Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel V: Patriarchy and Gender Roles in Christianity

Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 10:15 a.m.

1. Beryl Esembe: Religious Fundamentalism and Gender Discrimination

2. Quinn Van Valer-Campbell: Dualism in Christian Science Church: A positive impact on Gender relations?

3. Sasha Sleiman: Women and the Coptic Church in Egypt

4. Mary Kay Schueneman: African American Women and Christian Mission in the Civil Rights Era

Beryl Nalowa Esembe


Beryl Nalowa Esembe (MA. Soc) is a Cameroon born Sociologist/Anthropologist. She is the author of 'Because I am a Foreigner:' Migrant Women in Cyprus Speak Out (2006), and How do you Burn: Paper, Wax, Clay or Gold? (2012). She is the founder Inspiration Talks Woman 2 Woman Ministries: a non - denominational organization specialized in Domestic Conflict Resolution, and the Chair Person of Gender Studies Research Institute of Norway. Beryl likes to be described as a practical Christian woman!


Religious Fundamentalism and Gender Discrimination

Cyprus is a country with a system of government where the Arch Bishop has more rights, even in political issues, directly or indirectly than the President of the Republic. The church in Cyprus is the Greek Orthodox Church and it run entirely by men. Certain roles are reserved for women only.

This research will bring out the different types of discrimination against women (made war for) by church policies on different aspects of social life. The Orthodox Church in Cyprus has written and non-written policies that give room for gender discrimination. This research is designed to

  • Bring out the Orthodox church policy probably get a copy translated from Greek to English.
  • Show how this policies are discriminatory by them selves.
  • Have life stories of women have experienced discrimination because they are not Greek Orthodox.
  • Show how such fundamentalism has shaped identities, and introduced conflicts and power struggle between citizens and residents of the Republic.

The church has policies on employment, marriage, residence permits, and child legitimacy. We shall bring out the difficulties of women regarding the above-mentioned policies. We shall be able to bring out situations of multiple discrimination, as we shall be interviewing women who are not Cypriots but are members of the Orthodox Church and women who are not Cypriots and are members of other churches. 100 women are being interviewed, 50 of them are faithful orthodox Christians and the other 50 are non-orthodox Christians. The 50 non-orthodox Christians will be used to bring out the differences of liberty: employment liberty, marriage liberty, etc.

Quinn Van Valer-Campbell


Quinn Van Valer-Campbell graduated from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in December with a Master’s in International Policy Studies and a concentration in Conflict Resolution. Previously, she received degrees from Fordham University in 2009 in Political Science and Theology. She currently works in Berkeley at International Rivers, an organization working for human rights and healthy rivers for indigenous and dam-affected peoples worldwide through outreach, research, advocacy, and solidarity. This allows her a space in which to learn about resource and water conflicts around the globe.

Quinn’s interests are religious and ethnic conflicts, with special emphasis on the former Yugoslavia. She has worked, lived, and studied in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. She is also a court mediator for the Small Claims Court of Monterey County.


The impact of dualism and gender on the teachings and members of the Church of Christ, Scientist

The Church of Christ Scientist has long been under scrutiny by the larger, more Orthodox Christian churches. Much of this attention has been due to its view on medicine and the use of prayer as a healing tool. Little research has been done in the realm of gender and its impact on the followers of the Church.

Founded by a woman, Christian Science is distinct in the realm of Christianity. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder, believed she was healed from an illness through the teachings and readings of Jesus. This formed the main platform on which her church was built. While some call the Church a cult and others are practicing members, the influence of Eddy merits attention for several reasons.

There is a strong emphasis on dualism through out this religion. God is referred to as Father-Mother God, which contradicts much of mainstream Christianity and its teachings. This duality is not anthropomorphic, but rather spiritual, emotional, and characteristic in nature. God embodies both female and male attributes of compassion, kindness, and empathy and strength, power, and protection, respectively. This underlies the basis of the research.

This intellectual, dualist view marked Christian Science to be a pioneer in many regards, one of which with the belief that Mind over Matter will heal all, thus excluding the use of medicine and doctors. While this has sparked many heated debates, there has been little research, empirical or otherwise, completed on the impact of this on gender within Christian Science. By understanding those who adhere to or are surrounded by the beliefs and practices of Christian Science, this paper will shed light on the influence that a female figurehead and the effect of dualism has had on members of the Church.

Furthermore, the way in which perspectives about gender and gender roles have been shaped within the teachings and foundation of Christian Science will be explored. Do all Christian Scientists (and those raised within the Church both directly and indirectly) understand gender as dualistic? Because of Eddy’s teachings, are only men powerful, protective, and strong? Are women just compassionate, kind, and empathetic? Can this dualism encompass both the gendered and genderless? These questions will be explored in further detail.

