism, to view the earth as a machine is referred to as shallow ecology and is “human centred” (Tong, 2009, p. 240). To refer to the Earth as an organism, it is called deep ecology (Tong 241), which is “earth-centred” (Tong, 2009, p. 239).
Shallow ecology and deep ecology can be likened to world views studied in psychology called mechanistic thinking and organistic thinking respectively. Mechanistic thinking is associated with the “experimental scientist” (Harris, Fontana & Dowds, 1977, p. 538), or mechanistic science (Tong, 2009) and is also associated with “left-hemisphere thinking” (Harris et al., 1977, p. 538). Organistic thinking perceives the earth as an organism and is associated with artistic or creative ways of thought that utilize more right-hemisphere parts of the brain (Harris et al., 1977). Following this logic, it could be perceived that men would be more likely to see the earth as a machine (left-brain) and women more likely to see the earth as an organism (right-brain). If spirituality comes from seeing the earth as a living organism, then this also connects women more closely to spirit.
Men are more likely to be materialistic and use the earth to satisfy personal, individual goals, and women are more likely to find a spiritual connection with the earth for collective purposes. Men’s view of the earth has led to the destruction of resources focused around economy, rather than the local community (Curtin, 1997). Starhawk’s (2004) connection to the earth to allows her to see “that decay can be food for something new, that all energy moves in cycles that the universe is filled with immense creativity which is stronger than violence” (p. 264). Here we can see the pattern of one side in the dichotomy (shallow ecology) thinking selfishly while the other side (deep ecology) is trying to keep a balance. These examples associate women with spirituality and men with materialism, reversing the association and connecting women with spirit.
Research in Ecofeminism has tried to utilize religious practices to promote the protection of the earth and prevent pollution and the raping of the earth’s resources (Radford Ruether, 2005). The religions explored were Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (Radford Ruether, 2005). Little support for advocating for protection of the earth was found in these religions because the spiritual realm is considered to be ontologically superior making the material realm as not as important (Radford Ruether, 2005). I might point out, however, that all these religions could be seen as patriarchal because they display a separatist or excusatory view of nature. This pattern is prevalent in male-dominated thinking. Religions neglected in this chapter happen to be those of paganism and shamanism, which are more right-brain and integrative. I believe that in these more feminine ‘religions,’ she would find a lot of support for protection of the earth. Feminine spirituality is respectful of both the material and the spiritual realms. Therefore, women’s connection with the earth need not be severed because spirit permeates everything. Since women find spirituality everywhere, it could show that women are more closely connected to spirit than men. But how did men become associated with the spirit in the first place?
In regard to how men became associated with spirit, Griffin believed it was Plato led people astray, “insisting that spirit is superior to matter and by prompting us to view man as mind and women as body” (as cited by Tong, 2009, p. 249-250). Plato and Aristotle argued over the ‘sensus communis’ or where the ‘control centre’ of the body was located (Hunt, 1995). The control centre was considered to be in the mind (male), but dating back before this, it was believed to be in the heart (female). According to the Zohar, Abraham believed that after material desires were fulfilled or exhausted, that spiritual desires were to be fulfilled (Laitman, 2011). Abraham placed material desires in the heart, but spiritual desires at “the point of the heart” (Laitman, 2011, p. 29). The spiritual desire “led Abraham to discover the complete reality, the spiritual reality” (Laitman, 2011, p. 29). Here begins a split between the material world and the spiritual world and this split assigns superiority to the spiritual realm. This belief can be found in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Plotinus and more.
When Abraham located the control centre in the heart, this could vicariously empower women. Early Greek philosophers took it out of the heart and placed it in the mind, vicariously empowering men. The idea that the ‘sensus communis’ was first considered in the heart, then later in the mind displays, once again, primacy and the pattern of the newer taking over the older and leaving the older neglected and considered to be inferior.
The history of the assigning of gender to the term spirit before the time of ancient Greece is messy and complicated. Different sources assign spirit to different genders or historical figures. Perhaps because there was so much confusion over what historical figure was assigned to spirit, it became associated with many different things. The terms consciousness, psyche and soul all became confounded in the definition of spirit. In Genesis, Adam resembles the Consciousness and Eve represents the Psyche (Burstein, 2006). In the story of Sophia, Adam represents psyche and Eve and the spirit (Hoeller, 1997). Already there is a switching or confusion of terms. According to the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, male and female aspects were also symbolized by the psyche and the spirit respectively.
“Adam’s soul came from a breath. The soul’s companion is spirit and the spirit given to
him his mother. His soul was taken from him and replaced with spirit. When he was
united with spirit he uttered words superior to the powers…the powers envied him.
They separated him from his spiritual companion…hidden…bridal chamber…”
(Meyer, 2005, p. 70 ).
Here we see yet another term, soul. According to the Zohar, soul is masculine and spirit could be considered feminine because the Fall was caused when Adam divorced “Et” which is associated with the female aspect of God, Shekhinah (Matt, 2004, p. 19). Piecing the Gnostic and Zohar passages together, what was separated from Adam was feminine spirit. There is a lot of symbol switching and term confusion, but the primary sources of Gnostic Gospels and the Zohar are consistent in associating spirit with the feminine. If it is true that women were first associated with spirit, this denotes primacy and implies that since then the symbols have been switched to associate men with spirit. Therefore, the newer usurped the power position of the older, leaving it behind. Overall, it looks as though by switching the association of men and spirit to women and spirit may have placed the association back to where it should reside, thus empowering women through spirit.
Throughout this paper emotion, reason and spirit have been deconstructed and associations were first embellished, and then reversed. In part one, hypothesis one was supported and preconceived notions of the inferiority of emotion were challenged first, through biological research, as emotions were shown to be older and wiser, having primacy. Through neuroscience, the older wiser parts of the brain were shown to function through unification rather than division, and through Care-focused feminism, integration was shown to be a superior way of processing information. The historical research showed emotion and empathy to be older and wiser, displaying primacy and through Descartes ‘Causal Adequacy Principle’ primacy was used to assign emotion ontological superiority over rationality. Therefore, empowering women.
Part two, hypothesis two, that women are more associated with spirit was supported through religious studies, paganism, goddess worship and shamanism because they showed feminine spirituality to be older, displaying primacy. Experiential psychology showed women to have more affinity toward mystical experiences, demoting a stronger connection to spirituality. Through Ecofeminism it was found women’s connection to spirit was maintained even when associated with the earth, women still have a stronger connection to spirituality. The Gnostic Gospels and Zohar showed that women were originally assigned the spirit and were thus empowered.
The research in this paper was certainly not an exhaustive list of what other sources and disciplines would add to this discussion. Even though this paper could be used to empower women, the reason I showed emotion to be superior is because it is integrative as opposed to excusatory and the reason why I maintained the superiority of spirit is because it permeates everything and therefore includes everything. The information in this paper could therefore be used to promote balance, equality, and equal respect for variables in all dichotomies, especially between men and women.
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April 24, 2011
Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: A Book Review
Jody Myers provides a comprehensive, scholarly approach to the history, growth and activities of the Kabbalah Centre, combining ethnographic and historical approaches. Her book follows the movement of Kabbalah (a mystical sect of Judaism), from Israel to Palestine, to the United States and looks at how the movement has changed over time as influenced by certain key figures. (Traditionally Kabbalah is reserved for the elite or elect and opening up Kabbalah to non-Jews, women and children has created controversy).
In her book, Myers begins by following the movement of Kabbalah by introducing key figures, moves into a detailed description about Kabbalah and reports some of the activities involved. She then ‘chooses’ 14 interviews of people whom are involved in the Kabbalah Centre and “edits their stories according to [her] own vision” (182). The book ends with a very brief conclusion about how Kabbalah could be considered a new religious movement as it follows a similar pattern of growth and focuses heavily on Rabbi Berg’s desire to universalize and spread Kabbalah to the world (Myers 219).
The reviews of Myers’ book on-line call her approach “even-handed and fair” (Schwyzer), “academic [yet] approachable” (Braun), “non-judgmental…strives for (and achieves) a necessary scholarly neutrality” (Manhattenite) and “is marked by scholarly rigor, [and] objectivity (Toronto Star). There is contradiction in these reviews, however, because these same reviewers also use phrases such as “ultimately positive attitude towards the controversial Centre” (Schwyzer), and “anything but sympathetic to the Kabbalah Centre” (Manhattenite), to describe her approach. Forward.com’s review discusses "Jody Myers's excellent debunking of The Kabbalah Centre [and how i]t's a must-read for those interested in the truth and hucksterism behind the red strings and expensive bottles of water” (amazon.com, italics added). The review by ‘Choice’ states the opposite. “Myers was sufficiently intrigued to undertake the first serious, surprisingly sympathetic study of this phenomenon” (amazon.com, italics added). How is it possible to be sympathetic and non-sympathetic towards the Kabbalah Centre, at the same time as being non-judgemental? An academic who is conducting an ethnography, should, in essence be ‘even-handed and fair,’ exhibiting ‘non-judgemental,’ ‘scholarly neutrality.’ If Myers truly was neutral in her book, then why do these reviewers believe she has ‘taken sides’?
There is a lot of ethnographic research in the field of anthropology of religion that provides sound advice on how to conduct research in the field. This paper will explore Myers’ book Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest and analyze her conclusion of the Kabbalah Centre to see if she has heeded the advice of prominent scholars in the field of anthropology of religion. I will look at both what is present and not present in her conclusion to contextualize her position in the field of ethnography. Perhaps the reason reviewers are divided in interpreting her stance regarding the Centre is because she may not have heeded advice from other researchers in regard to conducting research in the field of anthropology. This paper will thus also explore whether or not Myers ‘takes sides’ or if she is neutral and non-judgemental towards the Kabbalah Centre.
Myers provides a very detailed description of the Kabbalah Centre which could be considered data regarding, history, growth, movement, recruitment, key figures involved, rituals, spiritual tools used and interviews of members. There is so much data to draw from that many different interpretations or conclusions could be made from what she has provided. This should be commended. Because she left no aspect unturned in her description, the reader was able to come to their own conclusions regarding the Kabbalah Centre and also able to provide a critique of her conclusion. Malinowski stresses to anthropologists that focusing on texts alone and ignoring the context, the researcher will not get a complete and full understanding (174). Myers heeded this advice and reported on the texts, scriptures, and context. In this way Myers’ book was a success by providing all the necessary information. Her conclusion, however, only focused on part of the picture, which may have taken Kabbalah back out of its rich context.
In regard to context, Durkheim states that a problem with conducting research in anthropology of religion is that we use our own religious background and understanding to compare to all other religions and cultures (37). I have searched the book and the internet for biographical information on Jody Myers and there was none to be found. It may have been helpful to provide context of Myers’ background and religious beliefs as to help determine whether or not she is sympathetic towards the Kabbalah Centre.
Myers’ conclusion was very brief and only focused on two aspects, that of recruitment and how the Kabbalah Centre follows the pattern of growth of new religious movements. From her conclusion, it can be seen that she agrees with many scholars whom also see religion to be a cultural or social phenomenon. I would thus contextualize Myers into the social-political approach within anthropology of religion. Her conclusion framed the activities of the Kabbalah Centre around the importance of social-political influence and the recruitment of members as she decided that Rabbi Berg’s desire to universalize and spread Kabbalah to the world has prevailed over the “desire to produce a kabbalistic form of Judaism” (Myers 219).
Ruel provides four fallacies anthropologists tend to fall into. The third fallacy is that it is generally assumed “belief is fundamentally an interior state” (108). Myers takes this advice into consideration because she focuses on external factors rather than internal factors. However, because she ignores the symbolism and internal factors in her conclusion, it may be unbalanced. There was, after all, enough information provided in her book to comment on how this new religious movement inspired and directed people’s actions through symbolism, teachings, ritual and inner influences. But she chose not to comment on these other influences in her conclusion making it incomplete and unbalanced.
Many researchers, such as Durkheim, Fortes, Geertz, Weber, and Lienhardt, all focus on the social-political influence of religion on the individual. Durkheim believes religion is social in nature because he states that in “history we do not find religion without a Church” (43) and people are not influenced by religion unless it is turned into ritual or action, which must then be approved by the collective (46). These ideas make the focus on social-political aspects of religion valid and necessary, but it is only part of the complete picture.
Kabbalah challenges Durkheim’s belief that religion is purely social because in history Kabbalah can be found without a church. Kabbalah was kept secret from the general population, even from Jews as it was reserved for the devout elite. Durkheim’s idea that ritual is the only way in which people are influenced by religion can also be challenged. What brings members to New Age cults or ‘new religious movements’ such as Kabbalah is disenchantment from traditional organized religion. For example, Myers points out that “Jewish students complained that synagogues and Jewish communal institutions were not addressing the larger questions of meaning and were not conducive to spiritual experiences” (Myers 42). They also felt that the rituals were empty and “were performed only out of a sense of duty or loyalty to the past” (42). Due to the “lack of spiritual content” in their religion, young Jews looked elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment and this is what brought them to Kabbalah (51). If spiritual fulfillment only comes from ritual, it does not explain why these young Jews desired to find spiritual fulfillment outside of ritual. Therefore, there must be more to the story than social-political influence and there is enough evidence provided in Myers book to provide a commentary on other influences.
Another piece of advice for those in anthropology is Asad’s warning against the assumption that religious discourse is a disguise for political power. Asad notices that a lot of research is “biased because religion has come to be associated with knowledge and power (117). The way Myers wrote her conclusion, she painted the picture of a small New Age cult desperate for funding and desperately trying to survive by universalizing their message as to recruit as many members as possible, thus discussing the Centre’s focus around money and power. For example, she points out that the Centre is biased towards those who are “financially endowed” (222) because programs such as Spirituality for Kids, retreats and meals during Shabbat and other important holidays are expensive. When she says “[w]ith a larger community, they are less desperate for survival” (220), it implies that they are anxious, frantic and worried about the recruitment of their members and her conclusion makes it seem like this is the sole purpose of the Centre. From the data gathered in Myers’ book I did not get the impression that money and recruitment was the sole message or sole purpose of the Kabbalah Centre because it is a mandate of the Centre “that a meaningful spiritual life cannot include any element of duty, coercion, or guilt” (Myers 55). By focusing only on the socio-political role in Kabbalah in her conclusion, it does seem as though Myers has defined the religion of Kabbalah as the search for money and power. Therefore, perhaps the bias Asad warned against was not heeded.
Weber looks at Western European and American perspectives and finds that what is culturally significant is the “duty of the individual toward the increase of his capital” (51). When there is a bias toward the increase of capital, there may be a tendency for a westernized researcher to focus on the aspect of making money. Perhaps Myers was influenced by this bias when she focused on recruitment in her conclusion.
Taussig points out how “the institutionalisation of profit and greed [h]as [become] natural and ethically commendable” (449) and discusses the concept of “commodity fetishism” (448). The westernized belief that money makes money has been so engrained and so naturalized, that we do not see how unnatural and illogical it is to believe an inanimate object, such as money, can literally reproduce. Money then takes on magical or ontological properties (Taussig 461). The assigning money magical properties is noticed by Third World persons and in order for them to understand and conform to this relationship, they turn to supernatural means. For example, they will make deals with the devil or baptize money instead of their child (451). When a westernized person hears about the Third World person’s rituals, they find them to be illogical. At the same time the Third World person believes the westernized person’s anthropomorphic view of money to be illogical.
