Re-casting the sacred: feminist challenges to the masculinization of the sacred in social theory

Kathleen McPhillips


One of the aims of social theory in religion has been to explore axiomatically and theoretically the social and cultural dimensions of the realm of the sacred. The work of Emile Durkheim has been pre-eminent in this task. Critical feminist theory has however detailed the ways in which Durkheimian accounts of religion have been heavily gendered, and the sacred masculinized. Feminist theories of religion have responded to this by positing a re-casting of the relationship between gender and divinity. One of the central problematics in this field of enquiry is whether to reclaim the profane as the site of resistance and biophillia and from which to center women's religious agency; or to re-claim the sacred as the primary site for the construction of an ethics of sexual difference and gendered identity. This essay is an initial consideration of this problematic with particular reference to the social conditions of religion in post-modernity.

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