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Review of  Gender and the Language Religion


Reviewer: Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful
Book Title: Gender and the Language Religion
Book Author: Allyson Jule
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 17.189

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Review:
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 01:45:35 -0800 (PST)
From: Joseph Afful <jbafful@yahoo.com>
Subject: Gender and the Language of Religion

EDITOR Julé, Allyson
TITLE: Gender and the Language of Religion
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2005

Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language &
Literature, National University of Singapore

INTRODUCTION

This edited collection starts with the table of contents, followed by
brief notes on the contributors and acknowledgements. Next are two
important aspects: foreword and introduction. Fourteen papers (each
constituting a chapter) and are spread over three parts: a) Gender,
language patterns in religious thought, b) Gender and language use
in religious communities and c) Gender and language use in religious
identity. At the very end of the book is an index to assist readers in
easily locating topics of immediate interest.

SUMMARY

The editor of the collection, Allyson Julé, starts with a brief but
illuminating introduction, 'Introduction: The Meeting of Gender,
Language and Religion'. Allyson Julé offers a concise but persuasive
exposition of how gender, language, and religion are inextricably
linked. The fourteen papers then follow.

Part 1: Gender, Language Patterns and Religious Thought
The first paper in this part, Tekcan's 'An Overview of God and Gender
in Religion', (pp.9-24) examines the notion of God in some major world
religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The
thrust of Tekcan's paper is that these religions differ in the
genderization of the supernatural (godhead, deities, etc.). Tekcan
argues, for instance, that in Christianity, there is a great measure of
masculine centrality with respect to the godhead, whereas the issue of
gender is not highlighted in Buddhism as in the first place godhead is
unimportant.

Next, in 'The Gender of God: Judeo-Christian Feminist Debates' (pp.
25-40) Francis Britto boldly challenges the notion of God from a
feminist perspective. This theme is organized around four issues: the
challenge of women scholars in religion; the maleness of the Judeo-
Christian God; the feminist challenge to this notion; and, finally, the
need for alternatives in discussing God.

Farwaneh's 'Asymmetries of Male/Female Representation in Arabic'
(pp. 41-62) discusses linguistic variables such as personal names,
titles and address, and terms of reference in Arabic. Her analysis
suggests that through linguistic effects such as avoidance, semantic
shift, and incongruity, women are rendered invisible and denigrated.

In the last paper in this part, 'American Women: Their Cursing Habits
and Religiosity' (pp. 63-84), Timothy Jay shows the tenuous link
between the sacred and the profane through a discussion of a
common speech act, cursing. He makes a cross-cultural comparison,
leading to the observation that women generally curse less than men
ostensibly due to religiosity and sexual anxiety. He adds, however,
that American women might change in future as the church is now less
powerful in censoring speech, including cursing.

Part II: Gender and Language Use in Religious Communities
Liao's 'Women and Men: Languages and Religion in Taiwan' (pp. 87-
100), which opens this part, explores the relationship between
language choice and usage on the one hand and the main religions
practised in Taiwan on the other hand. Two important conclusions are
derived from this study. First, language (e.g. Taiwanese and Mandarin
languages, English, and Arabic) usage in Taoism, Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam is influenced by pragmatic considerations.
Second, women are noted to frequently participate in church and
temples in line with the need to stay connected.

Kniffka's paper, 'Women's Letters to the Editor: Talking Religion in a
Saudi Arabian English Newspaper' (pp. 101-132) in turn underscores
the culture-specific and religious-specific nature of both the letters
women write to editors and the editors' replies. But a more significant
point in this study is the use of the media as an avenue through which
Islamic women express their views, albeit with modification by male
religious editors. The next three papers are located within the
Christian community.

Sage Graham's 'A Cyber-Parish: Gendered Identity Construction in an
On-Line Episcopal' (pp. 133-150) suggests that Christian women
occupy position of greater power in terms of their rate of participation
and their ability to shape group identities and expectations in conflict
management using an on-line interaction (ChurchList).

In the ethnographic study entitled 'Language Use and Silence as
Morality: Teaching and Lecturing at an Evangelical Theology College'
(pp. 151-167) Allyson Julé observes that the question-time session
after lectures in a theology college alienates female students, thus
validating the feminine/masculine verbal behaviour typical of
evangelical Christianity. After all, as the paper argues, the choice of
lecturing and more importantly how it is used highlight male
domination.

In the last paper, 'The Children of God Who Wouldn't, but Had to' (pp.
168-184), Mooney shows how women are sexualized for men
(especially, the male religious leader) in a religious community, while
men are not.

Part III: Gender and Language Use in Religious Identity
The final part of Julé's collection begins with Amy Peebles' paper
entitled 'Restoring the Broken Image': The language of Gender and
Sexuality in an Ex-Gay Ministry' (pp. 187-202). It investigates how a
group of ex-gays in a Christian ministry attempts to transform their
sexual identity to conform to their understanding of traditional
Christian theology of sexual ethics.

Though the next two papers relate to the Islamic community, they are
located in different geographical areas: Britain and America. Fazila
Bhimji's '*Assalam u Alaikum*. Brother I have a Right to My Opinion on
This: British Islamic Women Assert Their Positions in Virtual Space'
(pp. 203-220) examines the discursive practices of Islamic women in
Britain an on-line discussion. The analysis offers us a glimpse of
women's complex identities: religious, assertive, knowledgeable, and
young. Shartriya Collier's 'Inshallah, today there will be work:
Senegalese Women Entrepreneurs Constructing Identities through
Language Use and Islamic Practice' (pp. 221-239) is more complex in
thematic orientation as it explores a nexus of issues such as
language, religion, economics, interpersonal relation, and power.
Collier argues that while maintaining their Senegalese identity --
Wolof, French, and Arabic -- these immigrant women need to
negotiate an American identity through investing in and using English.