This is important to my analysis of Myers’ book because this back and forth can be seen between traditional organized religions and New Age cults. Organized religions tend to define New Age cults as illogical and based on magic. In response, New Age cults see organized religion as illogical because they are “presented dogmatically and the [rituals] were taught as deeds that must be done through rote obedience” (Myers 51). This reciprocal bias can be found in Myers’s book in regard to the relationship between organized religion and the rise of New Age cults. Since Myers has defined Kabbalah as a new religious movement similar to a New Age cult (87-88) and states that Kabbalah is considered to be the oldest “form of magic” (14), readers may be influenced by their ingrained assumption or bias regarding cults and may conclude Kabbalah is illogical and draws on magic.
When non-western religions are compared to westernized religion, Tambiah warns that this could lead to the labelling of other religion’s rituals as ‘magic’ (325). Spirituality can then become divided into higher and lower versions (Durkheim 37). When spirituality becomes divided, it tends to assign superiority to one type of religion over another, even though “there are no religions that are false” (Durkheim 37). If one has a bias toward their own religious institution, then when reporting on or reading about New Age cults, this bias may leak through. From what I read in Myers’ conclusion, there is a hint of this bias and I may believe that Myers is on the side of organized religion rather than New Age cults. I thus began to wonder if Myers has shown evidence of this bias.
The idea that the Kabbalistic rituals and tools can be seen as illogical and based on magic can be found in Myers’ description of some of the spiritual tools used by the Centre. For example, some of the members wear a red string that is meant to ward off the “evil eye” (134). This could be seen as superstition having magical properties. The Centre also utilizes astrological concepts and believes the planets and stars affect the energy of the person (101). Astrology tends to have a reputation of ‘hucksterism.’ There are other examples of magic and superstition such as changing one’s name because it could make a person ill (155), but the tool that gets a lot of attention is the Kabbalah water.
The water is supposed to have healing properties and is blessed by the Rabbi (172). Myers is very even-handed when reporting on the supposed healing powers of this water. She provides the evidence the Kabbalah Centre brings forth, such as experiments done by Dr. Masuro Emoto who shows in crystallized form, beautiful and symmetrical patterns of what water looks like when exposed to positive messages like “thank-you” and water exposed to negative comments resist crystallization (Myers 173). Myers makes sure it is known that these experiments have not been replicated successfully in the scientific community nor have been “evaluated in peer-reviewed scientific literature” (Myers 173). I do not believe when reporting on this, Myers was taking sides or showing evidence of a bias towards or against the Kabbalah Centre. She is truly being neutral by providing both sides of the story and does not address these tools in her conclusion. Thus, I do not believe she was reporting this information with the intention of ‘debunking’ their practices. Therefore, it must then be the readers that are adding the idea that Myers’ has “debunked the Kabbalah Centre” (Forward.com). It could be the readers imposing this bias onto the Centre due to preconceived ideas and assumptions regarding New Age cults. Whether it is directed to the reader or the researcher, it is good to heed Stanner’s advice against seeing religion as a neurosis (89).
Another piece of advice from researchers in the field of anthropology of religion is a warning against measuring religion against a scientific yardstick. Tambiah states that when religion is measured or reported using a scientific yardstick, the creative meaning and “persuasive validity” of the performative aspect of ritual is often misjudged (312). This may be happening in the interpretation that the tools of Kabbalah are “hucksterism” (Forward.com). It also suggests that Myers’ academic, neutral approach to reporting Kabbalah may be problematic. By presenting religion and mysticism in this way may distort its true meaning and make it look illogical. Pouillon discusses something similar, as he believes there is a “bias toward knowledge based on fact in which the supernatural world does not fit” (94). When religion is compared to science, religion tends to look like superstition and can be labelled as magic (Tambia 324). By reporting only on social-political influences, and by being even-handed and neutral in her approach Myers is coming at Kabbalah objectively and not subjectively, thus may have measured this religious sect against a scientific yardstick. Therefore, her neutral, scientific approach may be implicitly exaggerating the magical and superstitious qualities of the activities of the Centre by making them seem more illogical than they would if presented in the context of the Centre.
Along these lines, when conducting research in anthropology of religion, Geertz suggests that the “tone of the village atheist and that of the …preacher” should be put aside when writing scientifically about religion (74). I am not convinced Myers has been entirely neutral. Words chosen in Myers conclusion may have led some readers to believe she felt she was non-sympathetic towards the Kabbalah Centre. For example, the word ‘vigorous’ (219) used to describe their proselytizing, can imply unwanted force. She believes that Rabbi Berg’s main focus was to recruit members, and states that leaders like this “will rein in their members” (Myers 220, italics added). The term ‘rein’ here can also imply unwanted force or control, even though members come to the Centre by their own free will. She also states “my investigation of the Centre has convinced me that the people there are emotionally manipulated to an extent no greater than in many other established religions” (Myers 221, italics added). The term ‘manipulated’ can also give the impression of coercion. Even though she is attributing this characteristic to all established religions, her overall message is even-handed, but her choice of words is far from neutral. This could have contributed to the interpretation that Myers was non-sympathetic to the Kabbalah Centre. I believe Myers’ report on the history, growth and activities of the Kabbalah Centre to be neutral, which could, to some readers, come across as sympathetic, but I believe her conclusion to have a tone that comes across as non-sympathetic.
In her conclusion, Myers provides her own advice in regard to studying religion. She warns against defining mystical or new religious movements by “what they lack and what they reject of the dominant religious culture” (222). She believes that defining new religious movements in this manner takes away from their richness. Ironically, she states this after defining Kabbalah as a new religious movement based on what they lack from dominant organized religions (219). She then goes into detail about how Kabbalah lives up to this definition (201-220). Therefore, in my opinion, Myers did not take her own advice in regard to defining new religious movements.
Overall, Myers book was excellent and provided a complete description of the Kabbalah Centre, but felt the conclusion was far from complete. There was enough data and information to provide a conclusion that included more than a comment on socio-political influences. When reporting on the history and activities of the Kabbalah Centre, I believe Myers did an excellent job in heeding the warnings suggested by other researchers in the field (except for perhaps reporting from a scientific point of view), but this quality did not transfer over to her conclusion where there may have been some evidence of westernized bias. However, the way in which I have written this paper about Myer’s book Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest, there may be evidence of bias in my conclusions. I sympathize with Kabbalah and happen to be a member of the Centre. I may have therefore, fallen into the same traps and biases coming from the other direction. For example, there was a hint of a bias towards traditional organized religions on Myers’ part and a hint of a bias towards New Age cults on mine in response. Overall, however, I loved the book, but thought the conclusion was incomplete.
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Explaining Mystical Experiences
Mystical experiences as studied in Psychology are a by-product of the recent upsurge of interest in the study of consciousness. With the study of consciousness and its various definitions, comes the analysis of higher states synonymous to mystical experiences. Some examples of mystical experiences include visions or revelations produced by dreams, trance states, psychedelic drugs, meditation, out of body and near death experiences, and phenomenon produced in hypnagogic states.
According to research, what all mystical experiences have in common is ineffability, which is a lack of words to describe said experiences, they are transient or brief, and have a passive quality that includes a sense of oneness or timelessness. Even though the experience is brief, it is long enough to have a profound impact that can change a person. It has been found that after a mystical experience, the person no longer fears death because they see its inevitability; they feel more empathetic or compassionate towards others and experience a sense of purpose in life (James, early 1900’s).
In this paper personal mystical experiences were described and compared to mystical experiences documented in previous research. Such experiences were then attributed to relevant theories explaining how and why these experiences may occur.
The author of this paper meditated on a somewhat regular basis for about two weeks, from Sunday February 10th to
Experience 1: Wobbling or Floating Sensation Paired with Synesthesia
Usually during a deep meditative state a “woosh” or tingle occurs that begins in my heart or chest and moves up and out the top of my head. This time, however because of the fever it was a little different. This time the tingle rose up from the chest but when it reached the top of my head, two streams or spouts came out instead of one, much like the way smoke curls off of an incense stick in two streams. As the one was made as two, there was a “popping” sensation that came along with the streaming as they shot out of the top of my head. I then felt the “woosh” or tingle start over again, beginning at the navel this time and as it rose up to my head it felt like a zipper zipping the two streams back up again. When the zipper reached the top of my head, to my surprise and relief, my fever was gone. Looking back on it now it was like the popping sensation was the fever breaking.
Comparison to Previous Reports of Floating and Synesthesia
In Experience 1, the wobbling or floating sensation has been documented in previous experiments conducted by Deikman (1963), and later replicated by Hunt (1971). Hunt (1971) conducted the experiment using a blue vase and followed participants through concentrative meditation to study and content analyze how the thought processes changed during the experience.
There were four major categories of experience found in the process. Stage 1 involved visual satiation while staring at the object, which is common when the eyes have satiated or focused on a single object for an extended period of time. Stage 2 involved a change in perception of the shape of the object as it began to pulsate, vibrate and even lift off the table. Colours also became more vivid. Stage 3 was deeper still as the participant began to perceive numbness and tonic immobility associated with the Orientation Response in reaction to novel stimuli. At this stage was also recorded the beginning of the synesthesia, where reorganization of the body image is now coordinated with visual changes in the vase. The way the body felt seemed to change as the perception of the vase changed. This feeling of oneness with the object is called synesthesia and is fairly common in altered states of consciousness, including meditation. Synesthesia is a cross-modal translation or a kinaesthetic merging with an object, symbol or sound.
As the meditation became deeper, participants in his experiment who reached Stage 4 reported a synesthesia experience so intense that the participant was not sure where the object ended and their body began. Accompanying this was a floating sensation or an inner floating.
Looking back at the personal experience of concentrative mediation with the ceiling fan, there are many commonalities with these reports. Not only did the sensation of the sound of the fan and its wind on my face become heightened and vivid, but I experienced such oneness with the fan that I reached a Stage 4 synesthesia experience as my body moved with the fan’s movements and experienced a floating sensation.
Experience 2: The Impersonal Void, Hypnagogic
There is no particular date that I can remember, but one time upon waking from sleep I experienced a strange sensation of oneness with everything. The experience is ineffable and therefore extremely hard to describe in words so I may contradict myself in the process. I was waking up but it was like my body was waking up before my mind. It was almost like I was already sitting up in bed when my mind caught up to my body. Right before I came to, I was one with everything and nothing in the universe. There was no designation or value to anything. Nothing was good or bad, or had a label or name; it was just “there.” It was a feeling of complete equality or cancelling out of everything creating equalization or nothingness sensation. When I woke up it was like I had arrived from some other place or dimension, or even some other life. My mind came down from above and joined back into my brain. At that moment I really woke up and immediately tried to “wrap my head” around the situation and my mind began to sort through the experience by trying to label or find words to describe it.
Comparison to Previous Reports of Void and the Impersonal
William James has recorded experiences involving what he calls the streaming of consciousness. He noted that there is no “I” in consciousness accompanied by an impersonal feeling of a primordial “thatness” or “Isness.” If one becomes aware of the streaming of consciousness he calls this Pure Experience. He also describes a similar sensation after breathing in Nitrous Oxide as anaesthesia. He noticed that during the anaesthetic coma there is an absence of all consciousness and as he began to come out of it, he noticed a vague limitless infinite feeling and a “me verses not me” sensation that he described as “thatness.” He then goes on to report this sensation can occasionally happen from deep sleep to waking up as what happened in Experience 2.
James presented another example of the same experience during meditation; a clear brilliance of open flowing consciousness that cannot be identified as this or that. When one becomes aware of the true reality of nature, there is a clear void awareness that is described as the core of “thatness.”
Heidegger reported similar experiences with his work, described as a direct experience of being, which he suggested is the core of mystical experiences. Spearman and Cattell (1930) reported states of “derealization” where the familiar seems very strange and objects had no label or name, they were just a thing. They also documented a “vunumic sensation” which is a complex visual/kinaesthetic synesthesia with a feeling of timelessness and infinite sense of space that cannot be explained in words.
The experience of oneness with everything is also frequently documented by students in Zen Monasteries. This is not surprising because Buddhists believe there is an underlying unity in all things (as do Hindus). Satori, which is the subjective experience of enlightenment is said to have this quality of feeling one with everything which is also an impersonal experience because the personality dissolves into oneness.
Experience 3: One with All-That-Is, Personal
Around February 21st after another meditation session I went to bed, but decided to watch TV before I fell asleep. As I lay there in bed I became very absorbed in the T.V., so much so that I lost myself in the process. When I came out of the trance there was a lag again, like waking up in Experience 2. It was like I was surprised to find myself in a body, like the idea of having a body was foreign to me. I was even more surprised to find that I was female. At that moment I did not understand the concept of sex or gender. I remember wondering why I was “down here” for a second and how primitive it was to be in corporeal form. I felt like I was a part of something greater and when I oversaw the life on earth it was like everyone was sleeping except for me. I was awake and aware and everyone else was distracted or had blocked their vision of the greater. It was them that were in the trance, not me because I could see clearly. There was a calm, compassionate feeling that followed and I came out of it smiling. Then I remembered why I was here. As I came out of the trance or vision, it was like there was a delay as my mind seemed to catch up to the feeling and when the two became “in sync” I was back in my room and back in my reference state of consciousness.
Comparison to Previous Reports of a Personal “I Am” Experience
James put forth the idea in his book Varieties of Religious Experiences that there is an experiential core common cross culturally in all religions. This spontaneous state has been seen in great mystics and early shamans representing a human capacity that confers in people who are moved by it, a meaning or purpose in existence. James suggested that these experiential states therefore have a function that satisfies and fulfills a deep creative, emotional need. But, along with an affective quality, James believed there was a noetic or cognitive component that also came with the Pure Experience.
Heidegger also believed that there was a noetic component as well as an affective quality involved in the mystical experience. The source or the core being the human capacity of wonder and awe over the sheer existence of things, that there is something rather than nothing. When a mystical experience occurs, there is this experience of transcendence. Almaas documented and referred to this state as “presence”.
James goes on to say in his book that one of the effects of mystical experiences is a sense of purpose in living, with an accompanying feeling of compassion. This (and the feeling of “Isness,” transcendence and sense of purpose) was identical to the description of Experience 3.
Theoretical Explanation of Experience 1: The Floating and Synesthesia
Synesthesia is common in altered states of consciousness especially those invoked by psychedelic drugs and long term meditation. Personality correlates include those high in imaginative absorption and artistic, creative types. The most common synesthesia experience is seeing a colour associated with letter, or colours experienced with music.
The participant in this study is a creative musician who is high in imaginative absorption, thus displaying the correct personality type with a greater tendency towards synesthesia. It would therefore not be a far stretch for this type of person to experience synesthesia. Two types of synesthetes are those whose experiences are standardized and those who are not. The former group is rare among the population compared to the latter. The participant belonged in the more common category.
There have been two competing cognitive theories of how synesthesia may occur. One theory has placed primitive, infantile regression on the experience and the other has placed it in a category of higher cognitive development or as part of a complex imaginative capacity.
The theory proposed by Von Hornbostel (1927) and Boernstein (1936) suggested that synesthesias are primitive and infantile and occur by tapping into some undifferentiated matrix out of which our senses grow. The area in the brain said to house the experience is the brainstem common in most animals where all fibres cross and covey information. This cross generalization in the brainstem was found by Boernstein to be even in frogs. A more recent approach to the primitive model suggests that synesthesia is formed in infancy due to a lack of pruning. Pruning in the brain occurs because the infant has so many cross connections (hyperconnectivity) so it can be ready to be exposed to any information or stimuli potentially available in the environment. As the infant is exposed to stimuli, the connections get narrowed down or “pruned” for specialized purposes that are fundamental in its particular environment. Those who experience synesthesia simply may have hold-over from this.
