Special Issue "Freedom and Entrapment: Intersections and Collisions in Gender, Sexuality and Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2022 | Viewed by 2249

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Kathleen McPhillips
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Humanities, Creative Industries and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia
Interests: religion; gender; feminism; politics; institutional abuse

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Dr Kathleen McPhillips. I am a sociologist of religion and gender at the University of Newcastle, Australia. I conduct research in the areas of women, religion and politics and gender-based violence. I invite you to submit a proposal for this Special Issue.

The aim of the special issue is to explore a number of central problematics in the field of gender, sexuality and religion. The focus will be on the tensions between the rights of religions to freedom of speech and worship and the need for gender equality and safety and protection against family and gender based- violence. Currently this is an unsettled space, with religious traditions making claims for specific inclusions in human rights laws in many countries to protect religious values and independence. Problematically, these values are often based on patriarchal claims and discriminate against women and LGBTQI+ populations. This raises the issue of the relationship between religion and state and particularly the responsibilities of the modern liberal state in ensuring the equity and safety of all citizens and protecting the rights of minority groups.

The essays in this volume will focus on current accounts of laws covering religious freedom in relation to gender discrimination, as well as reporting on research into the specific conditions of discrimination against women and minority groups in religious traditions, including responses to gender-based violence. The conundrum of protecting rights and ensuring freedom, so central to democracies, while addressing the entrapment many women experience in patriarchal religious traditions will be the central focus of this issue.

This Special Issue aims to address these topics via a number of avenues, including:  legal reforms that claim to protect religious freedoms yet discriminate on the basis of gender; responses to these legal reforms by religious groups with particular reference to whose rights and claims are being addressed; the impacts of legal reforms on women and LGBTQI+ groups; research documenting gender-based violence in religious groups; the response by religious groups to accounts of gender-based violence; theologies that facilitate gender-based violence; state responses to institutional religion-based sexual abuse.

In this Special Issue, original research articles and reviews are welcome. Research areas may include (but are not limited to) the following: gender and religion; feminist theory; feminist theology; religion and politics; religion and social theory.

I/We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Dr. Kathleen McPhillips
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • religious freedom
  • equality and gender justice
  • gender-based violence
  • marriage equality
  • religious traditions
  • patriarchy and religion

Published Papers (2 papers)

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‘The Whole Concept of Social Cohesion, I Thought, “This Is So Qur’anic”’: Why Australian Muslim Women Work to Counter Islamophobia
Religions 2022, 13(7), 670; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070670 - 21 Jul 2022
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Islamophobia is on the rise in many Western countries, and while previous research has considered the causes of Islamophobia and the impact it has on its victims, little research has investigated the attitudes and experiences of Muslims who are working to counter Islamophobia, [...] Read more.
Islamophobia is on the rise in many Western countries, and while previous research has considered the causes of Islamophobia and the impact it has on its victims, little research has investigated the attitudes and experiences of Muslims who are working to counter Islamophobia, and particularly those of Muslim women. This research investigates the motivations and intentions of Australian Muslim women who run public engagement events for non-Muslims to counter Islamophobia and build social cohesion. Data were obtained via in-depth interviews with 31 Sunni, Shia, Ahmadiyya Muslim women in four Australian capital cities. The three main themes that emerged were that the women wanted to connect with the non-Muslims who attended the events, create positive social change, and increase the knowledge that non-Muslims had about Islam and Muslims. Significantly, the women said that their most important motivator was their faith, and they rejected the idea that they were doing such work to appease non-Muslims. Instead, they saw work was an affirmation of their identity as Muslim women and their commitment to God. Full article
Domestic and Family Violence: Responses and Approaches across the Australian Churches
Religions 2022, 13(3), 270; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030270 - 21 Mar 2022
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Domestic and family violence (DFV) is a serious and widespread problem in Australia and across the world, including in faith communities. There are calls for research to assist churches to better recognize, respond to and prevent violence. This study draws on data from [...] Read more.
Domestic and family violence (DFV) is a serious and widespread problem in Australia and across the world, including in faith communities. There are calls for research to assist churches to better recognize, respond to and prevent violence. This study draws on data from the 2016 Australian National Church Life Survey (n = 883 senior local church leaders, n = 1270 churchgoers) to provide the first Australia-wide cross-denominational statistics on Christian clergy responses to DFV. Two-thirds of leaders had previously dealt with DFV situations in their ministry, primarily responding to victims of abuse by referring them to specialist support services and by counselling them. The findings suggest a particular depth of experience with DFV situations and strength of awareness of the needs of victims for safety and specialist support among Salvationist leaders. While, overall, a substantial majority of churchgoers felt that they could approach their church for help if they were experiencing DFV, just half of Catholics felt that they could do so. Future research should explore responses to DFV in specific denominations and culturally and linguistic diverse contexts in more detail and seek to understand the practices used by the large minority of clergy who are dealing with perpetrators. Full article

