How not to Argue for Matriarchy

Thealogian Carol Christ shows you how not to do it at the Feminism and Religion blog.

First, create a “straw man” argument that lets you be the  heroic rebel:

[T]he “party line” in the fields of Religious Studies and Archaeology—even among feminists—is that there never were any matriarchies and that claims about peaceful, matrifocal, sedentary, agricultural, Goddess-worshipping societies in Old Europe or elsewhere have been manufactured out of utopian longing.

I can’t speak for archaeology, but in those corners of religious studies that might discuss Goddess religion, there are no “party lines” about anything. I have attended Pagan studies-related session at the American Academy of Religion for years, but I do not recall seeing her at one since 1997. So where does she get this idea? Never mind, it’s useful to her.

Second, change the key definition to give yourself more wiggle room:

A recent book, Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present, and Future (2009) defines the term “matriarchy” differently.

No more “archy,” from the Greek for “rulership,” but just being matrilocal is enough. That makes traditional Navajo Indians “matriarchal.” Someone go tell them. And how many societies are even matrilocal these days?

Third, find a culture far, far away:

In the cultures of the Masuo people on Lugu Lake in the Himalayas matriarchy in this sense has been preserved up to the present day.

But the next paragraph qualifies that claim slightly:

If the only the Masuo still followed these customs, and there is ample evidence in Societies of Peace that they do, then theories of the universality of patriarchy are shown to be false, and those of us who speculate that woman-honoring societies of peace have existed can no longer be accused of indulging only in fantasy.

Finally, accuse your previously created straw man opponent of bad faith:

Why is there such resistance to the idea that matriarchies could and still do exist? Could it be that accepting this idea would force us to reconsider absolutely everything?

Where is this “resistance”? Is it because the evidence for “woman-honoring societies of peace” is still weak—maybe one tiny group in the Himalaya?—or is it because her “conspiracy” of opponents are bad people?

Belief first, evidence later. It works for fundamentalists of all sorts.

Now it is true that I have seen some good feminist scholars sit and roll their eyes at each other while someone presented a poorly sourced and shaky paper on “matriarchal religion.” That is not because of any “party line” but because these women can be both Pagan and intellectually rigorous. It’s possible.

Carol Christ does not need to apologize for being utopian. It’s just that like many people who help to create new religions, she feels that she needs the prove that it is really really old.

2 thoughts on “How not to Argue for Matriarchy

  1. Thank you for calling out this sort of speculation. I often wonder why there is generally so much fear of the phrase, “I/we simply don’t know?” There is nothing at all wrong with speculation, re-imagination, or even wishful thinking as long as we call them by what they are and pretend that they are scholarship.

    I take a very Jungian/Progoffian view of religious tradition anyway. I think it comes from our minds and heart, the core of our psychospiritual beings. Discovering commonality in personal religious expression and seeing this as a product of a collective unconscious still doesn’t make it history, though, and it should not be represented as such.

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