Paulesu and Frith (1995) found an area in the brain that, if damaged affects or destroys synesthesia experiences. If the angular gyrus is damaged in the neocortex level, it messes up not only synesthesia but symbolic metaphor and gesture. If synesthesia occurs in this area of the brain it cannot be explained by the primitive model because only humans have a fully developed neocortex. Also, only beginning around age 12 do humans develop the capacity to understand metaphor.
Synesthesia cannot be fully explained by lack of pruning either because even though many areas light up in the infant brain when exposed to visual stimuli, synesthesias are not triggered by basic visual stimuli. Rather they occur when exposed to semantic stimuli such as letters, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year, which an infant has no interest in. Thus a higher cognitive function model may be needed to better explain the phenomenon.
Geshwind (1965) proposed a higher order model that involved a cross-modal matching or translation capacity in the neocortex and is therefore unique to humans. Language (which is the catalyst a lot of the time to synesthesia experiences) is in itself a type of cross-modal translation. This is because it involves making sounds as well as kinaesthetic movements including gesture and muscular movement. The modalities involved in synesthesia are the visual and hearing, which is a capacity not found in other animals (Geshwind, 1965).
Due to the greater number of areas in human cross-modal capacity that can potentially be matched up, novelty and creativity can also be explained through this model. Weighing the primitive model with the higher order model, the higher order model seems to fit the evidence better. Not only does it explain how and why synesthesia may occur, but also explains why personality traits such as creativity and imaginative absorption may correlate with the phenomenon.
Theoretical Explanation of Experience 2: The Impersonal Void
There are many examples of the void or timelessness in mystical experiences, but how and why do these phenomena occur? Titchner conducted experiments involving participants presented with an object or stimulus and asked them not to name the object but instead to describe it. For example if they were shown an apple and identified or described it as an apple, this would be called naming the stimulus error. It was found that when the participants were asked to avoid the stimulus error, there was a shift in consciousness from a representational type of consciousness to a more presentational form. These terms were coined by Susan Langer to describe the difference between an intellectual, verbal state of consciousness from a more symbolic, metaphoric one.
The participants in Titchner’s experiment became totally immersed in their inner selves, which brought out an aesthetic quality in the object rather than a physical label. The experience was shown to be similar to the kind of awareness produced in meditative states. This theory could explain the ineffability of mystical experiences because they involve a different type of experience that is aesthetic and more symbolic. It has been said by many researchers and theologians that metaphor is the only way emotional states and mystical experiences can properly be expressed (Vico, 1744; Arnheim; Lakeoff & Johnson; Asch; Jung; Emerson; Levi-Strauss; Vygotsky).
Titchner postulates the void or limitless experience could also be explained as pure sensation because the sense organs infer no meaning on the stimuli received, the labels and meaning come with perception. This makes sense because if you “switch off” the brain to avoid naming the stimulus error, then just the pure sensation is coming in without the perceptual response. Therefore, the void experience could be from this shift in thinking where pure sensation is experienced and perceptual labels are repressed.
It has been proposed by Harry Sullivan that the void associated with mystical experiences could be an exaggeration of the Orientation Response to novelty. But, the novel stimuli in this case are symbolic. It could therefore be explained as a primitive, non-cognitive response to overwhelming, overly complex stimuli. Pursinger took it a little further and said it could be a super-imposed kind of buffer for the fear of death. He may say this because the void has been described by people as frightening and if prolonged, they think they are dying.
Almaas, in his book The Elixir of Enlightenment talked about “holes” in personality and explained the experience could be due to the personality’s struggle to stay with the body. The ego, he said is the deepest, most protected “hole” in the human experience and fights to remain in basic awakeness (Almaas, 1998). When a person is meditating or in a similar trance-like state, the personality dissolves or melts away. It has been said that some people become very afraid in this state. The fear could be because they do not have a healthy or real idea of death because their personality has been ingrained and associated so deeply with an individualistic society. Therefore, the personality cannot conceive of death in any other way than annihilation because of its identification with the body.
The participant however did not experience fear of death, but there was a felt persistence of the personality wanting to “come down” or sync back up with the body. Almaas’ theory of holes may explain the phenomenon of transience and why mystical experiences only occur for a short time (author’s interpretation or connection). It may also explain the other commonality in mystical experiences of passivity. When the personality has dissolved and placed on the back burner so to speak, there is little control over what is happening. The “I” is no longer there, so there is no perceived capacity for being in control. This need for control could also be due to the socialization of an individualistic society and could explain why the personality wants to come back so badly (author’s interpretation or connection).
Theoretical Explanation of Experience 3: The Personal “I Am”
Heidegger believed there was a noetic component as well as an affective quality involved in the mystical experience. The source or the core being the human capacity of wonder and awe over the sheer existence of things, that there is something rather than nothing. The source was said to derive from the unique way humans live in time; as if there is an openness of time ahead unfolding towards an unknown future. He called this Dazine (Heidegger, 1972). This openness of time allows us the experience of being in the “now” and a sense of existence or “Isness.” This Isness could potentially explain why we experience a personal quality or connection with the universe.
Almaas (1998) documented and referred to this state as the “I am” experience (as did Gurdjieff). He suggested people could explore themselves and discover an inner connection to the universe he called essence. For example if a person could reach the state of the opening of the heart, they could be flooded with feelings of love and joy. If one opens the heart Chakra, they can enter into another, deeper realm of essence. According to Almaas (1998), this realm of essence is the realm of the whole universe. Thus explaining the feeling of love and compassion in Experience 3 and also potentially explaining the holistic transcendence experience. Therefore, the participant may have experienced the opening of the heart Chakra.
The personal and impersonal experiences seem to be documented or associated together. For example, Rudolf Otto suggested the idea that there is a core to all mystical experiences, common cross-culturally; he called this core the numinous. He found three major qualities of numinous. (1) Passivity, which is the feeling that it has you, (2) Tremendom, or a powerful affective experience of awe, and (3) Mysterium, a cognitive, noetic aspect that includes either Absoluteness or a Void experience. The mysterium quality seems to account for both the personal and the impersonal experience. Therefore, the similarities of the personal “I am” experiences and the impersonal void experiences may be better explained in a continuum.
Margarita Lasky wrote a book called Ecstasy and sought to abstract the qualities of ecstasy for content analysis. She found overlapping features common in those experiencing mystical states that somewhat parallel Otto’s numinous. One feature of ecstasy was a feeling of intense aloneness and desolation with a sense of a void or gap. Another overlapping feature was a sense of gain, or of filling the gap with unity and purpose. Lasky’s gap and filling the gap experiences and Otto’s feeling of either absolute or void, seem to have a paradoxical quality, also seen in the contrast between Experiences 2 and 3 documented by the participant.
Lasky explained this continuum as having two extremes of mystical experiences. One pole being the personal realization experience of ecstasy called the “I am” The other pole or extreme is the impersonal, void experiences that involved qualities of limitless transcendence and the loss of oneself into the unity of all things. The personal pole has been found to be more common in the West, and the impersonal experience more common in the East. Perhaps the participant in this study had experienced both poles on the continuum, explaining both Experience 2 and 3. These simultaneous similarities and contrasts between them also explain the paradox in trying to describe the experience. This could be why the feeling of nothing gave way to the feeling of everything and visa versa.
The cosmology of the I-Ching could come in handy to more properly describe the paradox experience and mystical experiences in general. According to Eastern cosmology first and foremost there is unity in all things in the universe. Secondly there is a division of opposites that represent a dichotomy. But thirdly, even though it may seem that there are opposites, they are really compliments of the very same thing representing again, the underlying unity in everything.
Western civilization is very focused on individuality, thus unity is hard to see. We also tend to see things as black and white and left and right, when truly they are two sides of the same coin. This could reflect the problem of studying mystical experiences using the scientific method. It seems defeatist to try and document and test mystical experiences if they are ineffable because the structure of the scientific method is representational and the experiences are presentational. Essentially, the scientific method could be the wrong tool or study method for these phenomena and the wrong lens in which to see them out of. This is why in my appended diary entries there are pictures and poems needed to help describe the experiences.
If it is true that we can all have access to these experiences, then it may occur on an inner, emotional level that is essentially the same for everyone. But, when one tries phenomenologically to explain these events it looses its objectiveness and it becomes a subjective interpretation. Thus, even language could be the wrong tool of explanation. Almaas (1998) came close to explaining this problem. It could be true that words could help trigger the idea or understanding in someone who has had a similar experience. But, that would require representational scientists and researchers to have had a presentational mystical experience as a prerequisite for studying these events. Therefore, perhaps a more Eastern type cosmology should be considered in the fields of science and psychology.
The theories proposed in the paper do an acceptable job at explaining how mystical experiences may occur, but until Western civilization can eliminate dichotomous thinking and return to a more collectivist society, the nature of truly why mystical experiences occur will remain elusive.
Psychology of Western Consciousness (2005)
Consciousness is one of the hardest constructs to define in Psychology. What makes it difficult is that in order to define consciousness we need to know where to draw the line between what we perceive to be conscious and what we believe to be unconscious or “nonconscious”. Do we say that animals have consciousness because they react and adapt to stimuli in the environment? Do we say a compass has consciousness because it “knows” where north is? The major problem in defining consciousness is that it does not lend itself to scientific methodolgy and therefore is difficult to measure empirically (lecture 1). A reason why science has a hard time explaining and defining consciousness is that it is too complex to keep track of all the details or changes in consciousness from one individual to the next and from one situation to another (Farthing, 1992). It would be even harder to predict the various experiences and changes in consciousness which is a goal of science (Farthing, 1992).
Many attempts have been made to create an all encompassing definition of consciousness and each falls short. One reason is because the actual experience of consciousness is subjective (Farthing, 1992); another reason is that the definitions do not take into account the idea that we can also have “nonconscious” processes. This paper will outline different types of consciousness and their functions, summarize different definitions and consider their problems due to nonconscious processes, and then will discuss with evidence if we really have a nonconscious, or dual consciousness.
Examples of different types of consciousness include Primary, Reflective or Self awareness.
Primary consciousness includes sensory experience such as colour recognition, and memory (Lect.1). It also includes thoughts and feelings that arise due to a given sensory experience or situation (Farthing, 1992). Primary consciousness is said to be a more primitive level believed to be in preverbal children and other animals (Farthing, 1992). A function of this type of consciousness would be for evolution and survival because if we did not have this ability we would not be able to adapt to or interact with the environment.
Reflective consciousness and/or self awareness facilitate the concept that we are individuals, separate from other people (Farthing, 1992). For example we can introspect, or look inside ourselves to analyse aspects of our thoughts, feelings or behaviour. We can look outside ourselves and create a unique interpretation of our experiences (Farthing, 1992). A function of reflective or self consciousness would be to help us learn and grow through adaptation and evolution, or just help us “carry on as humans” (in class film).It also facilitates a sense of self or self awareness which is important for understanding other people (Lect.2). It can also help us anticipate the actions of others (Blackmore, 2004).
Consciousness can also be described as awareness, wakefulness or as an executive control system. Awareness implies that we are paying attention to something, whether it is within us (introspective) or outside us such as events and objects from the environment (Farthing, 1992). For example, William James once said that his experience is attributed to what he agrees to attend to (Blackmore, 2004). The problem is that our experience is also influenced by stimuli that we are not paying attention to or not consciously aware of. For example, sometimes when I am reading I realize I had not absorbed what I just read. A function of automatic processes is to free up space in our mind for other things. If we had to pay attention to every little detail while driving, we just would not be able to do it (Lect.4). Some define consciousness in terms of capacity, but we can only be aware of plus or minus seven items in our short term memory at once. This does not leave much capacity to work with. Automatic processes do about 99% of the work and therefore have a larger capacity (Lect.1). Tunnel vision while driving is another example of an automatic or nonconscious process this definition missed.
We can also describe consciousness as wakefulness as opposed to being knocked out, in a coma, or sleeping (Farthing, 1992). Wakefulness cannot fully describe consciousness either because we do not necessarily have to be awake to be aware. We are aware of our dreams and can be woken up by noises at night. Neither awareness nor wakefulness can completely encompass the idea of consciousness because they both imply that consciousness is passive, when it is also active.
Another definition, consciousness as an Executive Control System describes consciousness as a decision maker and sees it as an active overseer that organizes activities. It also monitors and controls the mind/brain system (Farthing, 1992). A function of overseeing and actively organizing activities in the brain is that we can shape our inner and outer experience consciously by changing the way we think or respond. This way we can control behaviour and develop social skills providing a social function (Lect.4 & Blackmore, 2004). A problem with this definition however, is that there is a disassociation between the mind/brain system during hypnosis that this definition cannot explain (Farthing, 1992). During hypnosis we take a more passive role in consciousness and are not in conscious control. Therefore, consciousness cannot be and entirely active thing either.
The major reason these definitions do not fully describe consciousness is because although nonconscious processing is a controversial issue (Blackmore, 2004) many psychologists agree that most of our mental processing is done without conscious awareness (Farthing, 1992). For example, we are bombarded by stimuli all day that we may not be focusing on, but it still effects us. Susan Blackmore proposes classifications of actions that are not only conscious, but also nonconscious (Blackmore, 2004).
If the role or capacity for nonconscious processes is so large where do conscious processes come in? Nonconscious processes help free up capacity so our consciousness can be in the present and search for potential danger (Lect.4). Also, if we are aware of the effect of nonconscious processes, then we can alter the influences they have over us. For example, if our automatic processes are causing accidents, then our consciousness can become aware, over ride the automatic processes and get rid of problematic old habits. It can also guard us from being manipulated.
Therefore, consciousness is complex and difficult to define in scientific terms. The unnerving aspect is if stimuli can affect us without our knowledge, then we may not be in complete control over our experience. Researchers have also defined consciousness in terms of control (Lect.1), but we may not be in control as often as we believe. So, how much are we influenced by stimuli we are not aware of?
Evidence for nonconscious processes comes from experiments done in:
1. Perception and Attention
2. Learning and Memory
3. Hemispheric Laterality and Split-brain research.
1. Perception interprets the information coming in from our senses. It works by recognition and matching up assumptions based on what we have learned in the past (Lect.3). One example of an assumption we use in vision is size constancy. We assume when someone is rapidly getting larger in our eyes that the person is running towards us and not physically growing taller. We need these assumptions otherwise we would not be able to make sense of the world because it would be constantly changing (Lect.3).
These assumptions can be wrong however, and this is how we can show that we have nonconscious processes. An illusion called Titcherner’s circle is a circle of a constant size surrounded by tiny circles and another circle of the same size surrounded by huge circles (Blackmore, 2005). Our perception sees the two middle circles as being different in size, but another part of us (our motor system) is not fooled. For example our fingers will spread to the accurate size of each circle and reveal that the two middle circles as the same size. This way our nonconscious processes can be more accurate than our conscious processes (Lect.3). We can be manipulated by these assumptions using illusions and can therefore be influenced by nonconscious processes.
Our perception is set up in the nervous system to find an antagonistic balance (Lect.5). For example, if we stare for a long time at a yellow object, after a while a bluish outline will be perceived around it. Yellow and blue are set up as an antagonistic pairing in the brain; also referred to as complimentary colours. The function is to better discriminate between different shades of colour (Lect.5). Another example of this antagonistic balance is if asked to meditate and relax for a week, the things that you are asked to do after this week will be done faster than usual (Lect.5). Therefore, there are many nonconscious processes influencing us without our awareness.
