Gender of God

Gender of God

The gender of God can be viewed as either a literal or an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, the gods are more likely to have literal sexual genders (and can often interact with each other in sexual ways). In monotheistic religions, there is no comparable being for God to relate to in a literal sexual way, and so the gender of the deity is more often an analogical statement of how humans address and relate to God, rather than an objective statement about the person of God.

The views of several individual religions are summarized below, and are not exhaustive.

Clarify terms


The first definition of "god" provided by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is "A superhuman person (regarded as masculine)". It goes on to note that, "when applied to the One Supreme Being, this sense becomes more or less modified", and also that, "Even when applied to the objects of polytheistic worship, the word has often a colouring derived from Christian associations. As the use of "God" as a proper name has throughout the literary period of English been the predominant one." Thus, English language usage of "god" and "God" vary sufficiently widely for the OED to note the variation, and to use the imprecise phrases "more or less modified" for "God", and "often a colouring" for "god".The etymology of the word is given by the OED as Proto Indo-European (PIE), from either the verbal roots for "to invoke" or "to pour" (libation or blood in sacrifice). It enters modern English not via Greek or Latin, but via Gothic "guþ" and Old Norse (ON) "goð", in which "the words always follow the neuter declension, though when used in the Christian sense they are syntactically masc [uline] ." Old High German (OHG) shows the same pattern of neuter plurals but masculine singulars, "the adoption of the masculine concord being presumably due to the Christian use of the word." The OED further suggests, "The neuter [substantive] , in its original heathen use, would answer rather to [Latin] "numen" than to [Latin] "deus"."

Further disambiguation of the concepts subsumed by the modern English word in the title of this article becomes apparent as the OED notes "an approximate equivalent" to "deus" in ON and OHG survived into Old English as "ōs". However, this was only applied to "higher deities of the native pantheon, never to foreign gods; and it never came into Christian use."


Gender is also an idea that has been been progressively disambiguated in the field of sexology by John Money, and in cultural anthropology by Donald Brown (see also Steven Pinker, "The Blank Slate"). A more precise term is "gender role" (sexual dimorphism of preferences in social behaviour), in particular those aspects of gender roles which are universal across cultures, like masculine generative, providing and protecting roles and their consequent authority (Steven Goldberg 1972, 1991; Brown 1991 and others), also the feminine maternal and nurturing roles, all of which are frequently observed by scholars of comparative religion, particularly in the common fertility motif of a Sky Father and an Earth Mother.

Comparative religion

What is understood by words for "god" varies across cultures and has sometimes changed dramatically at various times. Buddhism challenged various ideas in Hinduism, the montheism of Judaism challenged its polytheistic neighbours, and in European history, the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity under Constantine I, later becoming its centre, but being challenged itself during the Reformation. A simple view of the history of religion as an evolutionary process was proposed in the 19th century— from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with some believing theism, atheism or agnosticism to be the most advanced approach. Such views are no longer widely current either in the study of religion, [ "Before us lies a literature rich in profound insights and immense with carefully collected and tested facts: a wealth of resources beyond the imaginings of those 19th century scholars who gave attention to religious questions."
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, "A Theory of Religion", (Rutgers University Press, 1996), p. 12.
] nor in philosophy. Analytic philosophy widely considers speculative metaphysics to be outside the reach of epistemology and scientific scrutiny. [ "One of the first to sceptically dismantle speculative metaphysics was French philosopher Pierre Bayle (1647-1706). The turning point, however, came after German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 1780's expressed scepticism about the speculative metaphysical approach; it was not rational science and was not even real knowledge." Spencer Scoular, "First Philosophy: The Theory of Everything", (Universal-Publishers, 2007).] Comparative religion notes distinctive idiosyncracies across major religions that are better explained by close historical scrutiny, [ "We try to specify in a relatively complete way why and how various aspects of religion occur and to do so through a structure of formal explanation."
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 11.
] rather than appeal to a simplistic theory. [ "Available 'theories' of religion remain largely the product of 19th century social thought and the tradition of 'grand theory' associated with the founding fathers of social science. But, as already suggested, close scrutiny reveals that these theories are not so grand."
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 11.
] Nonetheless, animist religions are common among preliterate societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found, Hinduism being the largest current polytheistic religion. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female "face", and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender. [ "We are yet more strongly reminded by the two-fold nature of Phanes of the epicene god-heads, who occur frequently in the Babylonian pantheon." Gauranga Nath Banerjee, "Hellenism in Ancient India", (Read Books, 2007), p. 304.] In the philosophies of several polytheistic traditions, a primal, "high" God is postulated as source of the lesser gods (and demi-gods) of the pantheon. In some religions, like Buddhism, such philosophising goes further, considering ultimate reality to transcend pantheons of gods, without proposing a high God in their place. Buddhism considers annihilation or nirvana to be ultimate reality, and the desire for existence to be the wrong-headed heart of human misery. [ "All that is essential to Buddhism is found in the four propositions which the faithful call the four noble truths. The first states the existence of suffering as the accompaniment to the perpetual change of things; the second shows the desire to be the cause of suffering; ..." Durkheim, work cited, p. 30. See also Oldenberg, "Buddha", translated by Hoey, p. 53.] European nihilism since the 19th century may owe a debt to western thinkers discovering Buddhist ideas from that time of increased trade with the East. Nonetheless, a hegemonic western conception of metaphysics, influenced strongly by Judaism and Christianity is identifiable in European literature from Greek and Roman authors through to the present, such that English language betrays an inherent bias towards monotheistic thought. Where animist languages may not even have words for personal deities, but rather a nuanced vocabulary of spiritualism, and polytheistic cultures have lexis suited to articulating relationships between deities in a pantheon, some modern English speakers only recognize alternatives such as "God", "gods" or "no God", being unfamiliar with Buddhism and animism. When considering the literature of the world's religions and metaphysical philosophies, the diversity of the underlying conceptions of the spiritual realm is foundational to appreciating any points of comparison. Comparison of views of the gender of spiritual entities is no exception. Each religion or philosophy needs to be understood in its historical, social, linguistic and philosophical context. Thus, matters of gender do apply to animism, but not in the foundational way they do in polytheism and monotheism. Additionally, since animism is largely associated with preliterate societies, we are dependent on the ethnographies of cultural anthropologists rather than documented scriptures and later commentary. [ "These pose the opportunity to borrow some extremely powerful tools, and we have responded by ransacking the treasuries of economics, learning theory and cultural anthropology."
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 12.
Shinto is a notable exception.

