Originally written in… late 1999, I think? -for an anthropology class of the same name. This is an experiment to see how well (or not) old college papers transfer to this format. Enjoy! ;)
Links to associated book reviews I’ve written, and Amazon associate links, are in the Bibliography at the end of the paper. Where I caught the book titles within the paper as I uploaded here, I also linked to amazon as well.
The protester, while seeking always to carry the banner of truth and justice, must remember that the fires of commitment do not bestow the gift of infallibility. (Bell 1994:xxi).
This paper is an attempt to discern possible reasons behind the hegemonic repression of women and minorities. While the subject field is enormous, the examples to be examined are limited to recent readings. Furthermore there is always the danger, in examining a limited number of observationally-based resources, of ethnocentrism in the service of one’s own beliefs. This is a stylistic trap I obviously wished to avoid, but knew would be extremely difficult to achieve.
I am thus indebted to Geertz for his article “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” and would like to take a moment to lay out the reasoning of this paper, as contextual background to this paper. In the essay Geertz postulates, amongst many other observations, conditions of cultural theory. He lists first that:
it [cultural theory] is not its own master. As it is unseverable from the immediacies thick description presents, its freedom to shape itself in terms of its internal logic is rather limited. What generality it contrives to achieve grows out of the delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstractions.
This fits my own predicament closely: while I have several readings to draw from, I must keep in mind these are interpretations done by others, which I am myself re-interpreting. Each of us has our own ‘spin’ we put on what we see and experience; putting too broad a sweep on these readings runs the risk of conflating individual differences into a false abstraction of my own beliefs.
Geertz next states cultural theory is not predictive; it either notes what is, “or at the very most anticipates… (italics his)” Thus, while I will offer a tentative hypothesis as to potential causes for some of the behaviors observed within the readings, I make no effort to state that this conclusion is definitive, but rather simply a suggestion of possibilities. Furthermore, I am quite aware any such speculation must be offered with the full understanding it necessitates further study, and will probably, ultimately, be found either partially lacking in its scope, or even entirely incorrect.
Finally this paper is respectfully offered as an example of what Geertz refers to as “theoretical discussion” that is “constructive” rather than an attempt at “critical … hastening [of] the demise of moribund notions.” I do not consider myself adequately prepared to criticize the ethnographies, methodologies, or theories of others, nor is it my purpose to “vex” or criticize with more “precision.” Instead, in an effort to engage in “refinement of debate,” I shall take refuge in theorizing based on the studies of others. I understand anthropology as a science is indeed “essentially contestable,” but what I ultimately attempt here is, as Geertz puts it, to interpret in search of meaning.
A long-standing fascination for me has been how religion is frequently used to justify a society’s institutions. Specifically I find myself, in this quarter’s readings, curiously examining how religion is often applied within a culture to justify objectivisation and oppression of women.
In essence, I shall be attempting through the readings I’ve done to take a closer look at how a culture’s religion, as interpreted by men, is used to keep women from power and to maintain the status quo, and seeking to discern if it is religion alone which is societally manipulated in this fashion, or if religion is perhaps manipulating society. If the former proves untrue, I will attempt to compare and contrast this ‘fundamentalist effect’ in an effort to better identify and comprehend it. In order to hopefully avoid cultural ethnocentrism, I shall also be attempting to discover if similar behaviors exist within the ‘industrialized West’ as well.
Furthermore, I know how seductively tempting it is to point a finger at some social institution or construction and say ‘there is the problem — remove that, and all will be solved.’ Like Shaheed, I am attempting to maintain self-examination of
‘the limitations imposed on her consciousness by her own homegrown subjectivities and needs’; a coming ‘to terms with her given status as heir of an … order’ and learning what that status signifies to other women ‘subjugated by that order’ (1998:159).
Keeping that in mind, I shall search to see if similar behavioral patterns apparently not based on established religious thought can be discerned in other socially accepted constructions of the cultures, and if so, what caused these reactions. Since this class concerns Third World politics and women, I shall finally attempt to postulate some means of possibly negating or countering this ‘effect.’
I shall be using the works of others to draw my conclusions, and
due to a lack of space and time I shall unfortunately be viewing a wide variety of religio-cultural views as somewhat internally homogenous wholes examined (of necessity) synchronically; which makes, of course, for a rather essentialist view of the intersection of religion and society. It is my hope that keeping these faults within my study in mind will assist in critical examination of both this paper and the books to which I refer.