How will these resources help you? 

While some may argue that female leadership within faith traditions is a modern phenomenon and therefore unscriptural, this list introduces three women who do not share this view. The three case studies challenge the view that women cannot be leaders within their traditions. The women have each faced criticism that they are not representing the mainstream or 'correct' interpretation of their faith. Their views are not necessarily accepted by the majority, but they stand as women who do not see female leadership and their faith as in opposition to each other. These resources aim to help students explore themes of the role of women in faith, as well as how religious texts are interpreted in contemporary times. 

Are religions sexist?

The Big Questions: Are religions unfair to women?

published by BBC One, (2013)

The BBC’s Big Questions format of having chosen guests on either side of a debate present their views with members of the audience able to contribute is perfect for use in the classroom as students can evaluate the variety of views. This entire episode or sections of it can be used to show why many view 'religion' as inherently sexist, with historians, atheists and ex-believers giving compelling reasons for religion’s part in the structures that have harmed women in the past. On the other hand, nuanced and diverse views are presented by people of faith on the reasons why religion itself is not sexist, rather societies and cultures. This is a fantastic resource to use to introduce discussions around female leadership in religion, more broadly around gender roles in society and the family, and the relationship between religion and society generally. 

Women’s Roles in Christianity

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

by Beth Allison Barr, published by Brazos Press, (2021), 9781587434709

The Southern Baptist Church does not accept female leadership in the Church – instead it teaches 'complementarianism', where men and women are spiritually equal but have clearly defined roles in the family and the Church. Men are the leaders and the head of the family and Church, and women are the helpers, and in submission to men. The author unpacks the textual basis for complementarianism, weaving periods of Church history and development and the narrative of her own life. She concludes that a 'Christian patriarchy' is the same as patriarchy in any other setting, and views complementarianism and submission of women as a poison from a culture that has infected Christian views on men and women. While retaining a passionate belief in Jesus, Barr traces a history of how the Church has used the name of Jesus to oppress women. The book could be used to help students to explore various interpretations of the Bible, and some key moments in the history of Christianity. 

Female Rabba in Orthodox Judaism

Sara Hurwitz

by Blu Greenberg, published by The Jewish Women’s Archive, (2021)

While within Reform (or progressive) Judaism there is a general acceptance of female Rabbis, within Orthodox Judaism there is little formal acceptance of full-time female leadership. Rabba Sara Hurwitz is seen as the first to be publicly ordained, within the Orthodox tradition. Hurwitz co-founded the Yeshiva Maharat where women are trained for positions in the clergy, although this is debated by some. Students can investigate further the work and mission of the Yeshiva Maharat here and listen to her explain in her own words how she came to be ordained in this clip here.  Using this case study in the classroom can help students understand the different traditions within Judaism and explore why someone may choose a life in the clergy and what the role may entail. 

The Gender Jihad in Islam

Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam

by Amina Wadud, published by Oneworld Academic, (2006), 9781851684632

Professor Wadud believes her duty as a Muslim is to struggle against oppressive, patriarchal readings of Islam, not only through her academic writings but also through her actions. In 2006 she was invited to lead the Friday (Jummah) prayers to a mixed group of men and women in New York City. While the Qur'an does not specifically state that it has to be a man who leads others in prayer, the vast majority of Muslims follow traditions that require only a man to lead other men in prayers. Wadud has faced criticism within mainstream interpretations of Islam that her actions were un-Islamic. She addresses this and other incidents in her book, which weaves her academic and personal history throughout. This book will help students explore interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith and consider how faith can be put into action when advocating for the rights of others. 

Further materials

Women’s place in the Church: In the Footsteps of St Paul by David Suchet, published by BBC One, (2012) Watch this clip
The Importance of Female Spiritual Leaders by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, published by Molly Birkholm, (2019) Watch this video
Making History: Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin (First black woman to become bishop), published by ITV News, (2020) Watch this clip
Zara Mohammed (Secretary General of the British Council of Muslims) by Huw Spanner, published by High Profiles, (2021) Read this interview
Ruth Marx teaches Religion and Worldviews, is a Consultant for Religious Studies and PSHE, a Farmington Fellowship Scholar and a published blogger on Re:Online.

Text © Ruth Marx, 2023.