Women and Mediation in Religious Conflicts

Bert Olivier


The present article is an investigation into the possibility, raised by the research of both Shlain and Gilligan, in different contexts, that women have a distinctive capacity to ameliorate the kind of religiously motivated violence witnessed globally in the present era. To be able to make sense of the need for such intervention by women, the present global situation is first reconstructed with reference to recent, allegedly religion-motivated, so-called “terrorist” attacks, such as those in Paris, France. These attacks are placed in an interpretive framework provided by Huntington, on the one hand, and Hardt and Negri, on the other. More specifically, Huntington’s thesis is that we live in a time when global conflict will no longer occur on the same grounds as in earlier eras (e.g. ideological grounds like those of fascism or communism versus liberal democracy), but on cultural grounds instead, where religion will be the most important such cultural component motivating conflict. Hardt and Negri answer the question concerning the renewed prominence of religious fundamentalism by showing that this does not mark a return to a premodern condition, but is rather a postmodern phenomenon where cultures such as Islam reject the emergence of the new sovereign, supranational power, which they call “Empire”. It is against this backdrop that Shlain and Gilligan’s arguments concerning the specific predispositions of women towards mediation and intervention in situations of religious conflict must be seen. Shlain’s argument is that, since the earliest hunter-gatherer times women have concentrated on tasks that engage right-brain capacities such as nurturing and caring, while men focused on left-brain tasks that involve objectivity, logical thinking and dispassionate decision-making. While both genders have the same capacity to perform these different tasks, the one set became conventionally associated with women and the other with men, which has resulted in a predisposition on the part of women to perform these tasks. Gilligan provides confirmation of this claim from a different angle, namely the evaluation of children’s moral development. Her analysis of the respective reasoning of a boy and a girl who had to respond to a moral dilemma, shows that, contrary to the view that the boy displayed greater moral maturity than the girl by focusing on the question of justice, the girl displayed different priorities in her reasoning, namely her concern with human relationships. This is what led Gilligan to posit an “ethic of care” which is characteristically feminine. Considering the above it is therefore argued that women clearly possess a capacity for caring, empathy and nurturing that would be invaluable in situations of religiously motivated conflict, in which they should be encouraged to mediate.


care, conflict, culture, empathy, Empire, ethics, left-brain, religion, right-brain, violence

Full Text:



Connell, R. W. 2002. “Understanding Men: Gender Sociology and the New International Research on Masculinities.” Social Thought and Research 24 (1 & 2): 13–31.

Faludi, S. 1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women. New York: Three Rivers Press.

French, M. 1986. Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals. London: Abacus.

Gilligan, C. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Griffin, E. A. 1997. A First Look at Communication Theory. Third Edition. New York; McGraw-Hill.

Hardt, M., and Negri, A. 2001. Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Huntington, S. P. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs; Summer: 22–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/20045621

Kearney, R. 1988. The Wake of the Imagination: Toward a Postmodern Culture. London: Century Hutchinson. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203430620

Mies, M. 1998. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. Women in the International Division of Labour. London: Zed Books.

Olivier, B. 2008. Blood, Iron, Sex and Time. Mail and Guardian Thoughtleader website: http://thoughtleader.co.za/bertolivier/2008/07/21/blood-iron-sex-and-time/

Olivier, B. 2009. “Re-affirming the Value of the Image, and its Social Implications: Shlain and Lacan.” In Philosophy and Communication: Collected Essays, edited by B. Olivier. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Publishers, 61–79.

Shlain L. 1998. The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image. New York: Penguin Arkana.

Shlain, L. 2001. Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light. New York: Perennial (reprinted version).

Shlain, L. 2003. Sex, Time and Power. How Women’s Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution. New York: Penguin Books.

Wilson, C. 1980. Frankenstein’s Castle: The Right Brain: Door to Wisdom. Bath: Ashgrove Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Bert Olivier

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.