By Jenna Mink
Her brother thought she was too beautiful to enter the monastery. So she hot ironed her face.”Her brother was so ashamed, he let her join,” Zen Buddhist teacher Kosen Osho said at the Women in World Religion panel Tuesday.
Osho told the story of a famous female Buddhist who deformed herself for the sake of Buddism during the discussion, which focused on women’s roles in religion.
The discussion, which took place in front of a packed auditorium in the Adams room of the Wallace building, featured six panelists who represented different religions: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Paganism and Hinduism. The original idea was to highlight the five major religions examined in textbooks.
“But some were not happy (with organizers’ choice of religions discussed),” said Abraham Velez, moderator and professor of philosophy and religion.
So, when members of the Paganism religion asked to be represented, organizers did not want to discriminate, he said.
But the topic remained the same, and each panelist gave her view of women’s place in the religion she practices. Osho used the above story to illustrate the importance of women in Buddhism.
While men dominated ancient Buddhism, many big-time nuns and teachers in Buddhist history were women, she said.
And women played a more prominent role in the Christian Bible than many give them credit for, said Deborah Core, an English professor and a Roman Catholic.
Core spoke of the husband-and-wife team of Priscilla and Aquila. She said Priscilla’s name is always written first when the pair appears in the Bible. Core also told the story of the anonymous Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus and led other Samaritans to follow his teachings.
“This tells me what women are in Christianity,” she said, “important, yet anonymous.”
Other religious women who historically stayed behind closed doors were Hindu women.
Writurani Kakshapati, a senior accounting major from Nepal, said Hinduism teaches women should dedicate themselves to the household and their husbands.
Women should be domestic experts, keeping the house clean and well decorated according to traditional Hinduism practices, Kakshapati said.
While Hindu women’s role in society has modified, Hindus still try to follow tradition.
“Women don’t have much besides the house,” she said.
But, in some countries, Hindu women are stepping into the work force and professional world. And, in most countries, mothers are revered by their sons and sometimes are placed above God, Kakshapati said.
But Hindu mothers were not the only women the panel mentioned that are placed high in the religious hierarchy.
In Paganism, some sects of Wicca view women as being more important than men. In fact, some Wicca groups are mostly composed of women, said Rebecca Adams, former Eastern student and Paganism representative.
“I don’t find it necessary for women to be too high up,” Adams said. But, unlike Paganism, many think the Islamic religion places women at the bottom of the totem poll because of women’s oppression in many Muslim-dominant countries. But that is not the case, said Qaisar Sultana, special education professor and Islam speaker.
In fact, the Koran teaches there is no difference between men and women. Cultures and traditions within different Islamic countries resulted in poor treatment of women, she said.
One audience member asked why men started degrading women if the Koran teaches equality. Sultana said because the Indian society is male dominated, the culture slowly began looking down on women.
“But I have a feeling an awakening is coming in those countries that don’t treat women the way they should be according to the Koran,” she said.
Like many Muslim women today, Jewish women were once intentionally overlooked, said Carole Garrison, criminal studies and police studies professor and cultural Jew.
When she was a child, Garrison said women sat behind a curtain during services because men could not look at women while they prayed.
When women menstruated, men could not touch them. And they were encouraged to wear a veil, she said.
“If you were raped or spoiled before marriage, you were just damaged goods,” she said.
Now, women can be cantors, singers and even rabbis. But some Jews still believe in traditional, orthodox female roles.
“To those Jewish women,” she said, “are you still behind the veil?