Attention can also show that we can be influenced nonconsciously. Anne Tereseman devised a model of attention that demonstrates stimuli can influence us even when we are not paying attention to it (Lect.3). For example, sound comes into the ear and there is a channel that recognizes the frequency, pitch or complexity of the wave and then another channel that computes its meaning and context. The “Cocktail Party Effect” shows that our awareness can be diverted by certain key words like our names, interests or needs even when we completely focused on the person we are talking with (Lect.3). This implies that there is no simple switch that allows or disallows stimuli into our consciousness and also shows that we can be influenced by stimuli that we are not paying attention to.
2. Learning is a major function of consciousness. But can we learn without knowing it? Blackmore (Ch.19) provides evidence that puzzles and problem solving can be done without awareness. There is also another type of nonconscious learning called habituation (Lect.4). When we are presented with a new or novel stimulus, we react with something called an orientation response which is like an arousal. After repeated presentations of the same stimulus, this response becomes weaker and weaker. It is a type of learning because after we discover a new thing, process it and realize that it is not a threat to us, we have learned something about our environment.
A function of this learning capacity is that it frees us up to react to other new stimuli that may be a threat (Lect.4). If the stimulus is not presented again in the same way, we get a mismatch of what we have already learned causing us to react with the orientation response. The process of habituation occurs outside of our awareness and thus is a type of nonconscious learning. If we had receptors that sensed everything around us all the time, including stimuli we have already encountered we would go crazy with an overwhelming amount of information in our conscious space. We would not be able to function properly or learn anything new (Lect.4).
Memory is another major function of consciousness that we do not necessarily have to be aware of. Three major types of memory are semantic, episodic and procedural (Blackmore,2004). Semantic memory involves language and verbal recognition (Lect.4). We usually do not remember the first time we learned a word so therefore, recall and understanding language is not conscious. However, sometimes we become aware of our semantic memory when we cannot remember a word that is on the “tip of our tongue” and can therefore also use memory consciously (Lect.4).
Episodic memory is more like a visual memory that gets stored in a different way with a time, place and an emotional element. We usually recall an episodic memory consciously when asked about the past. But if we cannot quite remember something that happened 20 years ago, is that knowledge or memory gone, or is it still stored in memory? One way to find out if we retain information without being consciously aware is called Savings Method (Lect.4). For example, a five year old child was asked to learn a poem and the time taken to learn it was measured. Twenty years later they were asked to recite the poem, which they may not recall. If asked to relearn the poem and the time it took to relearn it was significantly shorter, there may have been some implicit memory of the poem being learned before that had an influence on the relearning process.
Procedural memory is skilled learning, such as typing or driving a car (Blackmore, 2004). It is stored in a different way than both semantic and episodic memory. This type of memory is very resistant to damage and is still “remembered” even in cases of amnesia (Blackmore, 2004). It seems as though because these types of memory are stored differently, if there is an accident one or more will stay intact to allow some functioning to remain.
Most information that we are exposed to is processed without conscious awareness. It seems that if we have a nonconscious, which this evidence suggests, as well as a conscious then it implies that we may possess two minds. This question can be answered with research done on people who have had split brain surgery. Split-brain surgery involves the cutting of the corpus callosum which is the part in the brain that allows communication between the left and right hemispheres (Farthing, 1992).
3. Hemispheric Laterality is a type of research devoted to looking at the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. According to evidence from split-brain research, the left and right hemispheres do perform different functions. For example, if a pencil is placed in the right hand of a split-brain patient, the left hemisphere of the brain can tell the researcher verbally that it is a pencil. If the pencil is placed in the left hand, the right hemisphere cannot say what it is. This evidence has been used to conclude that consciousness is localized only in the left hemisphere of the brain (Farthing, 1992). However, if the participant is asked to demonstrate what the item (pencil) is used for, the left hand will make writing motions. Thus, the right brain also contains consciousness. It just does not possess motor production skills to verbalize in the same manner as the left hemisphere. When it comes to spatial tasks, like reading a map, the right brain performs better than the left.
Another experiment in split-brain research has shown that the left and right brains still try to communicate with each other, even though the link between them has been severed (Farthing, 1992). If the right brain hears the left brain speak a wrong answer, the right side will emotionally cue the left side that it was wrong. The participant then corrects the answer above chance. The left hemisphere can cue the right by writing letters on the back of the left hand. This implies that we may indeed have two consciousnesses. An implication of this research is to discourage people from being labelled as left-brained or right-brained because they both have consciousness and are equally capable (Lect.5). They just communicate differently when forced to be on their own. It also shows that left may not be better than right, just different.
If we have two separate consciousnesses, then how does it work in “normal” people? Blindsight is a good example of how it is possible to have two separate consciousnesses. Blindsight occurs when there is damage to the occipital lobe in the brain that is in charge of processing vision but the eyes function just fine (Farthing, 1992; Blackmore, 2004). The patient insists that they cannot see an object that is in front of them, but if forced to guess, they guess the correct object significantly more than chance (Bch.18). It has been said that there are two pathways in the brain that process the same information. One pathway tells you what it is and the other tells you where it is (Lect.3).
Blindsight demonstrates that if one pathway is damaged, the other pathway can compensate for the loss. Just like memory, if one type of memory is damaged, the other types may remain intact. This duality is also present as an antagonistic balance in our nervous system and in many other examples such as muscles and ligaments one to extend, and one to contract. Like Hemispheric Lateralists, society seems to revere one side over the other and place more importance on cognition over emotion. But, it is important not to get carried away with the differences between these two aspects, but realize that they work together in balance as one. Just like consciousness and nonconsciousness work together to create the human experience.
The Implication of Eastern Concepts on Western Ideals
The I Ching is a Chinese cosmology common to both Confucianism and Taoism. A cosmology is an explanatory system used to describe the universe (Lect.1). The I Ching describes the universe as being completely interconnected where everything affects everything inside it. The universe is thus represented by a circle to signify this unity and exchange. Yin is represented by a broken line to signify opposites or things that we cannot know directly, but affect us anyway (Lect.1). Yang, a solid line represents how even though there are opposing aspects like darkness and light, male and female etc. they are really complimentary and complete each other. Thus, bringing full circle the idea that there is still underlying unity. The Yin Yang is a symbol used to explain this concept (see Figure 1). The two dots in the figure represent the idea that if you go too far to one extreme, it wraps around to arrive at its opposite (Capra ch7).
Another important aspect of Chinese cosmology is that they believe the universe has order, as opposed to chaos. If the universe is organized, then there must be some way to predict future events by observing nature’s cycles (Lect.1). The I Ching came about due to this idea because it was thought that this principle could be applied to people to help them figure out what to do, and how to achieve it. If there was a specific dilemma to be solved, the practise could be used to help provide possible solutions. The I Ching (or the Book of Changes) contains 64 figures also known as hexagrams in the form of three rows of lines, either broken or solid. These hexagrams are based on the symbolism of the yin-yang (Capra7) and are used to predict the future by studying the pattern in yarrow sticks or by flipping a coin. It is much like using randomness to predict future events.
Kung Fu-tzu (the founder of Confucianism), used the cosmology and applied it to human nature and social conventions by devising a set of guidelines to help people get along harmoniously in society (Lect.1). Human nature or personality, was divided into two types; the physical or lower level needs, and a higher level of virtue (Lin Huey Ya). Our capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of others and the ability to be virtuous is what separates humans from the animals. Virtue comes out of the ability to feel shame (Lin Huey Ya). The main purpose of Confucianism is to get people to utilize their capacity to feel shame and their ability to empathize so people can live harmoniously with each other, displaying unity on all levels. However, strict rules and social conventions were seen as necessary to accomplish this (Lect.2).
Taoism rose up in response to Confucianism to counteract the constraints made by the strict rules and conventions (Capra 8). This movement believed that Confucianism had gone too far and therefore set out to liberate people from the social conventions and strict rules set up by Confucianism (Capra 8; Lect.1). Taoism maintains that opposites must live in balance as expressed by the yin yang. Taoism would say Confucianism is too active and too ridged. If there are ridged rules, then there must also be a balance of spontaneity (tzu-jan). If there is action, there must also be non-action (wu-wei).
Taoism agrees that empathy and social rules are necessary, but rules need to be more flexible to account for exceptions (Lect.2). These opposites would be pushed to show that there is an exception to every rule (Lect.1) and therefore disagree with the need for rules (Lect.2). For example it is good not to steal, but if stealing a thing would save the life of another, then it would be more appropriate to steal in that situation; especially if demonstrating empathy and cultivating social relationships is more important.
The contrast between Confucianism and Taoism has major implications to the Western world because it is dominated by rules and social conventions. This could imply that our society is also off balance, by being too active and ridged. We are always on the go and can therefore apply Taoist principles to counterbalance over activity. For example, Wu-wei could be used to allow for rest and breaks because too much action and doing can cause a person to become overwhelmed and have a breakdown or a seizure. We tend to force nature to fit into our life, instead of fitting our life into nature (Lect.2).What we may have in mind for our future, may not be in nature’s plan. So, Wu-wei could also be used to let nature take its course and go with the flow by doing nothing.
Aside from too much doing, we need to be more spontaneous. If we do the same thing everyday life becomes predictable and drab. We cannot always repeat our routine everyday and therefore need to be more flexible. For example one day you go out in your car you cannot drive on the right side of the road due to construction. Do you stress over breaking the driving bylaw? We need to live life more spontaneously and according to the situation, and not strictly to the conditions of social convention.
Taoism is therefore needed in Western society to show that the universe is in constant flux and it is impossible to follow rules and conventions in every situation. The definition of reality is that all matter and energy interact and everything affects everything (Lect.2). Thus, there will be exceptions to rules and limitations on how much we can control. This has major implications on the empirical study of Psychology because it needs consistency in order to predict behaviour. If everything affects everything then these predictions will always be a little off or a little wrong. Not only these, but any predictions of the future made from the past will be affected. This is what Taoists would say about the predictions made by the I Ching. Even if we come up with guidelines and formulas that predict behaviour, there will always be exceptions.
Assumptions and predictions can also produce stereotypes (Lect.2) and biases, affecting the interpretation of psychological data. The predicament is reminiscent of the whole nature/nurture debate where some psychologists believe it can be only one or the other. But, we are finding that in any given situation both nature and nurture play an important role and therefore is a balance between the two.
Taoist principles can be useful in Western society to recognize the balance in all things. We should also allow our predictions to be flexible and account for both opposing concepts. We can also use Taoism to curb our fear of death. For example, linear thinking, because it has a beginning, and an end, causes us to think that we too will end or cease to be. If we had the belief that the universe is unified, and was cyclical then we would no longer have a fear of death.
Hinduism does not perpetuate the fear of death either because much like Taoism, Hinduism believes everything is united. This unity is called Brahman and the manifestation of Brahman in the self is called atman (Capra 5), see Figure 2. Their god Shiva is the god of both creation and destruction because in the process of creating something, something else is destroyed (Lect.3).
Buddhism also believes everything is united. There are many commonalities between Taoist, Hindu and Buddhist thought and therefore all of these Eastern concepts can be useful to Western Civilization. For example, the concepts of yoga in Hinduism and enlightenment in Buddhism have great psychological importance to the Western world. Capra (ch6) states that the four noble truths of Buddhism are doctrine that can be given to a member as a remedy to be cured of a sickness, much like a doctor in Western culture would prescribe a remedy to a patient who is sick. Also, according to Akishige many Zen or Buddhist principles can also be used in counselling and psychotherapy. But in order to put them to use, we need to know a little bit about their cosmologies.
Like Taoism, Hinduism’s cosmology is that there are two forces that need to be united. These two forces are spirit and matter. Spirit (punsha) represents the cosmic forces and heaven, and matter (prakiti) represents form and the Earth. The goal is to integrate with the two and be unified in the context of reality (Lect.3). This integration is called yoga (Lect.3). However, the unity already exists; we just do not recognize it because the illusion (maya) makes it seem we are separate. Thus the goal is not to achieve union, but to instead realize that the illusion of separateness exists (Coan). So, the idea is to turn the self (atman) into the no self or “anatman” (Lect.3). This wisdom helps break down the illusion of the doubt born of ignorance allowing for yoga or self-harmony (Capra 5).
Yoga is the Hindu practice of achievement of a higher consciousness and if one can understand this discipline, then one can reach understanding with the whole universe (Swami Rama). There are five sheaths or bodies of energy to pass through while practising yoga. There is a food sheath, an energy sheath, a mental sheath an intellectual or intuitive sheath and a blissful sheath surrounding the self. This concept is very much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where once the basic needs of food and shelter are met; one can attend to higher needs such as emotional, recognition and self actualization which is the unfolding of the self. In yoga however, if one can penetrate the blissful sheath, all dichotomies, judgements and classifications will dissolve (Swami Rama).
The cosmology of Buddhism is similar to both Taoism and Hinduism because they believe in unity and also have two ideas to be united. These two ideas are true reality and our concept of reality. Two problems with our concept of reality are that we ignore things that affect us, and make up things that are not there (Lect.6). In other words we try to fit a square peg into a round hole every time we create our concept of self or reality (see Figure 3). The mismatch between what we expect or assume, and what is really there is the core and cause of all suffering (Lect.6), which is the first of four noble truths that lead to the path of enlightenment or Buddhahood (DeSilva).
The first noble truth is duhkah, which represents suffering or frustration (Capra 6). This suffering comes from the difficulty in recognizing true reality. Here is the parallel to the Hindu maya or the illusion that we are separate from the rest of the universe. Suffering also comes from or the refusal to understand that everything is impermanent. In Buddhism there are three characteristics of existence, suffering, impermanence and anatman or no-self (Lect.5). If we can realize things are impermanent, we could stop grasping at things we cannot control, thus ending suffering and dissolving ourselves back into the universe.
The second noble truth is avidya or ignorance (much like Hinduism) and deals with the causes of suffering, which include clinging or grasping to things that seem permanent, but are forever changing. When we try to grasp at things that seem permanent but are transient, we become trapped in a vicious circle known as samsara.
The third noble truth is the liberation from suffering called nirvana, and to reach nirvana is to attain enlightenment or Buddhahood (Capra 6). The fourth noble truth is the way of self-development or the Eightfold Path that leads to the middle way between extremes and to Buddhahood (DeSilva). These eight aspects are (1) right understanding (2) right thought (3) right speech (4) right action (5) right livelihood (6) right effort (7) right mindfulness and (8) right concentration (DeSilva).
Buddhism has other concepts similar to Hinduism including avidya (ignorance), karma (action) and nirvana (liberation). Not only does Buddhism incorporate the idea of maya (illusion), but it also stresses the integration or the dissolving of the self in to the anatman or the no-self. This brings us full circle back to Taoism because Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism utilizes the concept of wu-wei to regain naturalness. Naturalness, which is part of enlightenment, requires no thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention and to let it settle itself (Watt ch4). According to Capra (ch9) “regaining the naturalness of our original nature requires long training and constitutes a great spiritual achievement.” These techniques can eventually be used to bring the mind back in contact with reality (Capra ch9), helping to see through the illusion of maya.
We can use the ideas of Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism to alleviate suffering in the Western world because Westerners tend to see things as black and white, right and wrong but the true answer is always a bit of both. The mismatch between polar opposites can cause problems. We can utilize unity principles to create better long lasting relationships and to help with issues such as self esteem and stress.
