Resources for Teaching "Women and Religion": Five Readers. (Book Reviews)

Article excerpt

Elizabeth A. Castelli, ed., with Rosamond C. Rodman, WOMEN, GENDER, RELIGION' A READER. NewYork: Palgrave, 2001. 550p. bibl. $89.95, ISBN 0-312-24004-X; pap., $27.95, ISBN 0-312-24030-9.

Nancy Auer Falk & Rita M. Gross, eds., UNSPOKEN WORLDS: WOMEN'S RELIGIOUS LIVES. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000 (3rd ed). 3lOp. bibl. ill, pap., $43.95, ISBN 0-534-51570-3.

Darlene M. Juschka, ed., FEMINISM IN THE STUDY OF RELIGION: A READER. London & New York: Continuum, 2000 (cloth), 2001 (pap.). c593p. bibl. index. $107.95, ISBN 08264-4726-0; pap., $29.95, ISBN 0-8264-4727-9.

Nancy Nason-Clark & Mary Jo Neitz, eds., FFMINIST NARRATIVES AND THE SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 2001. 141p. bibl. $59.00, ISBN 0-7591-0197-3; pap., $19.95, ISBN 0-7591-0198-1.

Lucinda Joy Peach, WOMEN AND WORLD RELIGIONS. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. 394p. bibl. index, pap., $36.20, ISBN 0-13-040444-6.

In preparing to write this essay, I surveyed a number of syllabi for undergraduate courses in "Women and Religion" from a variety of colleges and universities. I wanted to see how others teaching these courses understand the subject and what emphases predominate: I thought perhaps this information would help target the texts reviewed. Among the twenty or so syllabi I perused were courses ranging from the 200 to the 400 level, with approaches ranging from specific to tremendously wide-ranging. One 300 level course, for example, approaches the topic from the perspective of gender and the body. Another (a 200 level course) promises to take a historical and comparative look at women's self-understandings in religious traditions from Paleolithic times to the present day, with the goals of students achieving a grasp of the nature, role, and meaning of women in religious traditions, while evaluating what the instructor perceives as a shift from woman-dominated religions to male dominated practices and examining the distinctive aspects of women's spirituality!

The variety of approaches to teaching these courses is a reflection of the state of feminist work on religion today. The emphases are broad, ranging from historical examination and revitalization to recovery of practices to ideological assessment. The breadth of concern is a reflection of the categories themselves: "women" and "religion" are abstract categories that resist the universalizing drift that is a necessary aspect of all survey courses. Likewise, the anthologies reviewed here take a variety of approaches to the question of "women" and "religion." All acknowledge the problematic nature of universalizing and essentializing in speaking of women's religious experience, although they succeed to varying degrees in avoiding these difficulties.

Women, Gender, Religion: A Reader is an important collection of twenty-seven previously published essays (except for one, Carol Christ's short response to a critique by Miriam Peskowitz). This interdisciplinary anthology reflects the maturation of the field of women's studies in that the essays challenge not only women, gender," and "religion" as categories, but also many of the ways feminists themselves have failed to recognize the problematic nature of their own discourse. Although the collection is aimed at the religious studies specialist, the editors' interest in "politically and ethically engaged scholarly work" (p.2l) makes this a significant resource for anyone engaged in women's studies research or teaching. Many of the essays, because they assume theoretical comfort with the field, are beyond the reach of most undergraduates, but the book raises such important questions that some of the essays ought to be included as supplemental readings for upper-division courses. Three such essays are summarized here.

Castelli's introductory piece, "Women, Gender, Religion: Troubling Categories, Transforming Knowledge," makes clear the agenda for the book. …