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Did You Know?

Did you know about science, modern knowledge systems and gender?


  • Science and modern knowledge systems were developed in 17th Century Europe among a group of elite men, outside of the Universities, that were controlled by the Church. They explicitly and implicitly excluded women for 300 years. (And also lower class men and men of color.)
  • In England the Royal Society was founded in 1660 and the first woman was admitted in 1945.
  • In the United States Smith College was founded in 1875 as the first educational institution following the same curriculum as men�s elite Ivy League colleges to which women had no access. At the time of its founding, the dean of the Harvard medical school published a book in which he argued that a rigorous intellectual curriculum would shrivel a woman�s uterus since all her blood would have to go to her brain.
  • One characteristic of this system was that it depended on a new worldview�one in which the non-human world was machine-like, had no consciousness or agency. God was understood to be the creator of the world, likened to a master clockmaker of an inert and unconscious universe. God wound up the clock and gave it its working rules, the �laws of nature�.
  • Human beings (male) endowed with a God-like mind could figure out the rules�they are called the �laws of nature�.
  • Spirit or soul was removed from nature�nature was inert and nature and culture were totally separate, becoming categories that are mutually exclusive in the sense that culture is what nature is not and nature is what culture is not.
  • According to Boyd, the father of the scientific experimental method, God could create and annihilate but Nature could do neither. Thus experimental science was fully legitimated to act upon nature. Women could not participate in these experiments since women were equated with nature.
  • These changes in worldview overlapped with the �Enclosure movement��land being enclosed and privately owned. Before many people had rights to land. The European �commons� was the material foundation of peasant social life. Land became a �resource� and peasants were removed by the �owners�. Livelihoods, social life, sacredness of land were all eroded.
�The Age of Reason was built on the Ashes of European Shamanesses�
  • The emergence of this knowledge system corresponded with the witchhunts (most of whom were women) and the persecution of other �heretics�. In Europe these were bloody centuries, full of religious and class wars. There was a prominence of women in the peasant rebellions.
  • The wise women (in French Sage Fem, in Hindi Samajwali�she who knows) lived in local communities mostly practicing subsistence agriculture. They articulated the agency of the non-human world through expressions of gratitude, reciprocity, language of the spirit, as well as gift exchange.
  • Nature�s powers of Regeneration were not separate from human regeneration. Psychotropic substances, communication with the dead, rituals all facilitated regeneration.
  • In the earlier worldview there was a world soul, Anima Mundi, and all of matter was full of life. The world was full of God. The five elements (the panchmahabhuta) linked the human and non-human world.
  • The shaman�plant�ritual�forest or jungle all co-created each other in this cosmovision.
Courtesy Dr. Frederique Apfel Marglin, talk given at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, October, 2006
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