However, before we can utilize yoga, the four noble truths and liberate ourselves or reach nirvana, we need to know what causes maya, avidya (ignorance), bad karma and suffering in the first place.
The sickness that Buddhism refers to is perceptual, not physical because our minds are set up to see things as separate from each other. In Buddhism the mind is seen as multiplicity. The body and all objects in the world are created by the mind (Watt ch3). Psychology agrees. For example Gestalt principles automatically discriminate between figure and ground. Our eyes are also set up to use assumptions to assess events and objects in our environment. For example, size constancy sets up an assumption that objects getting larger on the retina are moving closer. We can play with these assumptions and create illusions because if an image gets bigger, it could also be that the object is increasing rapidly in size (Lect.4). Our eyes are built to see this way and the assumptions have survival value, but it is therefore hard to perceive everything as unified.
Maya is like a yard stick or term of measurement from which we use to assess facts and events; it is not a reality of nature (Watt ch2). This measuring is not uncommon to Western civilization. Psychology believes the empirical measurement that it uses to define and label things is the core of all solutions. Hindus say that this process of measurement is the core of all problems or maya (Lect.4).
Western civilization is very focused on the self as an individual and psychology studies everything considered to be a part of the self. Psychology then labels and classifies things and in the posses discovers individual differences. The methodologies attempt to differentiate and distinguish between people and characteristics. This constant separating and differentiating unfortunately perpetuates maya.
Avidya (ignorance) and Karma (action)
Avidya means ignorance and is correlated to maya (Lect.4). The question is “what are we ignoring?” This is an important question because if we are ignorant to the things that affect us, we can make mistakes. For example, if we ignore the effects of caffeine on our nervous system and drink four cups of coffee before writing an exam, the ability to concentrate will decrease and affect performance.
Karma is said to come from incorrect self images. There are three characteristics that influence the construction of the self. The idea that we are separate individuals, the persistence that defines the self as limited in space and time, and autonomy which makes one think they have some control over what is said, thought and done (Claxton). The more incorrect our self image is from what we really are, the more bad karma is created by our actions. For example, if we believe that making money makes us happy, then we may lose empathy and connection with other people because it is a selfish pursuit. If we believed loving our neighbour will make us happy, there would be no war. Buddhism says there can be no such thing as a “just war”. The idea that a war can be just is used politically to make cruelty, murder, violence and hatred acceptable (Rahula).
Also, the bigger the difference between what we think we are and what we really are, the more mistakes we will make and the number of mistakes we make drastically affects our self esteem. If our assumptions and predictions are constantly found to be wrong, we begin to think less of ourselves and our confidence decreases. We may also protect the illusion using defense mechanisms creating further problems.
Avidya also perpetuates assumptions. Our mindset is linear, so we tend to make assumptions about the future that are based on the past. As mentioned before, our predictions made about the future that are based on the past are always a little wrong. This can have a negative effect on our relationships because we expect things to stay the same when in fact things are constantly changing. If we enter into a relationship with the understanding that things will not stay exactly the same, then we would not have failed expectations or end up in the counsellor’s office saying “what happened to the person I married?” People change and situations change and there are many forces that affect us that we should not ignore.
The mismatch between our concept of reality and what reality really is also causes stress. Stress can come from our expectations and assumptions of permanence (anitya). If a person desires to control and predict, the more stressful that person will become because their predictions and ability to control will not be as expected. Buddhists say that mental faculties cause stress (Lect.5) because the more you are educated about the dangers of the world, the more you will stress over them. The less we care or dwell on these things, the less stress we will have (Lect.6). Wu-wei and meditation can be prescribed to relieve this stress. A meditation practice known as Morita therapy focuses on respiratory regulation and is used internationally due to its desired results (Akishige).
If we continue to believe in contradiction and opposition then struggle and suffering will persist (Akishige). Therefore Taoist, Buddhist, and Hindu concepts can be useful in Western society to alleviate a lot of the unnecessary stress and suffering caused by the assumptions we create about the world, reality and ourselves.
GSFR IRP Sandra Kroeker
July 25, 2012
Feminist Theology and the Problem of Dualism
Religious texts such as the Bible are one manifestation of androcentric ideology that presents male spiritual experience as central in representing all of humankind (Loades 1). Feminist theologian Carol Meyers states that the Hebrew Bible is “male-centred…in its subject matter, its authorship, and its perspectives” and warns against using this source as a true reflection of women’s experience in biblical times (245). One task of feminist theology is to discover how or why the voices of women’s experience have been marginalized in traditional religious doctrine (Gonzalez 88-89).
Fundamentalist traditions narrow faith down to the importance of literal interpretation of scripture and often use it to justify oppression of women and to reinforce traditional gender roles (Stuckey 12; Carmody 183-184). Feminist theology points out that the manifestation of androcentrism in scripture reveals
one of the major ways in which male-dominated political systems …
maintain control over women (and men). In some societies…
religion is the central control mechanism. (Stuckey 7, italics in original)
Therefore, androcentric interpretation of Scripture helps perpetuate patriarchy, stereotypes and strict gender roles (Trible 23).
What it is exactly that has marginalized women’s voices in regard to religious experience is highly debated, but there is general consensus that patriarchy underlies traditional theology (Johnson 29), that it has ignored or downplayed the experience of women and that traditional theology has had a detrimental effect on women (Young 15-16). There is also some consensus that the androcentrism behind traditional theology is not innocent, but deliberate and “founded in vested interests of power and control” (Jantzen 284; Johnson 29) and blame the rampant sexism and androcentric patriarchy in general, to fear (Janzen 284, 293; Midgley 75; Clay 196).
The male-dominated interpretation of the Bible has led women to become disenchanted with religion because they are unable to identify with a Deity that is presented as male (Clay 196; Stuckey 25; Johnson 4). It is important not to silence women’s spiritual and religious experience because the ways in which people speak about God play a part in how God is defined (Johnson 4). Elizabeth Johnson states that “[w]ords about God are cultural creatures, entwined with the mores and adventures of the faith community that uses them” (Johnson 6). If God is defined through social symbols and decision making, and if women are excluded from this realm, the definition of God remains patriarchal (Johnson 4). For example, if God is defined as warlike, and always ready to punish the enemy, then it influences community ideology that will then tend to be more aggressive and disrespectful towards others (Johnson 4). Jantzen explains this phenomenon nicely when she states
The dominant group of ruling class males constructed a world-view which set them apart as
normative humanity, over against the ‘other’ – women, other races, the poor, the earth – and
then fashioned in their own image a God of ultimate value, power and rationality over against
the disvalue, passivity and irrationality of the opposite side of the duality. (Jantzen 292)
Therefore, the continuing dominant view that the male definition of God is normative widens the gap between women and their connectedness or association with how society defines God (Johnson 5; Tong 21/59).
The task of feminist theologies is to deconstruct the history of oppression and to revise traditional interpretations of God or explore new, alternative ways to interpret traditional religious doctrine (Johnson 29). This revision and renovation begins with documenting women’s experience (Gonzalez 88). Therefore, some feminist theology tries to create a more adequate concept or definition of God that includes feminine spirituality (Lanzetta 141). This paper will explore whether or not new renovations or revisions to theology can liberate feminine spirituality by determining if the logic avoids the problem of dualism.
Camps of theological feminism take different approaches to “emancipatory transformation” of the definitions applied to God and community (Johnson 5). There are many different methodologies (Young 17) that are used to attempt to reconstruct or revise the androcentric images, symbols and language within the Bible (Young 12-13; Stuckey 17). Fiorenza proposes that feminist theological methodology should include
(1) suspicion rather than acceptance of biblical authority
(2) critical evaluation rather than correlation, [referring to the inclusion of the cultural situation]
(3) interpretation through proclamation,
(4) remembrance and historical reconstruction, and
(5) interpretation through celebration and ritual. (130; Hogan 91; Gonzalez 73)
There are four major camps of feminist theology inspired or categorized by Carol Christ and Johanna Stuckey. They are: Revisionist, Renovationist, Revolutionary and Rejectionist (Stuckey 17).
Revisionist feminist theologians tend to stay within their religion and show there can be many interpretations of scripture. They believe androcentric language can be changed to more gender-neutral language and hope that if new light is shed on different interpretations of scripture, the true message at the core of the tradition can be revealed (Stuckey 17).
Renovationists take this a step further because they believe it is not enough to reveal different interpretations and the liberating core, but portions of scripture that are sexist should be exposed, refuted and denied. They also tend to stress the importance of altering the sexist language to include “female imagery,” rather than applying gender-neutral images and language (Stuckey 17).
Revolutionists push traditional religion to its limits by fighting for reform and enjoy bringing in imagery, symbolism and language from other religious or spiritual traditions (Stuckey 17). Rejectionists believe that sexism and androcentrism within traditional religions is beyond repair and leave their traditional religions to create new religious factions (17). Even though these four different camps of feminist theology are categorized into different groups, there is considerable overlap between them (17).
Theology can be defined as “the intellectual reflection on the experience of faith” (Stuckey 14) and spirituality is generally defined as “pertaining to or consisting of spirit; [or something that is] non-corporeal” (Stuckey 6). The definition of spirituality is problematic because it tends to promote dualism and reinforces a split between body and mind (Stuckey 6). Spirituality is normally understood as a transcendence of the physical or material world and has therefore instilled the idea that the material world and the body are inferior to the spiritual world and the mind. It is a major threat to overcoming the female/male dualism to believe that the human self should be separated into two opposing aspects. The opposing aspects generally represent the superiority of reason and the inferiority of emotion (Plumwood 19, 20; Midgley 35-41).
There are many theorists such as Aristotle, Descartes and Augustine that have contributed to the hierarchical split between emotion and reason or body and mind but the theories of Plato have been the most influential in the domination of reason over nature. At one point, Plato was even claimed to have written “by the inspiration of God” (Adam 3). Therefore, the belief that the human personality is to be divided into “two sharply contrasting, mutually exclusive and opposing orders” has been appropriated into Christian dogma (Plumwood 89), deeming anything associated with worldly, natural desires as evil and deeming transcendence as superior.
Due to the extreme force of the widely upheld dualism or reason over emotion, anything associated with emotion gets pulled into the inferior position of this oppressive dualistic structure (Plumwood 90, 42).
[T]he psychological dualism of mind and body was further projected as a dualism between
male and female, giving rationalization and theological justification for the misogynism
pervading Western culture. (Jantzen 286)
Thus, the body, women, nature/environment, animals and slaves are dragged into this oppressive dualism as the inferior party (Plumwood 5, 42, 43).
Some of the dualisms involved in feminist theology include “male/female, technology/nature, mastery/slavery, clerical/lay” (Jantzen 289). These other dualisms mirror the structure of the reason/emotion dualism where the former is always assumed to be superior and the latter, always inferior. This way of thinking about dualistic structure stems from a traditional mistake in logic, that may not have been all that innocent (Jantzen 289).
In religion and spirituality, women are thus hauled into this dualistic structure as the inferior party, belittling women’s ability to achieve spiritual enlightenment and authority (Plumwood 42/43; Jantzen 286). In dualisms such as good and evil, men are associated with good and women with evil. Women in the Bible, especially Eve, tend to be presented in a negative light and portrayed as “dangerous or evil” (Young 12). Therefore, women and all that has become associated with them have been forced into the inferior side of the dualistic structure and liberation from these dualisms is pertinent to women’s religious and spiritual fulfillment. Therefore, it is not only androcentric symbolism and language that suppresses women in religion, but the structure of the male/female dualism itself.
The problem of dualism, as influenced by classical logic, is important to feminism in general because the forces of dualism are responsible for oppression of certain groups (Plumwood 56-58). Pinpointing a root cause of problems of oppression is important for feminism and social justice because if the root cause of the problem is not recognized or addressed, only ‘Band-Aid’ solutions can result, stifling true change (Marullo and Edwards 903-905). Therefore, seeking to overcome dualisms becomes important for social change and social justice towards a more egalitarian way of thinking (Marullo and Edwards 898). If strict dualisms can be overcome, then it could lead to liberation of women from the inferior side of dualistic structure, allowing women to more easily achieve religious and spiritual fulfillment, as well as social justice. Therefore, if dualistic structure is associated with the subordination of women (and all those associated with the inferior side), then it is important to understand dualisms and how they function in order for liberation to occur.
Dualisms are defined as different from dichotomies due to the implied and imposed power dynamic assumed in the relationship (Plumwood 47) and the fact that this hierarchical structure has become fixed (47). Unfortunately it is not easy to overcome dualisms, and attempts to do so can end up reproducing the same problems of oppression. For example, dualism normalizes domination to make it seem natural, which ends up affecting and distorting both sides (Plumwood 32). Thus, if both sides are distorted, then merely reversing the poles in the dualism cannot resolve the distortion or problem of power imbedded within (32). By merely reversing the poles in a dualism, the idea that there should be a hierarchical distinction between the two is reinforced (Plumwood 31).
Plumwood goes on to provide five other characteristics that can be considered “key indicator[s] of dualism” (49). She believes these five important characteristics of dualisms must be recognized before liberation from dualistic structures can occur (47). If there is evidence of any of these characteristics, it can be assumed there is an underlying dualistic structure still intact that has not yet been successfully overcome. Plumwood’s five characteristics are backgrounding, radical exclusion, incorporation, instrumentalism, and homogenisation (Plumwood 47-54).
Backgrounding (or denial), is the “view of the other as inessential [from] the master’s perspective” or the denial that the superior needs the inferior in order to be defined as such (Plumwood 48). Backgrounding also allows the master to deny situations in which ‘he’ is the background and ‘she’ can be the dominant (48). This causes “[t]he real role and contribution of the other [to be] obscured” (49) and perpetuates the power problem within the dualism because the one side is seen as always on top, while the other is always on the bottom.
The second characteristic of dualisms is radical exclusion or hyperseparation, which regards overlapping talents or qualities as inessential, unimportant or non-existent, thus “guarantee[ing] distinctness” (Plumwood 49). This way there can be no confusion as to which side (or who) is superior. This hyperseparation is not only seen in classical logic as a strict division between mind and body, but in religion as a strict division between the sacred and profane. Religious symbolism can, therefore, be wielded to repress certain groups of people while strengthening and protecting a position of power or authority (50). Characteristics or factors indicating difference are highlighted, rather than those shared to prevent the gap from being filled and to prevent the dualism from being seen as a continuum, thus maintaining hierarchies (50/51).
Incorporation or relational definition is the third characteristic of dualisms which not only necessitates the one be defined by the other as a lack, but that the side assigned inferiority is so dependent on the superior, that it is not “regarded as an autonomous being” (Plumwood 52). The inferior pole is not recognized as an independent aspect capable of its own achievements and talents and cannot be conceived of as occupying its own space (52).
Instrumentalism or objectification is the fourth characteristic in which the inferior other is seen as a means to the superior’s ends, and is there specifically for their utility (Plumwood 53). The intrinsic value of the inferior other is denied and they become defined solely by their loyalty or usefulness to the superior party, rather than their individual talents and contributions. Therefore, they are “not judged by a separate instrumental standard” but seen as having to be defined by the dominant ideology (53).
Homogenisation or stereotyping is Plumwood’s fifth and final characteristic used to describe the power structure behind dualities (53). Homogenisation is the practise of ignoring the differences in both the dominant and the marginalized group, but in different ways. If all persons in the dominant group are conceived as homogenous, then it makes conformity seem important and powerful and confirms the status and practise of the dominant group (53). Homogenisation of the marginalized group, however, does not work to affirm their status, but to demean their rich differences and render them as unimportant (53). Homogenisation and stereotyping “is a major mechanism of oppression [which leads to] loss of identity and disruption of…culture” (Plumwood 54).
