Women and Christianity: representations and practices

I. Christianity and the Scriptural Religions

First of all, before further discussing these issues, this chapter will deal with the way that Christianity, and especially Catholicism, has defined the "nature" of women and their position in society and in the religious field. Today, the majority of Europeans are indeed Christians. According to a study in 1995, the population of the European Unionís 15 countries is made of 0.5% Jews, 2% Muslims, (mostly emigrants from North Africa residing in France) and 85% Christians: 53% Catholics, 20% Protestants, 9% Anglicans, and 3% Orthodox Christians (mainly from Greece, which is the only country in the European Union with an Orthodox tradition). For the formation of the different faiths, see the historical appendix.

These figures are not the only sign of the importance of Christianity. More than a religion, Christianity is in fact a culture which helped build a European identity: the European calendar is a Christian calendar (years are counted from the birth of Christ, Sunday is a day of rest, Christmas is celebrated, etc....). Most of the villages and towns are planned around the centre where the church or the temple is situated; until recently, the main stages of our lives (birth, marriage, death) were marked by a religious ceremony.

It would be inappropriate, however, to deal with Christianity without referring to Islam and especially without referring to Judaism. Christianity and Islam in fact stem from Judaism: their idea of God - monotheism - and some of their cultural rules stem from Jewish texts which are gathered in the Old Testament.

This affiliation is both claimed and denied by Christian theology. Christ is shown as the Messiah announced in the most recent texts of the Old Testament, and the Gospel according to Matthew states that: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew 5, 17). This "accomplishment" translates in fact into radical changes to certain aspects of the Jewish tradition: Christianity is partly set up in opposition to Judaism.

The Jewish heritage is more clearly acknowledged in Islam. Islam retained most of the doctrinal positions of Judaism (strict monotheism, refusal of images) and its ritual prescriptions. Mohammed (570 ? - 632), its founder, presents himself as the last of the prophets (Christ was also according to him, one of them): God is said to have confied in him the ultimate Truth, presented in the Koran.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims have built their religious thought, in part or in totality, on biblical texts and thus they are referred to as the Scriptural Religions. We will point out what unites or separates their interpretations of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, due to the limits of space we will not discuss in detail the position of women in Judaism and Islam. However, we will look at the position of women in Genesis, a text used by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.