The penultimate paper in the collection co-authored by Debra Cohen
and Nancy Berkowitz, 'Gender, Hebrew Language Acquisition and
Religious Values in Jewish High Schools in North America' (pp. 240-
256) explores the possible gender differences in achievement,
motivation, self-efficacy, and general satisfaction within a Hebrew
language course as applied to three sub-cultures within the Jewish
North American community. Three main conclusions are derived from
this study: a) girls are slightly superior in second language learning; b)
girls have a more positive attitude towards second language learning;
and c) there is a connection between attitudes and achievement.

The final paper by Kalyani Shabadi 'Speaking Our Gendered Selves:
Hinduism and the Indian Women' (pp. 257-269) discusses gendered
terms in order to ascertain how gender identities are constructed in
Indian society with relation to Hinduism. While admitting gender bias in
gendered terms such as general masculine terms and taboo
expressions, the writer supports attempts by non-governmental
organizations to empower men, arguing that social change is not only
desirable but also possible.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Rather than evaluate the papers on an individual basis, I will comment
on the overall collection.

The strengths of this collection can be seen in three areas: the use of
language, the element of variety, and organization. First, for readers
who share the same religious affiliation as the presenters, the use of
vocabulary, expressions, and terms are likely to be viewed favorably
as they do not only strike a note of familiarity but are also used with
conciseness and clarity. Moreover, because these papers are not
replete with religious terms, readers who do not share the same
religious beliefs as the presenters or do not subscribe to any religious
beliefs are not likely to be offended. Where the writers use religious-
specific or culture-specific terms, they take pains to provide
explanations or translations in parenthesis. Thus, in general, the
language in all the papers is reader-friendly.

The second key strength of this collection is how the editor brings
together varied papers in terms of topics and approaches. Of course,
as the title of the book indicates, it is the relationship between religion,
language, and gender that links all the papers together. Beyond this,
however, in order to add a touch of interest, the editor does a good
work by attempting to bring together papers that deal with different
geographical contexts (e.g. The United States of America, Britain,
India, and Taiwan). As well, the papers cover both mainstream and
alternative sexual orientations. Similarly, among the papers that are
located in the Christian community, minority groups often referred to
as the New Religious Movements or Cult as in Mooney's 'The Children
of God Who Wouldn't , but Had to' are included. In terms of approach,
two kinds of papers are generally noticed: the more theoretical
(e.g. Tekcan) and the empirical studies (e.g. Kniffka). While Tekcan's
paper provides a very broad but illuminating introduction to the
collection, Kniffka's paper is in every way illustrative of the more
dominant empirical studies in the collection.

The last strength of the collection lies in its organization. The editor's
introduction before the fourteen papers offers an important means of
preparing readers who may not be familiar with the scholarship in
feminist writings, women's studies, sociolinguistics, or critical discourse
analysis. Besides, in general, the division of the papers into three
parts seems to be well motivated, offering gradual transition from the
more general issues to the specific issue dealing with the construction
of identity in religious communities. Also, the differing use of
metatextual elements and the use of multimodal expressions such as
tables and graphs add to the perfect organization of Julés' collection. .

Notwithstanding these strengths, there are two concerns. First, the
cautious reader is likely to question the basis of the labeling of the
three parts. The point is that the papers in Part 2 can also be said to
examine the construction of identities just as the papers in Part 3 do. It
is not clear to me why Graham's paper is found in Part 2. Could the
arrangement of the papers have been motivated by more than
thematic consideration? The second concern relates to the focus on
major world religions and women. A quick read through the papers, for
instance, shows that about six papers are devoted to the Judeo-
Christianity community, four to Islam, and the next four to other
religions. Though this attempt to widen the number of religions in the
collection must be applauded, all too often knowledge construction
and dissemination have tended to neglect the 'non-centre' areas such
as Latin America and Africa. A more inclusive collection could have
covered other non-scripted religions in other parts of the world such
as sub-Saharan Africa; the inclusion of immigrant Senegalese in
America does not help much. Reading the collection, one also
sometimes has the feeling that most of the papers in the collection pay
much more attention to women than men. In this case, the title for the
collection seems misleading. In future, a collection on a similar theme
as treated in this book can be expected to be more inclusive in terms
of gender, sexual orientations, class, ethnicity, religion, economics,
and geography.

On the whole, Allyson Julé's 'Gender and the Language of Religion'
represents a useful collection of well-written papers by scholars of
varying backgrounds (measurement and evaluation, sociolinguistics,
education psychology, language education, theoretical and applied
linguistics, and communication). It can easily become a compulsory
reading for students in various interdisciplinary studies, people
working in the relevant disciplines, and for several others who want to
broaden their knowledge on the intersection between religion,
language and gender. I enjoyed reading every paper in this collection.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful is a research scholar at the last stage
of his doctoral studies at the Department of English Language and
Literature at the National University of Singapore. He recently
submitted his doctoral thesis on the interface between rhetoric and
disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level. His teaching and
research interests include (critical) discourse analysis, sociolinguistics,
academic writing/literacy, general linguistics, and the interface
between linguistics and literature. He has presented papers at
international conferences in the United Kingdom, the USA, Australia,
and Singapore and has papers that are currently being reviewed for
publication.


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