The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past

The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past

The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past

The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past

Synopsis

More than a generation after the rise of women's history alongside the feminist movement, it is still difficult, observes Catherine Brekus, to locate women in histories of American religion. In this collection of 12 essays, contributors explore how considering the religious history of American women can transform our dominant historical narratives. Covering a variety of topics - including Mormonism, the women's rights movement, Judaism, witchcraft trials, the civil rights movement, Catholicism, everyday religious life, Puritanism, African American women's activism, and the Enlightenment the volume enhances our understanding of both religious history and women's history. Taken together, these essays sound the call for a new, more inclusive history.

Excerpt

Recently I was so eager to read a new dissertation on American religious history that I ordered an online copy from my university’s library. Given the author’s topic, I assumed that this new work would help me with my own research on early American women. Hoping for a preview, I typed the word “women” into the search engine so that I would not have to scroll through four hundred pages of text. Almost immediately, a message flashed on my screen: “Search term not found.” Surprised, I tried other words—female, feminine, gender, woman—but always with the same results. My “search term,” the subject of almost all of my historical research, could not be found.

More than thirty years after the rise of women’s history alongside the feminist movement, it is still difficult to “find” women in many books and articles about American religious history. Although few scholars ever explain their choice to exclude women, many seem to assume that women’s stories are peripheral to their research topics, whether Puritan theology or church and state. They do not seem hostile to women’s history as much as they are dismissive of it, treating it as a separate topic that they can safely ignore. Since “women’s historians” are devoted to writing women’s history, those who identify themselves simply as “American religious historians” can focus on topics that seem more important to them.

This book is a collaborative attempt to explain why women’s history should be an integral part of American religious history. Each of the twelve contributors to this volume has tried to answer the same simple and yet revolutionary question: What difference does it make to include women in our narratives of American religious history? Or to ask the same question a different way, why should American religious historians study the lives of women as well as of men? Rather than treating the answer to that question as self-evident, as if the recovery of women’s stories should automatically lead to new narratives, the contributors to this volume have tried to offer concrete . . .

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