Thursday, January 25, 2018

Journal of Law and Religion

I read an article in the Journal of Law and Religion XVIII, No. 1 by Dirk Jacobs a professor at the University of Brussels and researcher at the Institute of Social and Political Opinion Research at the Catholic University of Leuven called "Female ordination: a sociological analysis of a debate on rights and religion in Flanders (Belgium) in the mid Nineties."  Jacobs analyzes the debate about women’s ordination using the “Commonwealth model” of Boltanski and Thévenot finding that the model is inadequate because it fails to account for concepts of power.  He concludes that the debate is closely related to the struggle within the Roman Catholic Church about religious authority and the social relations accompanying it.

Jacobs points out that the range of views associated with the debate are not given equal value because they are impacted by the dynamic of power relations between men and women.  The rules are determined by male clergy who consistently make decisions that reinforce the power of men over women.  This raises the question about how useful the “Commonwealth model” for analyzing discourse about women’s ordination can be when the primary justification for the argument against is clearly guided by sexist values and those putting forth such views deny they are.  A similar problem arises in political debates in which arguments guided by racist values are put forth by people who deny being racist

Only by setting the debate within the construct of the religious field as a set of strategic relations between groups with diametrically different social positions within the existing structure, can the various discourses be analyzed effectively.   Without referencing the sexist nature of the religious field, itself, no proper analysis can be made of the arguments put forth by actors within the field. Jacobs concludes that “if the Roman Catholic Church remains unable to change its internal social relations, many Catholics will turn their backs to the institutionalized Church and will go and look for other venues for religious symbolism and alternative practices.”  This, in fact, is what has happened to a large extent, though some of us remain to carry on the debate.