Conference Report
"Women’s Authority and Visibility in Our Religious Communities"
IKETh Conference July 8th – 11th 2010
in the Dominican Centre, Huissen, the Netherlands
 
Lectures
| Rebecca Masterton | Maaike de Hardt | Tamara Benima |
 
 
44 women took part in this year’s IKETh conference, about 15 of which only attended on Friday, when the keynote speakers gave their lectures.
There were participants from seven European countries: Belgium, England, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. The balance between different religious traditions was better this year than previous years. The Christians were, as always, the majority, but the Jewish and Muslim presence comprised at least 25% of the participants.
The conference was sponsored by the Lund Mission Society in Sweden and various monastic communities in the Netherlands.
The conference opened on Thursday evening with Martina Heinrichs, programme director, welcoming us to the Dominican Study Centre. Martina Heinrichs had led the team that had prepared the programme together with the IKETh board.
The opening round of presentations, where the participants were asked to say one sentence about authority testified to a certain ambivalence towards the concept. It was generally felt that authority should be exercised in a non-authoritarian way, but that it was hard to find models of “good” authority.
 
Maaike de Haardt: Tender Competence
The lectures were held on Friday morning.

Maaike de Haardt, Catharina Halkes Professor of Gender and Religion at Radboud University in Nijmegen was the first speaker.
She took her starting point in her Catholic upbringing, where her teachers, who were Ursuline nuns, were strong role models. They were intellectuals in all kinds of disciplines, they were managers as directors of schools and hospitals and they were in the forefront of seeking gender-justice.
Maaike de Haardt also picked up on the theme of ambivalence. Women’s relation to religious traditions and traditional concepts of authority are complex and ambivalent – but this is not a bad thing, on the contrary it is a powerful virtue, that “has fuelled the most creative, inspiring and persistent women’s religious visions, concepts and images as well as transformative religious practices”
.
Women have exercised authority in the areas of education, health and social work. Through this they have developed a knowledge that life, in all it complexity, cannot be controlled, that it is “vulnerable, volatile and always in need of attention and care” and that we need an open attitude “to read, hear and feel the signals not only of life but also of God’s presence in this life.”
Tender competence
is the term Maaike de Haardt has coined for this kind of knowledge and authority, a “counter-authority” against the dynamics of control, inclusion and exclusion that are dominant in our society.
  The lecture of Maaike de Hardt >>   
 
Tamara Benima: Sexual Freedom Crucial for Women’s Authority
Tamara Benima, rabbi, journalist and columnist, was the second speaker.
She started by stating that Judaism is not a religion in the same sense as Christianity and Islam, but rather a civilization. And because of that, she chose as her role model not a religious woman, but Erin Brokovich, the American-Jewish woman made famous by the film where Julia Roberts played the title role.

Erin Brokovich, working for a legal firm, won compen-sation for people who hade been damaged by the pollution from a chemical plant.
Tamara Benima found something Jewish in doing this “dressed as a sex bomb and don’t give a damn what other people think about that” and “not be intimidated by authorities and to reveal the extent to which people are posing as authorities and are just bluffing.”

Sexuality played an important part in Tamara Benima’s lecture, and she highlighted as her second role model from the Bible one of the many women in the Tanach who “employ their sexuality in a subversive way” – her own namesake Tamar.
The story of Tamar, who seduced her father-in law Jehuda, when he had denied her to marry his third son, when the first two had died, and thus denied her to be a mother, is told in Genesis 38. Tamar does not resort to bitterness or hatred but uses her mind. She confronts Jehuda in such a way as to “create the emotional and mental space for him to consider how he has treated her and the wrong he has done her”.

Sexual freedom is crucial to women’s freedom to achieve education, economic independence and leadership roles in society, according to Tamara Benima: “The non-development of women is tied up with men not taking responsibility for their own sexual impulses and desires and mores, or to say it differently, with men not behaving like Jehuda.”
Tamara Benima rounded off her lecture by criticising IKETh for its statement against the burqa ban in Belgium. She claimed that the public space in Europe should be secular, and that the burqa is sexist – “it denies me as a woman in the public space.”                                                                                         The lecture of Tamara Benima >>

 
Rebecca Masterton: Bridging Academic and Secular Worlds

Dr. Rebecca Masterton, senior lecturer at the Islamic College in London, took her own life and career as an example of how women can gain authority in Islam. Besides her academic career – she did her PhD in Islamic mysticism at the School of Oriental and African Studies – she presents TV-programmes at some Islamic channels. This has made her
a public figure, and something of a role model for young Muslim women, when they see her talking comfortably with Ayatollahs and other scholars on air on a range of subjects.
Rebecca Masterton also sees herself as “bridging two worlds which don’t always meet: the secular academic institution and the orthodox Islamic majlis.”                                              The lecture of Rebecca Maasterton >>
She converted to Islam during the course of her studies, and has experienced that as practising Muslim she was not really accepted by colleagues who treated religion only as and academic subject.
During the afternoon, conference participants could choose to attend a workshop with one of the lecturers. The time for questions after each lecture had been very limited, and the evaluations of the conference shows that many regretted that they did not have time to discuss the many questions that were raised with each of the lecturers. There were, however, good discussions in all the workshops.
A visit to the mosque in Arnhem, where we were very warmly received, concluded the afternoon.
 
The speakers of the conference Tamara Benima, Maike de Haardt and Rebecca Masterton
 
Experiential Workshops
Saturday morning offered a more experiential approach to the theme of women’s authority and visibility. The participants could choose between three workshops: How to express authority in your body and your voice with Riette Beurmanjer; Role play to practise authority with Jodien van Ark, and sharing role models with Lee Wax.
 
IKETh Annual General Meeting

IKETh held its annual general meeting Saturady 10th July, and new members were elected to the board.
Helene Egnell and Christel Hildebrand left the board, Lee Wax was elected as new Chair for two years,
Sr Catherine Gibson OP was elected new board member for 2 years and Reinhild Traitler was elected for one year, replacing Lee Wax as ordinary board member.
Susanne Wolf was re-elected for two years as board member and treasurer.
Aysel Kurt, who was elected in 2009 has one year left of her mandate.
The AGM decided to raise the membership fee to 30 € for individuals, concession rate 20€ and 60€ for organizations.
Next year’s conference will take place in the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll 7-10 July.
The theme 2011 will be our responsibility as feminists and women of faith to combat islamophobia and xenophobia in Europe.
 
Prayers and Meditations
Prayers and meditations were an important part of the conference. Thanks to the wonderful summer weather they could all be celebrated in the garden.
Morning and evening meditations in different styelse were led by Muslim, Christian and Jewish women and on Friday evening rabbi Lee Wax and the other Jewish participants invited all to a Shabbath celebration, as well as to a Hvdalah on Saturday evening. In addition to our own prayers, there was also the possibility of joining the Dominican friars in their prayers.
 
Visiting a mosque
Guide in the mosque 
   
 
Shabbat 
 
                                     Discussions took place everywhere  
 
Sunday morning there was an evaluation round and a farewell ritual led by Christel Hildebrand.
A ring of beautiful stones was put in the middle and after reflections on various symbolic meanings of stones, everyone was invited to take a stone as a memory of the conference.

One thought from the evaluation sheets to sum up the conference:

“Allowing for respecting and living with people who are very different from one another and from me, is not only possible but the only way forward for the world and the church. I experienced this at the conference.”

 
 
Report from the conference 2015 >> 
 
Photos from the conference 2014 >>
 
Photos from the conference 2012 >>
 
Photos from the conference 2011 >>   
 
The lecture of Rebecca Masterton 2010 >>
 
 
 
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