Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions - Morny Joy

Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions - Morny Joy

Women, Rights Talk, and African Pentecostalism

Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions - Morny Joy

Rosalind I.J. Hackett [+-]
University of Tennessee
Rosalind I.J. Hackett is Chancellor’s Professor Emerita, and Professor of Religious Studies Emerita at the University of Tennessee.  She is also Extraordinary Professor, Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.  She publishes in the areas of indigenous religion, new religious movements, gender, art, human rights, and conflict in Africa.  Recent (co-edited) books are New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa (2015) and The Anthropology of Global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism (2015).  She is Past President and Honorary Life Member of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR).


In this essay, I seek to bring a rights perspective to women’s religious leadership and agency in Africa, notably in the case of the newer forms of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity that now predominate in many parts of the continent. Rather than adopting a legal approach, I focus on the concept of “rights talk” (cf., Glendon 1991) which provides a more productive and inclusive way to approach ideas about women’s leadership in locally grounded (and often transnationally connected) African Christian communities. Such a line of inquiry shifts the emphasis from analyzing the impact of the newer generation churches (as the Pentecostal-charismatic churches are sometimes termed) on women’s rights—however narrowly or broadly conceived. It focuses on the women church founders and leaders who have publicly addressed the emancipation of women in the varying contexts of gender inequality. Sources for their discourses of freedom may be traditional, biblical, or theological, as well as government policy, and international human rights instruments. The discourses are increasingly tinged with neoliberal conceptions of individual freedom. I contend that the way modern Pentecostal-charismatic women leaders argue for equality, justice, and dignity in their religious communities can also be traced back to their forbears in the African-initiated or independent churches that date from the seventeenth century onwards. There are interesting parallels, as well as some differences, in the ways that they frame, explicitly or implicitly, their understandings of equality and freedom from oppression, and balance compliance and resistance to perduring patriarchal limitations on their religious agency.

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Hackett, Rosalind. Women, Rights Talk, and African Pentecostalism. Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 207-222 Feb 2020. ISBN 9781781798393. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=38850. Date accessed: 30 Sep 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.38850. Feb 2020

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