Highlighting the five characteristics used by Plumwood to describe and explain the function of dualisms is important because all five work together to maintain hierarchies and dualistic oppression of certain groups (Plumwood 56-58). If just one of these characteristics is present, it could be determined that there is an underlying, oppressive dualistic structure involved.
The problem of dualisms and characteristics that describe them is not limited to patriarchy, but can also be found in academic analysis of feminist theology itself (Gonzalez 92; Rafferty 192). ‘Womenist’ critiques of feminist theology remind us that an essentialist definition of women, which assumes all women’s experiences are the same, can be just as problematic as patriarchy (Armour 12). Therefore, backgrounding (and all characteristics of dualisms) can be spotted within each of the poles, as well as on an overall level.
An in-depth analysis of intersectionality within feminist theology, however, is far beyond the scope of this paper, but will be addressed and needs to be addressed because this paper deals mostly with the overall dualistic structure of male/female and thus falls into the same trap as other feminist theologies in regard to ‘Womanist’ critiques. I justify my focus on the male/female dualism because the Western thinkers I focus on in this thesis have made the male/female dualism centralized in their analyses.
I also acknowledge that the lines between the poles in a dualism are blurry and providing strict boundaries separating them is problematic. But, the blurriness of the lines dividing perceptual constructs in a dualism is not an indicator of dualistic structure. Therefore, this paper will focus more on the extremes because it is in the extremes where strict, fixed, static boundaries and labels become problematic. This is where overcoming dualism is possible.
The major methodology utilized in the paper is Plumwood’s theory on how to spot the characteristics that indicate a dualism is at work and explore whether or not the logic behind the theology or theory can overcome power-laden, hierarchies behind it (Plumwood 159; Midgley 117). I have discovered that, when using Plumwood’s theory of dualisms to analyze whether or not theories and logical camps overcome dualism, it is most helpful to determine whether or not the theory or logic maintains a balance of “too much and too little” similarity and difference (Kroeker 12; Plumwood 159). “[T]wo movements [are] required to overcome dualistic constructions…[that of] recognizing kinship and recognising difference” (155).
Too much and too little similarity and difference therefore, become the extremes I will be focusing on in this paper in order to determine whether or not logic risks falling into the various dualistic traps outlined by Plumwood. This methodology works because if there is too much difference emphasized in the logic, it can lead to backgrounding, radical exclusion and homogenisation. Too little difference can lead to problems of incorporation (Plumwood 134-136; Kroeker 12). The problems are reversed in the case of too much or too little similarity. Instrumentalism can be avoided if the logic takes Plumwood’s advice of negotiating a “balance between difference and community” (159), or similarity. Thus, a theory needs to remain within the guidelines of too much and too little similarity and difference in order to avoid hierarchical dualistic structure.
Upon realizing that dualisms are the root cause of oppression and inequality in spiritual and religious activities, and upon realizing feminist theology itself is not immune to these criticisms, I began to wonder if the logic behind the different feminist theologies is successful in overcoming dualistic traps or if they end up reinforcing or perpetuating the dominant ideology in the process. The question for feminist theology therefore becomes, whether or not new feminist interpretations, revisions, and renovations are successful in overcoming dualistic structures within religion or scripture. Since feminist theologies attempt to deconstruct, then reconstruct, the concept of God, and because God should be defined as beyond dualisms (Johnson 4), I wonder if these feminist theological camps are successful in liberating feminine spirituality from the fixed, power-laden dualism of male/female within religion and spirituality. Therefore, Using Plumwood’s five characteristics to spot underlying dualistic structure, I will determine if the logic behind the different feminist theologies remains within the guidelines of too much and too little similarity and difference. If they do, then they may be successful in overcome dualistic structures.
My thesis will explore one religious example from each of the different camps of feminist theology and compare them to Plumwood’s guidelines of how to avoid “dualistic traps” (42). I will explore Rejectionist theology through the lens of Feminist Goddess Worship and Revisionist theology through Judaism. Renovationist theology will be explored through Christianity and Revolutionist theology through Kabbalah. I will look only at Western thinkers and focus mostly on Renovationist and Revolutionist camps as they do not lend themselves as easily to the trappings of dualism as described by Plumwood.
REJECTIONIST: FEMINIST GODDESS WORSHIP
As stated previously, Rejectionists believe sexism and androcentrism within traditional religions is beyond repair and seek to create new religious factions outside of established organized religions (Stuckey 17). Feminist Goddess Worship is a good example of Rejectionist logic and there are many promising features within Feminist Goddess Worship that are in the right direction towards overcoming dualisms. For example, they reject the mind/body dualism (Stuckey 135), and avoid hierarchy because there is no central authority. They share the leadership positions and take turns leading rituals (138). The logic is more holistic and worshipers believe that “everything in the universe is interconnected” (Stuckey 139). According to Jantzen, this way of thinking is in the right direction because she believes that the restructuring of humanity and the church should be “along holistic, rather than dualistic lines” (288).
Another way in which Feminist Goddess Worship shows promise of overcoming dualisms is that many Goddess sects or cults are pantheist and include more than one God or Goddess. Pantheism has been offered as an alternative to dualism, but there are “doubts about how far it escapes the dualisms it sets out to avoid” (Plumwood 127). Let us examine the promise of holism and pantheism to see if liberation is possible.
In regard to overcoming dualisms, Plumwood stresses the importance of balancing aspects of similarity and difference (163). She suggests a “theory of mutuality which acknowledges both continuity and difference [and] provides an alternative way to view wilderness” (Plumwood 163). Due to the belief that everything is interconnected, pantheist Feminist Goddess Worship tends to view nature as having human-like qualities and tends to be anthropomorphised to a point that there may be too much similarity between humans and nature (Plumwood 127). This can lead to problems of assimilation (134). It is important that the other in the dualism is allowed to occupy its own space and be seen as an autonomous other with its own talents and way of life. If a certain amount of difference can be retained, then the dualistic characteristic of incorporation can be avoided (Plumwood 134). “[D]ualistic definition by exclusion of the other…does not require the dissolution of difference” (158).
When it comes to pantheism and holism, the other can become assimilated too much into the definition of the dominant. For example, if there is too much perceived similarity, then the distribution of power between the different deities (and members) can fail because dominant, centralized views can resurface unintentionally (Plumwood 127). The dominant view of power-laden hierarchies is too strong and too well imbedded into our world view, that even when it appears there are no strict divisions, traditional and dominant ways of thinking seep back in. Centralization then ends up “robbing particular things of their own measure of significance or agency” (Plumwood 128). Therefore, even when the intent is to to diffuse and decentralize power between nature/humans, it can lead to problems of incorporation because when all of nature is lumped together, humans inevitably end up on the top of the hierarchy (130). When dealing with all humans, as in diffusion of all members, men inevitably take top position. Those considered ‘other’ then become at risk of being defined by the dominant standard (130).
This resurfacing hierarchical structure due to too much perceived similarity, can then lead to the other side in the pole, too much difference, which then leads to dualistic traps such as backgrounding, radical exclusion and homogenisation. Therefore, it is problematic to perceive too much similarity between humans and nature, and also problematic to perceive too much difference.
Putting Feminist Goddess Worship to Plumwood’s test, the holistic belief that “everything in the universe is interconnected” (Stuckey 139), and the attempt to decentralize power can lead to extreme holism which can “be seen as a form of reversal, in which hyperseparation is replaced by its polar opposite, indistinguishability” (Plumwood 126). Holism could therefore be a “false choice” (126).
Along the lines of reversal, there is disagreement within Feminist Goddess Worship in regard to men and whether or not they should be accepted as members. Many factions believe that women and Goddesses are not considered equal to men and Gods, but are rather seen as superior (Stuckey 136). By using this logic, some Rejectionists who belong to Feminist Goddess Worship may be reaffirming the importance of hierarchies between the sexes and may not have therefore, overcome the problem of dualistic reversal. This is because they are switching the poles to give the power and superiority to women, as opposed to men. In order to overcome a dualism, the need for one side to be superior must be eliminated and a balance between the two sides needs to be negotiated (Plumwood 32,163).
Rejectionist logic seems to fluctuate between these extremes rather than finding a balance and in some cases it leads to total polar reversal. Limited to the examples I have provided here, in conclusion, it appears as though some factions of Feminist Goddess Worship may be unsuccessful in avoiding dualistic traps. Rejectionist logic therefore, may not have avoided incorporation due to the belief in complete holism, and may not have avoided reversals due to the belief that women are superior.
Revisionists try to work within the religion to transform it from the inside using different interpretations (Trible 26-27). They believe that sexism is not inherent in the Bible’s message itself, but has been placed there by those writing it, and has therefore been influenced by society (Stuckey 45). One example of a negotiation for gender equality within Judaism is the movement towards female ordination, as traditionally women have been forbidden to become Rabbis (Stuckey 43). Revisionist logic demands that traditional interpretation of scripture should be revisited with a new lens to “enrich the religion as a whole” (Umansky 338). According to Judaism, “religious consciousness…grants all humans an equal degree of natural holiness” (Umansky 339) and to live up to this maxim, woman’s emancipation may rely on altering the position women hold within Jewish religious life (339). The movement toward ordaining women began in 1846 but was not formally addressed until 1921 (339). The first woman to be ordained was Sally Priesand in 1972 (Stuckey 43; Umansky 338, 341). Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick, the first black rabbi to be ordained, was ordained May 2009 (MyJewishLearning.com).
Certain types of Judaism, such as Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism have moved toward egalitarianism and have allowed women to become ordained (Umansky 338, 341), but other forms of Judaism such as Ultra-Orthodoxy and Conservatism are slower to allow such ordination (Stuckey 40-43; Umansky 338, 341). Reconstructionist Judaism is a good example of the Revisionist logic as they conceive of “God as having no sex or gender” (Stuckey 42). In Genesis, it can be interpreted that both male and female are equal and have “equal share in human dignity” (Carmody 185). Only when male and female are together do they constitute complete humanity (Carmody 185).
Putting Revisionist logic to Plumwood’s test, it does seem that the revision towards seeing male and female in equality is a step in the right direction, but it can tend toward complete overlap and assimilation which, again, can lead to problems of incorporation. Feminine spiritual liberation cannot flourish within the concept of androgyny.
Men want to be androgynous so that they can subsume or even consume all that is female,
draining women’s energies into the bodies and minds. Instead …said Daly [we must] spin new,
powerful self-understandings, remaining radically apart from men…(Daly “Pure Lust” 203; Tong 64)
Here we see the problem of traditional thinking seeping back in when concepts of androgyny are utilized. A critique of the above quote, however, is the term ‘radically different’ as there cannot be too much perceived difference between the sexes either, for successful liberation from dualistic structures to occur.
I believe, however, that even though there is an extreme androgynous concept within Revisionist Judaism, there may be an element of difference that is retained. It is said that both Adam and Eve broke the commandment (similarity) in different ways. According to Carmody, Eve thought that the new wisdom from the fruit of the tree of the difference between good and evil would be practical and Adam deferred the decision to her as a “domestic matter…[therefore] [b]oth half-knowingly neglect God’s command” (186). Thus, there could be room in the scripture for equal recognition of both male and female because Genesis “intuits a basic equality between the sexes” (Carmody 185), pointing to an element of similarity and if they are “complimentary” and have “equal share in human dignity” (Carmody 185), there should be respect for both male and female positions which entail different duties (a retention of difference).
There is promise for Revisionist logic in general, especially within new interpretations of scripture, but when Jewish laws are applied in the material plane, rather than the spiritual plane, women lose equality and become the “property of her father or her husband” (185). This seems to demean, not respect difference. Even though there are many examples of saintly women (199) and some believe fathers are “obliged to teach his daughter Torah” the pervasive consensus is that women are spiritually inferior and her duty is to her husband and her sons to allow them to study the Torah (Carmody 197). Therefore, even though there is evidence in scripture that shows men and women are complimentary (different) “copersons” (but equal), in regard to institutional definitions, the prevailing attitude towards women is that they are evil temptresses with an insatiable sexuality (Carmody 204, 200) and it is generally perceived that women are religiously inferior (203). This is an indicator that women are being defined relationally to men as a lack, which is another facet of incorporation. The equality is there in theory, but not in praxis.
Upon closer examination of the process of women becoming ordained, the ordination process demands these women participate in male rituals and “fulfil all the obligations” (Stuckey 47). Some women have felt that they have to give up their “fixed female nature” to become “quasi-males” in order to be ordained (Stuckey 47). Even though women being ordained as Rabbis may seem like a step in the right direction towards liberating feminine spirituality, the way in which they achieve ordination implies that the dualistic structure behind the religion has not yet been overcome because the importance of retaining and recognizing difference is not upheld. Overall, no matter what the scripture says, women are not conceived as having their own talents and autonomy as they are seen as men’s property.
Using Plumwood’s five characteristics to detect dualistic structures, in regard to Revisionists, if women feel that they have to leave their womanliness behind to be a Rabbi, backgrounding is evident because her real contribution is being obscured. Radical exclusion is evident if woman feel they are to become ‘quasi-men’ and fulfil all male obligations, indicating that overlapping talents are being ignored and differences are highlighted. Incorporation is also evident as women’s rituals and talents are not considered autonomous and to occupy space of their own under rabbinic structure. Homogenisation can be seen because conformity of the women to the rituals of the dominant male group is stressed and made to be most important.
For feminists who reside within traditional patriarchal religions it can be risky and even dangerous to dispute or not fulfil their gender role (Stuckey 87). Due to the strength of the belief that God is better characterized as male, and due to the male dominated language and symbols within the religion, it would be extremely difficult to liberate women within such a hierarchical dualism. Until men and women are perceived as institutionally equal, “one is not likely to see the legal reforms necessary to remove the misogyn[y] of the past” and “male chauvinism and patriarchy still disfigure the Holy Land” (Carmody 203).
In conclusion, it could be said that Revisionist theology does not quite liberate feminine spirituality within Judaism because there is too much perceived difference between the sexes in regard to religious capability and women are expected to conform to the male definition of duty if they are to be ordained. Also, if dualistic characteristics such as backgrounding, radical exclusion, incorporation, and homogenization are present, this demonstrates that the hierarchical structure within dualistic thinking in Judaism has not yet been successfully overcome by Revisionist logic.
Renovationists believe it is not enough to reveal different interpretations of scripture, but portions of it that are sexist should be exposed, refuted and denied (Stuckey 17). They also tend to stress the importance of altering the sexist language to include “female imagery,” rather than promoting gender-neutrality (17). Renovationist logic acknowledges the problems discussed above in regard to too much similarity or assimilation and recognizes the importance of difference between the sexes. They oppose neutral language because it “almost always translates as ‘male,’” and when female imagery is applied, traditional female roles are then assumed (Stuckey 80).
Inspired by Kari Borreson, Rosemary Radford Ruether discusses the term equivalence as more appropriate than the term equality because “‘equality’ suggests sameness, while ‘equivalence’ leaves open the possibility of physiological and psychological differences but rejects the notion that these differences are to be hierarchically interpreted” (“Christianity” 207). This is an exemplary model of how to overcome dualisms as it recognizes the need for a balance between too much and too little similarity and difference. It also follows Plumwood’s advice that if we could see things in “terms of kind rather than degree” it could be possible to accept difference without the need of a hierarchy (134). Revisionists flip flop between complete overlap and too much difference. Renovationists seem to avoid the extreme of complete overlap. Therefore, Renovationist logic shows great promise for the overcoming of dualisms.
