In feminist theory, kyriarchy (/ˈkriɑːrki/) is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word was coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender.[1] Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Catholicism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, classism, xenophobia, economic injustice, the prison-industrial complex, colonialism, militarism, ethnocentrism, speciesism, linguicism and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.[2][3]


The term was coined into English by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza[4] in 1992 when she published her book But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation.[5] It is derived from Greek: κύριος, kyrios, "lord, master" and Greek: ἄρχω, árcho, "lead, rule, govern".[5][2] The word kyriarchy (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia), already existed in Modern Greek, and means "sovereignty".


The term was originally developed in the context of feminist theological discourse, and has been used in some other areas of academia as a non–gender-based descriptor of systems of power, as opposed to patriarchy.[6] It is also widely used outside of scholarly contexts.[7]

The Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has described the Australian-run Manus Island prison as a kyriarchal system:[8] one where different forms of oppression intersect; oppression is not random but purposeful, designed to isolate and create friction amongst prisoners, leading to despair and broken spirits.[9] He elaborates on this in his autobiographical account of the prison, No Friend But the Mountains.

Structural positions

Schüssler Fiorenza describes interdependent "stratifications of gender, race, class, religion, heterosexualism, and age" as structural positions [5] assigned at birth. She suggests that people inhabit several positions, and that positions with privilege become nodal points through which other positions are experienced. For example, in a context where gender is the primary privileged position (e.g. patriarchy, matriarchy), gender becomes the nodal point through which sexuality, race, and class are experienced. In a context where class is the primary privileged position (i.e. classism), gender and race are experienced through class dynamics. Fiorenza stresses that kyriarchy is not a hierarchical system as it does not focus on one point of domination. Instead it is described as a "complex pyramidal system" with those on the bottom of the pyramid experiencing the "full power of kyriarchal oppression". The kyriarchy is recognized as the status quo and therefore its oppressive structures may not be recognized.[5][10]

To maintain this system, kyriarchy relies on the creation of a servant class, race, gender, or people. The position of this class is reinforced through "education, socialization, and brute violence and malestream rationalization".[5] Tēraudkalns suggests that these structures of oppression are self-sustained by internalized oppression; those with relative power tend to remain in power, while those without tend to remain disenfranchised.[2] In addition, structures of oppression amplify and feed into each other.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Kwok Pui-lan (2009). "Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Postcolonial Studies". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 25 (1). Indiana University Press: 191–197. doi:10.2979/fsr.2009.25.1.191. JSTOR 10.2979/fsr.2009.25.1.191. S2CID 144562065.
  2. ^ a b c Tēraudkalns, Valdis (2003). "Construction of Masculinities in Contemporary Christianity". In Cimdiņa, Ausma (ed.). Religion and political change in Europe: past and present. PLUS. pp. 223–232. ISBN 8884921414.
  3. ^ Stichele, Caroline Vander; Penner, Todd C. (2005). Her Master's Tools?: Feminist And Postcolonial Engagements of Historical-critical Discourse. BRILL. ISBN 9004130527.
  4. ^ Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2001). "Glossary". Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 1608332527.
  5. ^ a b c d e Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2009). "Introduction: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Gender, Status and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies". In Nasrallah, Laura; Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (eds.). Prejudice and Christian beginnings: investigating race, gender, and ethnicity in early Christian studies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-1451412840.
  6. ^ Morris, Susana (February 4, 2014). Close Kin and Distant Relatives: The Paradox of Respectability in Black Women's Literature. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0813935515. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  7. ^ Osborne, Natalie (2015). "Intersectionality and kyriarchy: A framework for approaching power and social justice in planning and climate change adaptation". Planning Theory. 14 (2): 132. doi:10.1177/1473095213516443. hdl:10072/57232. S2CID 145700378.
  8. ^ Boochani, Behrouz (2017). "A Kyriarchal System: New Colonial Experiments/New Decolonial Resistance". 9th Annual Maroon Conference Magazine. Translated by Omid Tofighian. Charles Town, Jamaica: Charles Town Maroon Council: 20–22. ISSN 0799-4354. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  9. ^ Manne, Robert (10 August 2018). "No Friend But The Mountains review: Behrouz Boochani's poetic and vital memoir". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  10. ^ a b Reed-Bouley, Jennifer (Spring 2012). "Antiracist Theological Education as a Site of Struggle for Justice". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 28: 178–189. doi:10.2979/jfemistudreli.28.1.178. S2CID 143768692.

Further reading