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: “Actually, that’s how my religion teaches me I’m supposed to treat people”: Australian Muslim women countering Islamophobia beyond appeasement, antagonism, and apologetics.

Abstract: Negative attitudes towards Muslims in Australia remain a significant challenge to social cohesion, with 40-50% of the population self-reporting negative attitudes towards Muslims. Beyond Australia, Islamophobia is a global phenomenon, with a rise in Islamophobia documented across Europe and the United States. More specifically, gender is a central factor in how Islamophobia is expressed and directed, with research showing Australian Muslim women are much more likely to be the target of Islamophobic attacks than men. Research and popular narratives have focused on Muslims as threatening social cohesion or Muslim women’s experience as the more frequent victims of Islamophobia, but have not explored the proactive ways Muslim women attempt to tackle this prejudice and build social cohesion, nor why. This paper explores the way 31 Sunni, Shi’a and Ahmadiyya women from across Australia engage in public countering Islamophobia and social cohesion building work, and identifies the three key goals that unite their approaches: to connect, know, and change. It also demonstrates the significant role of religion in their work. Often, analyses of the relationship of Western Muslim women to Islamophobia prioritise framings of power, victimhood, and resistance, but this research found not only did none of the women conceive of their work in this way, they also strongly rejected the suggestion. Instead of responsive appeasing, antagonising, or apologising to non-Muslims, they saw their work as a self-assured affirmation of who they were and their religious beliefs.


Title: Freedom and Discrimination in the Australian Politics of Religious Freedom

Abstract: After two controversial exposure drafts, in November 2021, the Australian Government tabled its long-awaited Religious Discrimination Bill. The subject of heated public debate, the Bill was hastily examined by two parliamentary inquiries, and despite its passage through the lower house of the federal parliament, was facing almost certain defeat in the Senate. The Government withdrew the Bill, effectively shelving it four months out from an election. The controversy centred on the extent to which religious organisations would have the ‘freedom’ to discriminate against others on the basis of religious belief. Studies of the discourse and the politics of religious freedom have demonstrated that over the last ten years, religious freedom, increasingly framed as ‘freedom of belief’, has been pitted against the right to be free from discrimination, particularly as it relates to LGBTQ+ people. This paper examines submissions to the two parliamentary inquiries into the Bill to explore the intersections between representations of ‘freedom’ and ‘discrimination’ and how they are framed in the discourse of ‘freedom of belief’. Using Critical Discourse Analysis, the submissions will be analysed for answers to the questions: who needs protection from discrimination and why? and, who or what is being freed and why? The analysis will focus on how patriarchal and colonialist religious traditions, and the Australian Christian Right, are responding to challenges from marginalised groups through the discourse of religious freedom. The paper will explore how religious freedom is being used to maintain power and privilege in a context where the relationship between religion and the state is in flux.


