Introducing the Women and Religion Review Series

Article excerpt

As recently as ten years ago, when I mentioned religion and feminism together, people would ask, "Isn't that a contradiction in terms?" Suppressing a sigh, I would begin at the beginning with an explanation of how women bad begun to challenge their subordinate positions within various religious traditions. Today, such a large body of work has been produced on feminism and religion, I would hardly know where to begin. Women are transforming their traditions--or giving up on that and creating new ones.

When Phyllis Holman Weisbard and her co-editor JoAnne Lehman approached me with the idea of a book review series on women and religion, I recognized it as an idea whose time had arrived. While the problem a decade ago was a dearth of materials, the problem today is exactly the opposite: so many new and interesting books on women and religion are coming out every month, we had to come up with ways of grouping them into manageable categories.

We decided to begin at the most obvious starting point, with introductory textbooks and anthologies. A review of five such works, by theologian Charlene Burns, appears in this issue. Also in this issue we have included Deborah Louis's review of nineteenth-century feminist critiques of Christianity, equally germane to opening the dialogue since two of the books reviewed, Matilda Joslyn Gage's Woman, Church and State and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible, helped to set the parameters of debate regarding religion for first-wave American feminism. Louis's review also includes Kathi Kern's Mrs. Stanton's Bible, which concerns the same era and places some of the events in historical perspective.

We would like to follow these with reviews that cover the major religions of the world: Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on--by scholars with specialized knowledge of each field. We are actively seeking reviewers to rake up these topics.

In the Spring issue, Sara Meirowitz will review young women's stories of their religious or spiritual journeys to and from many of the major religions. The books under review include Bare Your Soul: The Thinking Girl's Guide to Enlightenment, a collection of essays from Seal Press, and Girl Meets God; On the Path to a Spiritual Life, by Lauren Winner. In the Summer issue, Alice Keefe will review several American Buddhist women's memoirs and "personal quest" stories.

Some topics, however, do nor fall so neatly into traditional categories. What about women's fight for ordination, for example? We debated whether to examine books on the issue within each separate religious tradition--Judaism, Catholicism, the African American Church, or whatever--or to group them together to highlight the cormmonalities of women's struggles across boundaries. We hope to engage a reviewer to do the latter.

Still other topics fall outside the world's established religions altogether. Feminist Collections did an issue many years ago that reviewed books on the feminist spirituality movement, with a focus on what is commonly called neopaganism. Beginning in the late 1 970s, many women, finding their own religions irredeemably filled with masculine imagery and resistant to change, followed Mary Daly's exodus out of the established religious institutions in search of a woman-centered spirituality and sought to create their own new religions. Although the Western religions banned goddesses as remnants of a degenerate polytheism, women began to find deities made in their own (female) image in mythology from around the world.

Male scholars had long considered the earth-centered polyrheisms of indigenous people to be an inferior primitive stage in the development of religion. Inevitably, they theorized, the superior and "sophisticated" monotheisms would replace the "savagery" of religions closely tied to nature and its processes. Feminist the-a-logians (replacing the male "the-o" with the feminine "a" ending) reversed the values of male theologians, arguing that the separation from nature fostered by Western modes of thought, including religious thought, has caused the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today; and that the masculine model of domination and conquest of nature has to be reversed and replaced with a recognition that nature is not inert matter to be used, or used up. …