Research will primarily take place in the wider San Francisco Bay Area of California during the summer and fall of 2012. Interviews will be conducted over the phone, in person, and through email alike.

Sasha Sleiman


Sasha Sleiman is pursuing her Master’s Degree in International Policy Studies with a concentration in Human Security and Development at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Her specific interests lie in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and gender issues. She graduated from Western Washington University in 2009 with a B.A. in Comparative Politics. Her interests include a variety of issues relating to gender and conflict including women’s roles in conflict, conflict resolution, post-war reconstruction and peacebuilding. She is also interested in the status of refugees, human rights abuses during and after conflict and the trafficking of persons. Sleiman focuses her research and academic interests to the Middle East, particularly the situations of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.


Exploring the Impact of the Coptic Christian/Muslim Conflict on Women in Egypt

The Coptic Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have a long and complex history of tension and sectarian violence dating back to the 7th century. Coptic and Muslim women are caught at the middle of this tension both physically, as victims of abductions and abuse, and psychologically, as victims of discrimination and inequality.

One of the ways in which women are victimized in the social conflict between Copts and Muslims is through accusations of abductions and conversions from one religion to the other, as well as through dictates of religious leaders who opine on how women should behave, dress and participate in society. There have been several news reports since the Revolution where Muslims and Christians accuse each other of abducting the women to convert them to the opposite faith. This is seen to be out of the control of women, even if the woman was the one who willingly converted. These accusations heighten tensions between the two communities and often result in violent protests or retaliations.

There are also instances in this long-standing conflict where the two religious institutions are analogous in their belief of men having the right to make decisions for the women. An example of this that received much media attention this year is the statements made by Coptic Christian Bishop Bishoy where he called on his female followers to dress more like their ‘Muslim sisters’. While this comment was considered particularly insulting to Coptic women, Muslim women who do not veil themselves also took offense to the comments and joined in the demonstrations because it politicized their private decisions.

While much has been written on the dynamic between these two communities in Egypt, there appears to be a gap in the literature around how this conflict has affected women in both communities over the years. This paper seeks to examine the perspective of the Egyptian diaspora living in America on how the tensions between the Coptic Christian and Muslim communities impact women in Egypt. The paper is the product of interviews conducted with Egyptians living in America, from both the Coptic Christian and Muslim communities. Interviews are substantiated by scholarly work on the dynamics of the Coptic-Muslim relationship in Egypt both historically and recent developments, as well as draws on feminist and conflict theories to help explain the gendered nature of this conflict.

Mary Kay Schueneman


Mary Kay Schueneman is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Middlebury College. She teaches courses in American Religious History and Culture with a specialization in African American Religious History and African American Women’s Religious Practice and Experiences. She is the author of “A Leavening Force: African American Women and Christian Women in the Civil Rights Era,” forthcoming in Church History. Her current book project is entitled Considering What Others Say I Am: Toward a Black Women’s Theory of Mission. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Schueneman is also part-time minister at Cornwall Congregational Church, UCC in Cornwall, Vermont.


African American Women and Christian Mission in the Civil Rights Era

In 1939, Josephine Beckwith was the first African American admitted to the Methodist women’s missionary training school, National College for Christian Workers in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1952, DeLaris Johnson and Leila Robinson held that distinction for Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, also run by Methodist women. The desegregation of these training schools set the stage for a new style of women’s mission work, one that fused traditional practices with the rhetoric and practice of civil rights activism. While missionary organizing and civil rights organizing are recognized by historians as crucial sites for the development and praxis of women’s leadership, they are typically told as separate endeavors. The women’s mission movement is captured in a narrative that describes its zenith in the early decades of the 20th century while reaching an era of decline by the 1940s. historian Charles Payne has memorialized the recovery, of sorts, of black women’s leadership roles during the Civil Rights Era with the phrase, “men led, but women organized,” only to reinforce the very gendered role of women as the “backbone” of the movement. We are left to conclude that African American women’s commitment to the principles of Christian Mission was replaced by their commitment to civil (read secular) rights.

The stories of these and other black Methodist women suggest otherwise. Weaving together their oral histories with secondary sources uncovers a continuity of practice and not a disjuncture as presented in historical narratives. This paper will present accounts of missionaries and leaders in the black women’s Methodist mission organization to reveal the presence and significance of women’s missionary work in the civil rights era as a site for social reform and transformation. These are the stories of women who encountered and confronted segregation and Jim crow, and they did so in explicitly religious vocations and spaces where their confidence in the authority of their Christian faith and vocation took prominence over their confidence in the authority of the US Constitution. Tellingly, however, Beckwith, Johnson, and others saw little if any connection between their work and the battle for civil rights. Without a doubt, this is a reflection of the power of a narrative told in male leadership, Supreme Court decisions, and voter registration campaigns and not in the more quotidian work of female missionaries.