Chapter

Misfortune, Suffering, and Healing

Susan Starr Sered

in Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister

Published in print December 1996 | ISBN: 9780195104677
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853267 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195104677.003.0006
Misfortune, Suffering, and Healing

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The most conspicuous similarities among women's religions emerge in the realm of suffering and healing. Whereas all religions deal in some way with explanations of and solutions to suffering, women's religions are characterized by the particular emphasis placed on illness and curing. This emphasis is manifested theologically (elaborate explanations for suffering), ritually (key rituals are often healing rituals), in terms of membership (members often join because of illness), and in terms of leadership (a history of illness is typically part of the path to leadership). Almost all the women's religions devote a great deal of attention to suffering—especially illness—to the extent that some of the religions have been “accused” of being not much more than healing cults. Why do women create or join religions that deal with healing? One reason is that women bear the brunt of culturally assigned responsibility for infertility and all the physical consequences of pregnancy and childbirth. A more direct way in which motherhood figures into the religion-illness equation concerns the key biological transitions in women's lives: menarche, pregnancy, birth, lactation, menopause.

Keywords: women; religions; healing; suffering; illness; rituals; leadership; infertility; childbirth; motherhood

Chapter.  7963 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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