Christianity, tradition, and everyday modernity: Towards an anatomy of women's groupings in Melanesia

Bronwen Douglas*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper approaches its central theme of women's groupings in Melanesia via critique of several longstanding shibboleths, including examples of their strategic appropriation by indigenous people. These stereotypes include the romantic image of rural dwellers as premodern traditionalists on whom Christianity is an imposed foreign veneer; the hoary rhetorical opposition of 'West' and 'non-West'/modernity and tradition/individual and community; and the pervasive essentialization of Melanesian women as 'naturally' family-oriented, communitarian, and less individualistic and competitive than men. Seeking patterns in regional diversity and fragmentation, the paper examines cultural, historical, and structural correlates of a wide range of women's groupings, including National Councils of Women, church women's organizations, and the largely self-financed local church fellowship groups which are growing steadily in number and significance in the virtual absence of effective state institutions. Increasingly, women's groupings are complementing their traditional Christian spiritual, domestic, and welfare concerns with attention to global feminist, human rights, and ecological issues which are often reworked locally into scarcely recognizable shapes. Eschewing romanticization, the paper considers the potential and the problems of women's groupings in male-dominated Melanesia, including women's own divisions and their typical aversion to assuming public responsibilities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-23
    Number of pages18
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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