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The subtle patterns and dynamic of gender pervade all areas of religion, both explicitly and implicitly, whether fully recognized or unacknowledged. Widely debated and often misunderstood, gender concerns have immense significance in contemporary culture as they are part of the international political and social agenda of most countries in the world. The Gender Development Index has recorded the global monitoring of existing gender gaps since 1996, and it provides clear evidence of how much still needs to be done before a truly equitable gender balance is reached. Critical gender perspectives have made a significant difference to most academic fields, including the study of religion. Yet many scholarly publications on religion still seem to give little or no recognition to the profound epistemological, methodological, and substantive changes that contemporary gender studies, especially women's scholarship and feminist theories but also the growing field of men's studies in religion, have produced over the last thirty years. Sometimes seen as profoundly threatening, or disdainfully dismissed because of ignorance, misunderstanding, or other factors of personal and institutional resistance, the engendering of religions and their study provides a great challenge to contemporary scholarship.
Gender studies have arrived rather later in the study of religion than in most other fields. At present there still obtains a harmful "double blindness" in which most contemporary gender studies, whether in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences, remain extraordinarily "religion blind," whereas far too many studies in religion are still quite "gender blind." It can be legitimately asked, however, what relevance contemporary gender insights may possibly have for the age-old beliefs of religion? To what extent can the study of religion benefit from the nuanced and highly sophisticated theoretical arguments of current gender debates? To give a satisfactory answer to such questions requires much conscious effort and many practical changes. Neither gender nor religion are stable, transhistorical categories; both function within specific sociohistorical contexts and large semantic fields. The complex controversies surrounding the meaning of both prove that we are dealing here not only with definitional minefields or merely academic matters but with issues of advocacy, personal commitment, ethical engagement, and fundamental choices about the nature of one's life and society.