Title: Casting Our Sins Away: Queer Jewish Celebration of a Traditional Atonement Ritual

Abstract: Every year diverse Jewish communities around the world observe the Tashlich (casting off), a customary atonement ritual performed the day after Rosh Hashanah. This performative ritual is conducted next to a body of water to symbolize the atonement and purification of one's sins. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in two egalitarian Jewish congregations in Tel Aviv and in New York City, I show how the Tashlich performance is constructed as a political act to empower gender and sexual identities and experiences, as well as the socio-political positionality of LGBTQ Jewish people in various sites. By including new blessings, the blowing of the shofar by gay female participants, and by conducting the ritual in historical and contemporary queer urban spaces, the rabbis and congregants created new interpretations of the traditional customs and exposed their feelings toward themselves, about the community and its visibility and presence in the city. The fact that the ritual is conducted in an open urban public space creates not only different meanings and perceptions (unlike the atmosphere in the synagogue), but also exposes queer politics in the context of national and religious identities. Furthermore, this comparative analysis illuminates tensions and trajectories of Jewishness and queerness in Israel and in the US, and sheds light on postmodern tendencies in contemporary religious communities as a result of the inclusion of the LGBTQ community.


Title: A Culturally Integrated Approach to Muslim Family Safety in Canada

Abstract: Twenty-nine per cent of visible minority women in Canada report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime (Cotter, 2021). This is a lower prevalence rate than for non-visible minority or Indigenous women. However, women who belong to minority ethno-religious groups may be more vulnerable after IPV has occurred. Providers of state-funded services for victims and perpetrators of family violence in Canada may be uncertain about how to work with members of minority ethno-religious groups. Uncertainty can turn into inaction and/or discrimination when faced with linguistic and cultural differences. Muslim and Arab immigrant families are unlikely to contact public service providers for help in situations of family violence due to a variety of factors including premigration experiences with state officials, social inequalities, the stigma associated with IPV, and collectivist ethno-religious perspectives. This article describes the findings of a project of building bridges between Muslim families and those who provide state funded services including domestic violence outreach workers, child protection workers and police in Fredericton, New Brunswick since 2019. The project includes a collaborative, action-oriented research approach and is modeled on the work of the Religion and Violence E-Learning Project (RAVE) as well as the Muslim Centre for Social Support and Integration which has developed and evaluated a culturally integrative approach to family safety in London, Ontario (Nason-Clark et al, 2018; Baobaid & Ashbourne, 2017). The findings are analyzed within a feminist intersectional framework, incorporating the concepts of lived religion (McGuire, 2008) and deep equality (Beaman, 2017).


Title: Understanding domestic violence responses by clergy in the Anglican Church of Australia

Abstract: The victims of domestic violence are predominantly women (AIHW 2018), with gender inequality commonly argued to be an underlying cultural driver of domestic violence (e.g. Our Watch et al. 2015). In this context, the leadership hierarchies and gendered norms within some religious traditions have come under scrutiny with regards to the effectiveness of leaders in responding to abuse within their communities and protecting the safety of women and children (Vaughan et al. 2020). Using a survey of 383 Anglican clergy undertaken in Australia in 2020 (Powell and Pepper, 2021), this paper explores the influences of views about gender roles and attributions of the causes of domestic violence on clergy’s self-reported actions in response to domestic violence situations. Anglican Church tradition (evangelical or reformed) and being male predicted both adherence to complementarian views about gender roles and a decreased tendency to attribute domestic violence to gender inequality and the theology of male headship. Taking actions that focus specifically on victim safety in domestic violence situations, speaking publicly about domestic violence generally, and church-level actions such as installation of posters about domestic violence in the church were not predicted by views about gender roles or by attributions of the causes of domestic violence. In contrast, action to support perpetrators was positively predicted by clergy gender (male) and by a weaker attribution of domestic violence to the theology of male headship. A greater propensity towards counselling couples was likewise predicted by a weaker attribution of domestic violence to the theology of male headship as well as by complementarian views about gender roles. Given that little is known from the wider literature about the effectiveness of approaches in holding perpetrators in religious settings to account and stopping them from abusing their partners (Vaughan et al. 2020), and that couples counselling is widely regarded to place domestic violence victims at risk, the results from this study suggest that there are ways in which complementarianism on the part of clergy may be problematic for victim safety.
• Church tradition and being male predicted adherence to complementarian views about gender and a lower tendency to attribute DV to gender inequality and the theology of headship. • Views about gender roles and attributions of the causes of DV predicted clergy actions to help perpetrators and a propensity to counsel couples, but did not predict other types of responses to DV.

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