To incorporate the need for difference into Renovationist logic, many women have developed new rituals and prayers and have rewritten hymns (Stuckey 80). Instead of using neutral language, Renovationists tend to see God as not beyond sex or asexual, but rather as both female and male. To interpret that God is male from terms such as ‘God the Father’ is to place “idolatrous” meanings to the concept of ‘Father’ (Daly 180-183; Reuther, “Sexism and God-Talk” 66-67). Therefore, it is important to reveal the female side of God. Here God is conceived, not just as the Father, but also as the Mother.
Some of Renovationist logic includes elements of ‘romantic feminism’ as it supports the importance of being proud of feminine characteristics such as childbirth and the ethic of care that make them different from men.
[R]omantic feminism accepts and celebrates society’s
definition of woman as aligned with nature, emotion,
and so on, and argues that what needs to change is society’s
valuation of these attributes. (Armour 13-14)
Respect for women’s characteristics should be raised to the level of equal validity with male characteristics. Daly says, even lust can be rehabilitated, as the following quote from Tong demonstrates. “In a nonpatriarchal society, continued Daly, lust would have good meanings such as ‘vigor,’ ‘fertility,’ ‘craving’, ‘eagerness,’ and ‘enthusiasm’ (“Pure Lust” 2-3; Tong 64).
In embracing feminine characteristics, there is a lot of maternal imagery to be found in the Bible. For example, it could be seen that fertility is controlled by God as God opens and closes the womb and “works in the womb to form human life” (Carmody 188). Yahweh is seen as the husband to Israel, who is the wife (Carmody 185) and it states in Genesis that both female and male were made in God’s image (189). The name Yahweh, “merciful and gracious” appears many times throughout the Bible. This implies God is both female and male because womb is the root of the word merciful (Carmody 188). It could be seen that mercy is also an element of the ethic of care, which is associated with women.
Fertility is also associated with Sophia or Spirit-Sophia (Johnson 135), who is in turn associated with Jesus. “The myth of the Godman Jesus can only be properly understood along side the myth of the Goddess Sophia” (Burstein 92). “Sophia sends Jesus as her purely spiritual agent to redeem the sparks of pneuma present in some, but not all, of humanity” (Hunt 112). Pneuma is Greek for spirit and it is not uncommon “to speak of Spirit in metaphors of female resonance” (Johnson 130). The sparks, when rejoined with Sophia, create the mystery of the “mystical marriage” and the “mystery of the bridal chamber” (Hunt 112). The reunification of Sophia and the sparks, or Sophia and her “son/brother/lover Jesus” (Burstein 92) is designed to repair the Fall and heal the separation of male and female/Adam and Eve (94). In Proverbs Sophia is considered a co-creator with God (Burstein 93). Her name means “wisdom” and in Jewish texts she is referred to as Hokmah (Johnson 130). Therefore, Sophia is extremely important for feminine spiritual liberation as it is with her (and Jesus) that the Fall can be repaired. Therefore, utilizing feminine spiritual imagery and symbols, such as the story of Sophia, it may be possible to liberate feminine spirituality within Christianity using Renovationist logic.
Sophia is also important for feminine spiritual liberation because, as mentioned before, the traditional theological view of women is that they are evil temptresses, easily seduced (Young 12) and their roles are portrayed as “negative,” “ignored,” “absent,” “caricaturized,” “downplayed,” perceived as the “devil’s gateway,” “misbegotten men,” and most importantly “have often been cast in the male-defined roles of…virgin, and whore” (Young 12-14; Lanzetta 10). In the story of Sophia, she has a “pristine [virgin] and fallen [whore] nature” (Burstein 95) and the task, like the idea of the reunification of the sparks, is to reunite the upper and lower manifestations of Sophia; redeeming the lower whore into the virgin (Burstein 97).
The same premise resides within Plato’s Phaedo, where the psyche is fallen then redeemed, and in the Myth of Helen, as she needs rescuing after being abducted. The same pattern is found in the story of the pagan Goddess Aphrodite who was in the heavens then was turned into a whore. This story can also be found in Demeter and Persephone as her psyche descends then is redeemed again (Burstein 94-96). Another important example of the virgin and the whore, in regard to liberating feminine spirituality is of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, the Mother Mary representing the higher Sophia and Mary Magdalene, the fallen or lower Sophia (Burstein 97).
Mary Magdalene has been severely backgrounded in her role as the “apostle to the apostles” (Young 16) and branding her a whore without evidence has harshly demeaned her status as disciple and apostle. However, in 1969 her position was redeemed and the title ‘whore’ was replaced with ‘saint’ (BBC - Religions). “Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches” revere her as a saint and celebrate a feast day in her honour every July 22 (BBC – Religions).
From the above examples it could be seen that feminine spiritual liberation may be possible through Renovationist or ‘romantic feminist’ logic, but ‘romantic feminist’ logic has been criticized for supporting a “separatist path [that] ghettoizes women’s concerns and effects little or no change in the system of male privilege” (Ruether, “Women-Church” 52; Armour 14). This could lead the logic to support too much difference between the sexes. In regard to Ruether’s writings, Armour notices she also criticizes the opposite logic when she states, ‘liberal feminism’ as it believes women are just as “____(fill in the blank) as men…[and should], therefore have access to the same opportunities and benefits that men have” (Armour 13). This could lead the logic to support too much similarity between the sexes and has been criticized for “devis[ing] a variety of ways of keeping gender, class, and racial hierarchy intact” (Ruether, “Women-Church” 52; Armour 14).
I am not sure I agree completely with Ruether when she says that romantic feminist logic ‘effects little or no change’ because I believe there was a strong Renovationist/romantic influence behind the redemption of Mary Magdalene. Her redemption in the eyes of the church could not have been done without revering feminine spiritual characters of biblical history or without other sources, such as the Gnostic Gospels. Revisionists on the other hand, would stay close to the traditional canon whereas Renovationists enjoy redesigning, remodelling or re-shaping traditional doctrine with other sources, while still remaining Christian.
Ruether uses a lot of non-traditional, “pre-Christian ‘pagan’ traditions [in her work] because they are part of the historical background of Judaism and Christianity” (Young 34; Ruether, “The Future of Feminist Theology” 710) and because there is a lot of other documentation of the life and message of Jesus within the Gnostic Gospels, it would not be a far stretch to use this source to renovate traditional doctrine. By including Gnostic symbolism, language and scripture, there is plenty of room for revision towards feminine spiritual liberation because the true message of Jesus is that of egalitarianism. “The community of Jesus was a community of equals whom he called to faith in God” (Young 30). It could be seen that Jesus came to destroy the traditional gender roles (Gonzalez 28, 31).
[T]he teaching of Jesus and the more ‘liberated’ roles of women in Roman
society released women from the restrictive and demeaning status to which
‘patriarchal Judaism’ assigned them. (D’Angelo 25)
Therefore, reshaping traditional scripture with non-traditional texts, feminine spiritual liberation towards equivalence is entirely possible. However, this may only work in theory rather than praxis because women who are ordained ministers in the Christian tradition run into the same problems as the Jewish Rabbis discussed above (Wootton 230, 234).
[I]t is well nigh impossible for women to carry their gender into positions of power
or leadership. Hence, their (our) power to subvert the status quo is neutralized.
We cannot become models or examples of powerful women, since we are neutered
in the process of becoming powerful. (Wootton 234)
A dualism hiding within Christian theology, as discussed by the Catholic Theological Society is that of two competing models referred to as the (1) dual-nature or the ‘different but equal’ model and “(2) the androgynous single-nature model” (Gonzalez 110-111). The dual-nature model supports biological determinism and the single-nature model supports the idea that “neither sex has any pre-ordained roles [nor is] biology ‘accidental’” (Gonzalez 111). The single-nature model could be compared to the Revisionist logic and the dual-nature model with Revolutionist logic. Unfortunately, neither approach is completely free from critiques as the single-nature model “presents a narrow, assimilationist vision” (111) as discussed above, and the dual-nature model is criticized for falling “into a hierarchical construction of gender complementarity where women are devalued” (Gonzalez 111). This, as discussed above, only places men back into the superior position. Therefore, Renovationist logic could slip into the trap of too much difference, leading to problems of backgrounding, radical exclusion and homogenization.
Ruether also explores the dualistic conflict between “subordination and equivalence” throughout Christian history (“Christianity” 207, 208). Subordination, which reveres patriarchy and hierarchical structure (as found within traditional Christianity), fights with the idea of equivalence (Renovationist logic), which is based on the idea that “both male and female are created in the image of God” (“Christianity” Ruether 209). Feminine spiritual liberation may be found within the ‘equivalence’ side, but adding this Renovationist logic to the side of subordination, the dualism is far from being overcome. Traditional Christianity constantly fends off Renovationist logic because the Age of Enlightenment continues to reject ‘mystical Gnosticism’ (Ruether, “Christianity” 229). The back and forth flip flopping between subordination and equivalence within the Christian tradition continues, thus suggesting a dualism is still at work behind its logic.
Neither traditional Christian doctrine nor Renovationist camps accept or allow the other to retain an aspect of difference, nor do they agree on the similarities between them. Therefore, backgrounding is present because the role of mystical Gnosticism and non-traditional texts is obscured and denied by traditional subordinate Christianity. Radical exclusion is present because subordination resists equivalence and fails to see that both views can reside under the same label. Incorporation is a problem because neither wants to be autonomous because Renovationists desire to remain within their religious tradition. This is problematic because it ends up transforming Christianity to the point where it alters the tradition so much that it is no longer recognizable as ‘Christianity’ (Stuckey 86).
Where Renovationist logic may fall short, is in the desire to remain within the traditional religion, which continues to deny and reject new renovations. Weber noticed a pattern in religiosity where people would become disenchanted with their traditional religion because through the process of secularization and dogmaticisation the teachings and the experience becomes static (Hunt 57-80). Those who become disenchanted with their traditional religion would have new, contemporary visions and ideas that would no longer fit into the schema or confines of the traditional established religion. Weber noticed a pattern of “secularization and ‘re-enchantment’” where new religious variations or spiritual sects would arise, which would also become dogmaticised in time by the state (qtd. in Hunt 58). When doctrine becomes fixed, problems arise because the world is dynamic and will not be contained to a strict, unchanging label for very long. This may be what is happening between traditional Christianity and Renovationist logic. Traditional dogma maintains its fixed structure, whereas Renovationist logic demands a dynamic.
In conclusion, it is certainly possible to liberate feminine spirituality through Renovationist logic, but it creates new doctrine and rituals that may more aptly qualify it as a different religious sect or faction. Therefore, it is very difficult to remain within the original tradition as Christianity has been clearly labelled and defined and resists new, non-traditional doctrine. This brings us to Revolutionist feminist theology because Revolutionists open up their theory and logic to all religious or spiritual concepts, to create something new, or a hybrid of the traditional religion.
Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) is a good example of Revolutionist logic because the Kabbalistic movement, put forth by a couple named the Bergs has welcomed many New Age movements and amalgamated many different religions into its teachings (Myers 26, 27). It has also made the move to be considered as separate from the traditional form of Kabbalah as defined by Judaism. Therefore, Kabbalah could be considered Revolutionist because it draws on other spiritual concepts and has amalgamated them into their own teachings, creating a hybrid of the original religious tradition.
Members are attracted to Kabbalah because it allows for personal freedoms such as diverse backgrounds and sexual preferences and people join due to disenchantment from traditional organized religions (Myers 42). The spiritual and logical concepts that have been incorporated into the Bergs interpretation of Kabbalah include elements of science, quantum physics, astrology, Freemasonry, Yoga, Hinduism, Egyptian teachings, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hellenistic Cults, occult-metaphysical movements (Myers 25, 26, 27, 101), and Pythagorean mysticism (Matt 5). Kabbalah refuses to be labelled an organized religion (Myers 53) because the logic dictates understanding of the dynamics of the universe though the incorporation of quantum physics. The term organized religion implies it is fixed or static.
In the past, Kabbalah was regarded as secret knowledge, and only pious Jewish men over the age of 40 were allowed to study it (Myers 28). Non-Jews, women and children were restricted from this secret knowledge. But, Karen and ‘Rav’ Berg believe the Messianic Age or “the advent of the Messiah” is upon us, so they fought to open it up to everyone, including non-Jews, women and children (Myers 28). Women are able to be ordained and teach Kabbalah. Therefore, in regard to the ability to study and practice, feminine spirituality has been liberated within Kabbalah, and it appears as though men and women “treat each other equally” and are considered spiritually equal (Myers 95).
Jody Myers is a scholar of anthropology of religion who has studied the Kabbalah Centre from an outsider perspective. She has noted that the relationship between men and women in the Centre is complex. There appears to be equality, but there is also a message that “men and women have different and complimentary roles” (Myers 95). Here we see the dualism of single-nature and dual-nature models at play, both of which are misguided at their extremes. Within Kabbalah, I wonder if this message is contradictory or if it is utilized in a balance. In order for this logic to overcome the dualism of female/male, it must be determined whether or not there is a balance between too much and too little similarity and difference between the sexes.
In Kabbalah there is a mixed message regarding men and women. They are considered androgynous (which can lead to problems of too much similarity) yet, sometimes considered equal but different (which could lead to hierarchies and too much difference). They are separated in the congregation which could be seen as radical exclusion. However, when the full belief system of Kabbalah is revealed, women are secretly considered spiritually superior to men. This is because women speed through their tikkun or spiritual correction and are usually (re)born with it already completed (Myers 94, 96). The segregation during congregation can be explained by this reasoning because perhaps the men contaminate women’s spiritual essence during ritual? The belief of women’s superior spirituality stems from their refusal to worship the Golden Calf (Myers 93). Since then, women have been redeemed in the eyes of God (93). Women’s tikkun is thus completed faster and women are able to be reincarnated on earth for the purpose of helping her male ‘soul mate’ complete his tikkun (93). “Women are born with tremendous spiritual power, whereas men must earn theirs” (Berg 80).
It could be seen that women are segregated in the congregation because of their release from tikkun, but women are also exempt from many rituals the men perform because they would keep her from her duties.
The Kabbalah Centre presents a fairly conservative view of gender roles [and]
[p]eople learn that men and women are essentially different, and their differences to
some extent fit traditional stereotypes. (Myers 96)
Therefore, even though there can be liberation of feminine spirituality, in the material world, Kabbalah reinforces strict gender roles. I suppose because Kabbalah’s roots are from Judaism, the spiritual teachings run into a similar problem discussed above in regard to institutional equivalence. However, in Kabbalah, there is inequality in both spiritual matters and material matters. Men are considered to be simple and desire mastery and power, and “are incapable of fulfilling their ideals unless they are guided by women” (Myers 97). Therefore, women are not backgrounded in Kabbalah because they are considered essential, but the logic may fall prey to problems of incorporation because the sexes are defined by each other. In the spiritual realm, men are lacking and women are defined by what they lack and in the material realm the poles are reversed.
