Tradition and modernity : a sociological comparison between Sri Lankan Muslim women in Colombo and London in the late 1990s
This thesis is a sociological comparison between Sri Lankan Muslim women in two contemporary societies, and it concentrates on the dynamic relationship between religion, culture, and gender. The theoretical aims of the thesis are to investigate the ways in which religion, principally in relation to gender relations, is perceived by its followers, and the diverse manner in which religion can manifest itself, in different cultural and social contexts, at a given time. In particular, the study focuses on the diversity of followers' world-views because of adherents' different social experiences, despite the core religious beliefs they share. Further, it explores the impact these differences can have on followers' perceptions of the roles they play and the identities they assume. These issues have been addressed primarily by means of qualitative research, conducted in Sri Lanka and Britain. Although the thesis refers to the theoretical standpoints of many sociologists, two approaches are of particular significance: the first is Robert K. Merton's role-theory, to understand religious identity in relation to individuals' multiple identities; and the second is feminist critiques, for their insight into the relationship between religion, patriarchy and gender. The results indicate that Islam is an important independent variable that has an impact upon many aspects of life, mainly because it is regarded as a source of guidance and identity for a majority of women in the study. It follows that an understanding of the traditions and beliefs based on religion is essential to recognise existing power structures and gender relations in Muslim communities. Religious traditions are often regarded as immutable, given the sources on which they are based; but, as this study indicates, traditions and beliefs based on religion can alter with transformations in the social and cultural milieu. As a source of identity, Islam gives Muslims a sense of belonging to a 'community' that transcends national and geographical boundaries, even if the members of that community follow different forms of Islam and have other identities - such as being Muslim and Sri Lankan and/or British and/or mother/wife and so on. What is of particular relevance to the sociology of religion is that, although the women in this study had multiple competing identities, their religious identity, unlike, say, their national or ethnic identities, was an exclusive characteristic.