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Without reservation, it can be stated that the rise in feminism during the second half of the 20th century had a profound effect on the role of women in the religious institutions. Religion has not been exempt from the widespread improvement in the role of women throughout society. While this improvement has been a slow evolution, changes have occurred in the political structures of religion due to the women's rights movement.
Before discussing the change in women in religion, it is important to note that they still play a subordinate role to men in a significant way. The god of Islam and Christianity are both viewed with a male persona. Judaism teaches that god is neither male nor female. The roles for women that are discussed in the major texts of these religions call for women to have a submissive role. In Islam, the struggle for women has been even more difficult. Despite these challenges, women have made significant strides in the area of religion. To understand the changing role of women in the faiths, it is necessary to examine how women have been permitted to take leadership roles among followers.
Women have made the greatest strides in the Christian churches of the West. Protestant denominations have permitted women to become priests and bishops. Within the Roman Catholic Church, women cannot be priests, but are now permitted to give communion to parishioners as eucharistic ministers. Women in both Christian churches have taken more active roles in theology and teaching, especially at the university levels.
The role of women in Islam and Judaism has also evolved. Women are now routinely ordained as rabbis in Judaism and play a significant role in the leadership structure of the faith. There are over 150 women that are members in the Rabbinical Assembly and even in the most conservative of synagogues women have been ordained as rabbis. In Islam, it is not uncommon for women to lead Friday prayer at mixed-gender services, especially on college campuses.
Within the study of theology, women have also gained a greater voice. Programs like Islamic studies or Jewish studies are populated with a higher proportion of females than in the past. Women are granted more influence in these programs as professors and deans than was imagined even fifty years ago. In these positions, they can improve the status of women in the religions through teaching. Women have also become very involved in charitable and grassroots wings of the respective religions.
While progress within religion is slowed by religious doctrine, women in all faiths have been granted wider freedom in equality. The rate to which these change occurs depends on the where the faiths fall on the political spectrum. Even even the most orthodox of sects have granted more power to women. Churches have come to realize that their future roles in society depend on a certain evolution of principles.
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