Women are seen as highly complex because they are imbued with a “dual energy” (Myers 96), which involves not only a desire to receive, but also the desire to share, whereas men have only the desire to receive (96). But, women are effective in guiding men’s energy only when it appears they are deferring the decisions to men (97). She is advised to pretend to be incompetent and to avoid careers that would put her in competition with men (97). She is allowed to work outside the home, but she should not in any way “threaten her husband’s self esteem and role as family provider” (Myers 97). Similar to Judaism, her duty is to her husband and her children. If the woman disagrees with this, she can always console herself by remembering that she is spiritually superior (97). This, of course, is a conundrum and a paradox when viewed from a feminist perspective because spiritual liberation can thus only be achieved through dependence on men (Myers 97).
This outlook allows women and men to reject egalitarian feminism without overtly
insulting women’s capabilities and diminishing their value. It frees women who so
desire from the obligation of achieving the feminist ideal of superwomen. (Myers 97-98)
Although Myers suggests that feminine spiritual liberation can be achieved through this logic, this quote (while annoying me to no end) reeks of too much difference between the sexes and reinforces stereotypical gender roles. It also gives licence for men to be focused on mastery and power and provides an excuse for men to see women as a means to their own ends. This can lead to problems of instrumentalism, which cannot be overcome until the dualism of means/ends is also overcome (Plumwood 153). I have not been provided with enough data on whether or not the men and women retain enough overlap or similarity between them to overcome the dualism of means/ends. Therefore, I am not confident to say Kabbalistic logic successfully overcomes the problem of incorporation.
Kabbalistic concept of soul mates leaves an imbalance in gender duties. Women can be reincarnated to help their soul mate, but “[m]en do not have a reciprocal responsibility toward their female soul mates” (Myers 97). This logic runs the risk of too much difference, but if the imbalance is interpreted as a function or female spiritual superiority, it could lead to dualistic reversal. Again, it is not enough to merely switch the poles to make women superior because both sides in the dualism are distorted thus perpetuating the need for hierarchies between the sexes (Plumwood 31, 32).
In conclusion, I am detecting a pattern of flip flopping to the extremes, which indicates an underlying dualistic structure. This is an indication that the elements of similarity and difference are not maintaining a balance between the guidelines of too much and too little. It may be better if the division of talents were not relegated to ‘opposing’ realms (women being superior only in the spiritual realm and men being superior only in the material realm). A balance between female/male would be more likely if they were equivalent in both the spiritual and material realms. Therefore, feminine spiritual liberation is possible through Kabbalah and Revolutionist logic, but only in theory. The same problems arise in translation from spiritual to material or from theory into praxis as in Judaism. Equivalence needs to work in both theory and praxis in order for the dualisms within to be successfully overcome.
A redeeming factor of Kabbalah, however, is that it does not disregard or discriminate against persons with unconventional sexual orientations or configurations, even though homosexuality is generally frowned upon in the Jewish tradition. Where some of the other theological camps disregard and ignore liminal sexualities altogether, Kabbalah addresses them and provides answers for why they exist (Myers 98-100). Kabbalists believe in reincarnation and one’s spiritual tikkun goes with them into each incarnation until spiritual correction is complete. This could provide an explanation for why different sexual orientations and configurations exist. Sha’ar Ha-Gilgulim believes that if one has had homosexual relations in a previous life, they will be born into a barren female body and will have no soul mate match in that lifetime (in Myers 99). It is thus possible to have a male soul in a female body and vice versa (99) and the way in which the body is barren can account for Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, problems in which these persons cannot have, or have difficulty conceiving children. Even though the Centre teaches to suppress unconventional sexual impulses, tolerance is the maxim.
[S]tay away from judging others for any reason, external or internal, physical or
metaphysical…it is not to say that two same-gendered people cannot have the same
or more loving , rewarding, and lasting relationships as heterosexual couples.
Kabbalah is all-inclusive rather than exclusive. (Personal Communication June 6, 2006; Myers 99)
I believe this logic is a good starting point towards a new direction of all-inclusive theology. Cornwall would take it a step further and suggest that even though their bodies are different, “this does not mean their bodies should be deemed to reflect or experience God any less fully than those of other women” (239). In an attempt to reconcile Cornwall with Kabbalistic spiritual correction, everyone has a chance in their lifetime to complete their spiritual tikkun. Some may have to work harder than others. For this reason, Kabbalah would avoid judgment and recognize that everyone is on a different path of correction.
Biological essentialism tends to exclude the exceptions that resist the boundaries of the labels male and female (there are exceptions to every category). Thus, focusing only on the female/male dualism, as feminist theology does (and this paper thus far), it can run the risk of ignoring the voices of those who are configured differently. It must be recognized that it is not enough to conduct an analysis of male and female and it should not be tolerated that some variations in between are silenced.
[A]n over-emphasis on feminine experience as supervening on female embodiment risks
erasing unusual sex-gender body-stories and perpetuating the idea that only some bodies
can mediate the divine. Feminist Theology’s future must involve a reexamination and
re-negotiation of what it is to be feminist theologians without fixed gender essences. (Cornwall 236)
Feminist theology is largely about the experience of women, but women’s experience is not determined solely on biology because culture and location are also great influences. “The common image of feminism is that it is a modern western development” (Ruether, “The Development of Feminist Theology” 185) and it needs to be recognized that experience is not only influenced by sex or sexism, but a combination of sexism, racism and classism as they work together to reinforce one another (Gonzalez 93). Kabbalah is on the right track towards addressing these issues because they welcome persons of all races, sexual orientation and configuration, but it falls short on addressing classism. Most of the events put on by the Kabbalah Centre require money and they are not cheap. They also sell gimmicky items such as blessed bottled water and red strings to wear around your wrist to ward off the evil eye; both of which are expensive. Therefore, Kabbalah may be excluding those who are poor, whether it is unintentional or not.
None of the feminist theological camps I have discussed thus far are immune to the criticisms of the ‘Womanist’ or ‘Mujerista’ theological camps who warn that there are dualisms at work, other than female/male that also need to be taken into consideration.
What Womanist and Mujerista theologies have in common with other feminist theologies is that they all agree the experiences of women should be a “point of departure” (Gonzalez 92). The Womanist movement begins with the experience of black women and the Mujerista movement begins with the experiences of Latina women (Gonzalez 92-93). Where they disagree with feminist theology is in the lack of an analysis on intersectionality, and therefore the logic contains cultural biases (91). Feminist theology is accused of “threaten[ing] to obscure the benefits that white women and their families receive at the hands of …institutions” (Armour 7). Feminist theology accuses religion of being told solely through the eyes of men and their experiences and Womanist, Mujerista (and Asian) theologians accuse feminist theology of the same problem because their research is told mostly from the experience of middle-class, white women (91; Mohanty 50, 55, 60; Rich 37).
‘Whitefeminist’ theologians tend to claim that women’s experience “differs only in degree depending on race/class/sexual orientation and all men [are] perpetrators of oppression” (Armour 7-8). Whereas “black women see white women as ‘more oppressors than victims’” (Armour 8; Grant 191). This complicates the matter because not all women’s experience is the same (Ang 191), making biological essentialism problematic for moving forward in feminist theology. Whitefeminist theology, speaking from white, middle-class positions sparked a resistance to defining all women under one category. Ang states that if all women are united under one category, the marginalized ‘other’ ends up forced back into the assumption that “white, middle-class women’s lives [are] representative of the female experience” (Ang 191 emphasis in the original). This leads to the perpetuation of hierarchies and the autonomy of the ‘other’ is lost.
Focusing solely on the male/female dualism should rightfully be brought into question as a woman of colour’s experience involves more than just the female/male dualism (Mohanty 55) and some women claim to be defined by their race before they are defined by their sex (Rich 32). Others do not even want to be considered the same as other women (Rich 38). Since this paper is about testing theories of logic against the traps of dualism, I will also explore the relationship between ‘whitefeminist’ theology and Womanist theories as they apply to Plumwood’s theory.
Putting both feminist and ‘Womanist’ forms of theology to Plumwood’s test, if ‘whitefeminists’ are silencing or ignoring the voices of women of colour, this can imply the dualistic trap of backgrounding, especially if their input is obscured, silenced or regarded as inessential. This is a serious accusation as it points to an underlying dualistic structure that has not yet been overcome and suggests that ‘whitefeminist’ theology may be guilty of perpetuating the same problems with feminism as patriarchy does in general.
Radical exclusion, as stated before, is when overlapping talents and characteristics have been ignored. This characteristic is present from Womanist and Mujerista perspective because the logic resists any sort of biological essentialism and any characteristic that can be said to be the same for all women is refuted. Problems of incorporation can arise from this because these competing theologies have become defined by each other. It could be seen that feminist theology is defined by a lack because it omits influences of intersectionality, which Womanist theologies include. Therefore, if the two theological camps are seen as opposites (one desires unification and the other differentiation), they could become defined by what each other lack, thus leading to problems of incorporation and instrumentalism.
Problems of homogenization can also be found in the logic because rich differences between women as a whole have been denied by ‘whitefeminists,’ and in regard to the Womanist perspective, the rich differences within white-middle class experience are denied. Is it fair to say that every white woman who is considered middle-class has the exact same experience?
Dare I conclude that even within the logic of both ‘whitefeminist’ and Womanist approaches; problems of dualism have not yet been overcome? In order to address this problem, Plumwood’s advice regarding negotiating a balance of (too much and too little) similarity and difference must be taken into consideration. Feminist theology advocates for too much similarity between women and Womanist-type logic advocates for too much difference. The logic of each resides at the extremes and a balance requires an acceptance of both similarity and difference. This where the work of Audre Lorde may be helpful because she is not afraid to find a balance between similarity and difference.
For difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of
necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.
Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. (Lorde 26)
Perhaps it would be promising to work with the element in which both theological camps agree: the experience of all women as a starting point.
The biggest critique of ‘whitefeminist’ theology, as stated before, is that it does not explore adequately, the complexities of the dimensions of racism or classism or how they interact (Gonzalez 91; Armour 10). Rosemary Radford Ruether has a response to this:
Despite this critique by women seminarians of ‘color,’ it should not be assumed that
leading Euro-American feminist theologians simply lacked sensitivity to race and class
critique. Several such women, by then on the faculties of theological schools, such as
myself, Letty Russell and Beverley Harrison, had come out of the Civil Rights Movement,
and had long spoken of the interconnection of class, race and gender hierarchies. Generally
these teachers were well disposed to embrace the critiques coming from Womanists, and
other women of ‘color,’ and to promote them as colleagues. (“The Development of Feminist Theology”
In regard to Ruether’s analysis of intersectionality, Armour states:
Ruether is to be applauded for maintaining the interconnectedness of race, class,
and gender oppressions in her analysis. However, could it be that something in
Ruether’s texts shapes the trajectory according to which they interact in her texts? (Armour 13)
My response is: it is impossible not to ‘shape a trajectory’ in any sort of writing because it is written by an individual who is influenced by her or his own different cultural and perceptual biases. This is why it is important to contextualize the situation and stance of the individual within their writings.
The experience of women from differing personal, geographical and social
locations demanded that all Feminist Theologians engage with critique of their
own cultural contexts and internalized assumptions and its effect on others. (Rafferty 192-193)
Recognizing this advice, my thesis is also not immune to the criticisms of Womanist and Mujerista theology. To contextualize my position, I am a privileged, white, middle-class academic. I however, do not identify as any of these characteristics and resist all labels, except for perhaps, the label of ‘Sandra.’ Even though my life experience and moral values come from a liminal, counter-culture perspective of peace and love, my position in academia requires logic and jumping through bureaucratic hoops. Consequently, my resources are mostly from Western thinkers and have used a white, middle-class academic’s theory to test the logic of a limited number of religions/spiritual sects. But in my defense, it is possible for those in a privileged position to make a positive change and women of colour belong to the congregation of all of the religious examples I have explored in this paper. In my analysis, I have critiqued and explored the logic of the religions, more so than the actual experiences of the particular women members. Since I do not want to silence the voices of women in other cultures, I will conduct a quick analysis of racism and classism and how they interact with sexism.
INTERSECTIONALITY IN THEOLOGY
Dualisms become extremely convoluted and complicated because there is actually no strict boundary between the two variables (Midgley 110). The blurriness between the boundaries of the two variables involved, end up dragging other dualisms into the equation. Due to the charge that feminist theology silences or ignores the voices of women of colour (and those who are configured differently), many women reject the term feminism because their theology resists the confines of the “universalized construction of Western feminist theologies…[and] a mere analysis of sexism is not enough to describe the context of [women from other cultures] (Gonzalez 94). If this is true and has been so widely accepted, why then the continued focus on only the female/male dualism?
Sexism, racism and classism are entangled and cannot be separated because they are correlated and end up reinforcing each other (Gonzalez 93). One cannot be purely isolated from the others, making the consequence an artefact of all three. However, one dualism can be the focus when the focus is shifted from a correlational model to a causal model. When the logic proceeds in a linear fashion, cosmological and/or causal theories become the focus, shifting the simultaneous entanglement into a linear model. In the interest of finding the core of the problem, rather than a ‘band-aid’ solution, it might be suggested that energy and focus would be better expended on the cause or core dualism, rather than the dualisms created as the consequence of that dualism. But, how are we to determine which dualism is the cause of all dualisms? The female/male dualism is central in the work of the Western scholars I have chosen to analyze in this paper and as a consequence, the female/male dualism was prominent in this thesis. Whether or not the female/male dualism can be considered the root core of all dualisms, however, will have to be a question to explore in another paper.
Overall, the feminist theologies were not immune to Womanist and Mujerista logic and none of these, including Womanist and similar theologies, were able to successfully overcome the traps of dualism as described by Plumwood. Revisionists use a single-nature logic that advocates for androgyny, thus running into potential problems of assimilation and incorporation. Therefore, there may be too much perceived similarity between the sexes to successfully overcome dualisms within this logic. Renovationists and Revolutionists use a dual-nature model which believes that the sexes are complimentary. This can fall back into problems of hierarchy, backgrounding, radical exclusion and homogenization. Therefore, there may be too much perceived difference between the sexes to overcome dualisms within this logic. Rejectionist (and to some extent, Kabbalah in particular) believe in the superiority of women and therefore fall prey to dualistic reversal. When the difference between the sexes is hyperseparated in a hierarchy, it could lead to problems of instrumentalism.
Zooming out from the logic of the individual theologies, the interaction or dualism of feminist theology and Womanist-type theologies was also unable to overcome a dualistic fluctuation to the extremes. Feminist theology was unable to adequately address the interaction between sexism, classism and racism due to its focus on the female/male dualism. However, it could be suggested that even Womanist-type logic is incomplete because a satisfactory analysis of ageism and ableism is missing. If an analysis of intersectionality is to be truly complete, then these dimensions (among others), also deserve consideration. Therefore, in regard to this paper, by suggesting that there could be an overarching dualism responsible for all other dualisms, I too have created a hierarchy, declaring the superiority of one dualism as more important to overcome than another. But, it is important to focus on the core root of the problem, rather than creating ‘band-aid’ solutions by focusing elsewhere (Marullo and Edwards 903-905). To avoid this conundrum, I may suggest that the core problem behind theology and dualisms is fixedness, or the tendency to make language and ritual within religious and spiritual doctrine static and unmoving. The dynamic energy of the world will eventually resist all labels and confines, producing a problem not just for religious and spiritual endeavours, but also academia which too, desires to confine concepts to specific labels.
A suggestion for future research in feminist theology would be, in order to overcome the dynamic fluctuation to extremes inherent within liberal/romantic logic, subordinate/equivalence, or single-nature/dual-nature logical structure, situational, ‘liminal models’ should be explored that provide more than two ways of thinking. The logic behind these situational, liminal models should essentially maintain a balance of too much and too little similarity and difference.
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