This article first presents the views of the five major religions—the Indic Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Abrahamic Judaism, Christianity and Islam—and then a range of other notable religious views.


The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.:ISO 15919: "IAST|Ika ōaṅkāra sati nāmu karatā purakhu nirabha'u niravairu akāla mūrati ajūnī saibhaṃ gura prasādi.":English: One Universal Creator God, The Name Is Truth, Creative Being Personified, No Fear, No Hatred, Image Of The Timeless One, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent, By Guru's Grace.The sixth word of the mantra, "purakhu", is the Punjabi form of Sanskrit "IAST|puruṣa" (पुरुष), meaning man (personal and male). Verse 5 of a 16 verse hymn in the 10th "mandala" (or cycle) of the Sanskrit Rgveda (RV) called "puruṣa sūkta", speaks of a primal man, Puruṣa, from whom Viraj (woman) was born, being himself then reborn of her.
*From him Viraj was born; again Purusa from Viraj was born. (RV 10:90:5)The masculine gender sense of "purakhu" in the Mantra is found in a verse like the following.
*That house, in which the soulbride has married her Husband Lord—in that house, O my companions, sing the songs of rejoicing. (GG 4:3:10, p. 97.)
*You are the Husband Lord, and I am the soul-bride. (GG ::, p. 484.)

Irrespective of the native language meaning of the Mantra, the standard English translation neutralises the implied gender role. Nonetheless, the Guru Granth consistently refers to God as "He", even in English. He is also almost uniformly referred to as "Father".
*In attachment to Maya, they have forgotten the Father, the Cherisher of the World. (GG 4:9:42)
*You are our Self-sufficient Father. || 2 || O Father, I do not know—how can I know Your Way? (GG 4:26:96, p. 51.)
*You are the Universal Father of all, O my Lord and Master. (GG ::)Some of these references are inclusive, where God is both Mother and Father.
*The One is my Brother, the One is my Friend. The One is my Mother and Father. The One is the Support of the mind; He has given us body and soul. May I never forget God from my mind; He holds all in the Power of His Hands. (GG 4:8:78)
*Relying on Your Mercy, Dear Lord, I have indulged in sensual pleasures. Like a foolish child, I have made mistakes. O Lord, You are my Father and Mother. (GG 4:26:96)There is at least one reference to God as Mother, without reference to his fatherhood.
*"O my wandering mind, you are like a camel - how will you meet the Lord, your Mother?" page 234

See also

* Feminism
* Gender and religion
* Gender in Bible translation
* God
* God (male deity)
* Goddess
* Goddess movement
* The Hebrew Goddess
* Radha Krishna
* Sky father
* Thealogy

Notes and references

Further reading

* Berke, Matthew. ' [ God and Gender in Judaism] '. "First Things" 64 (1996): 33–38.
* Dorff, Elliot N. "Male and Female God Created Them: Equality with Distinction". University Papers. Los Angeles: University of Judaism, 1984, pp. 13-23.
* Eller, Vernard. [ "The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism".] Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
* Harlow, Jules. 'Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy'. "Conservative Judaism" 49 (1997): 3-25.
* Johnson, Elizabeth. [ 'The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female'.] "Theological Studies" 45 (1984): 441-465.
* Platinga, Alvin Carl. "God, Arguments for the Existence of". "Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Routledge, 2000.
* Swinburne, Richard G. "God". In Ted Honderich (ed.). "The Oxford Companion to Philosophy". Oxford University Press, 1995.

External links

* [ God as Mother (A Christian view)]
* [ Feminine images for God]
* [ The Spirit and the Bride]
* [ God and Gender in Judaism]
*Mouser, William E. " [ Is God Masculine?] ". [ International Council for Gender Studies] , 2007.

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