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Feminism and religion: how to teach (or not) contentious subjects to 14 year olds

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Michael Lydon
25 May 2014


Challenging patriarchy : a feminist view of the role of women in religion


I am a Humanities teacher in an international school in Azerbaijan


This activity took place as part of a Humanities course looking at sociological theories of religion.

It was a challenging task as the students were from many different countries and also there were a wide variety of religious beliefs

The key players were 36 M4 students aged between 14-15 spread across 2 classes. And obviously myself as the teacher.

What where the beliefs and desires which shaped their interaction?


The task was to prepare a debate on feminist critiques of religion.

My initial aim was to have the students look at and analyse viewpoints that weren;t necessarily ones they might share. This was an important aim as one skill that is being taught to this age group across the school is the ability to view often contentious ideas from an objective point of view and to balance arguments for and against.

My eventual aims were to eventually have the students

  • carry out a debate on the pros and cons of a feminist analysis of religion
  • to write an essay style analysis of those arguments.


  1. Introduced idea of patriarchy
  2. Introduced feminist theory
  3. General discussion on above
  4. Concept card activity
    1. In pairs students given cards with concept such as ‘Eve: temptress’, ‘Veiling’, ‘Places of Worship’ etc and asked to discuss and divide cards into whether they provided arguments in favour of feminist critiques or no not with explanations for their decision. – note several of the cards could be interpreted either way i.e. Veiling can be seen as oppressive or liberating
    2. Feedback activity – discussion of students choices and why.
    3. Students randomly allocated into pro or anti feminist groups and given time to prepare for debate
    4. Debate carried out with me acting as chair and several members of staff as audience
    5. Feedback session from debate
    6. Brainstorm argument construction using knowledge from concept card activity and debate – leading to creating arguments for and against an idea activity using link words
    7. Essay planning session

10. Essay written


The topic provoked varying levels of both response and engagement.

The activities worked well

Cultural differences led to some real arguments – there were several students from each group from what might be seen as more male dominated cultural backrounds – this caused a bit of rumpus

For such a challenging topic and also given the age range of the students a debate was perhaps a bit ambitious – lots of arguments times and not enough debate


This was a very similar set of activities to ones I have run in the past although with older students – age 17-18 – although the content material was adjusted for the age group.

However the subject matter may not have been entirely suitable.

Led me to think I may well need to consider content type as weel as sophistication of content – new to teaching this age grou 

Next project – teaching Freud’s Psychosexual Stages to 7 year olds.

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