Kyriarchy, pronounced /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, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, militarism, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism, 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 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 the Greek words Greek: κύριος, kyrios, "lord, master" and Greek: ἄρχω archō, "to lead, rule, govern".[5][2] The word "kyriarchy" in Greek (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia, a valid formation, though it is not found in ancient Greek) can now be used to mean "sovereignty," i.e. the rulership of a sovereign.


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]

Structural positions

Schüssler Fiorenza describes interdependent "stratifications of gender, race, class, religion, heterosexualism, and age" as structural positions 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), 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][8]

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] Structures of oppression also amplify and feed into each other.[8]

See also

Look up kyriarchy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. Kwok, Pui-lan (2009). "Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Postcolonial Studies". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Indiana University Press. 25 (1): 191–197. Retrieved 2011-05-12. (subscription required (help)).
  2. 1 2 3 Tēraudkalns, Valdis (2003). "Construction of Masculinities in Contemporary Christianity". In Cimdiņa, Ausma. Religion and political change in Europe: past and present. PLUS. pp. 223–232.
  3. Stichele, Caroline Vander; Penner, Todd C. (2005). Her Master's Tools?: Feminist And Postcolonial Engagements of Historical-critical Discourse. BRILL. ISBN 9004130527. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  4. Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2001). "Glossary". Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. New York: Orbis Books. Retrieved 2006-02-17.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2009). "Introduction: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Gender, Status and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies". In Nasrallah, Laura; Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Prejudice and Christian beginnings: investigating race, gender, and ethnicity in early Christian studies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
  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 0813935512. 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.
  8. 1 2 Reed-Bouley, Jennifer (Spring 2012). "Antiracist Theological Education as a Site of Struggle for Justice". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. doi:10.2979/jfemistudreli.28.1.178.
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