The Religious Imagination of American Women

The Religious Imagination of American Women

The Religious Imagination of American Women

The Religious Imagination of American Women


"This book is a nuanced discussion of contemporary feminist thought in a variety of religious traditions. It draws from both academic and popular writings and offers a rich selection of books to pursue on one's own." -- Re-Imagining

"This remarkable book examines American women's religious thought in many diverse faith traditions.... This is a cogent, provocative -- even moving -- analysis." -- Publishers Weekly

This study of the fruits of many different women's religious thought offers insights into the ways women may be shaping American religious ideas and world views at the end of the twentieth century. At its broadest, this book presents a multi-voiced response to the question: "When women across many traditions are heard speaking theologically, publicly and self-consciously as women, what do they have to say?"


Mary Farrell Bednarowski's new book represents scholarship come of age. Women's studies, feminist studies, and gender studies have all interwoven themselves with contemporary interests in American religion and spirituality to produce a series of specialized studies of women and religion. Building on that work and inflecting it with her own particular concerns and approach, Bednarowski here offers an authoritative synthesis not of women's religious experience, as many would be tempted to do, but of women's religious thought in the American context. Her period is the extended present—public expressions of American women thinking religiously from 1985 onward, with special attention to the 1990s. And her focus is on the comparative task, cutting across different traditions in terms of the five themes that frame her interpretive vision.

First and above all, Bednarowski argues, these women's religious thought is ambivalent, for it is the product of people who are both insiders and outsiders in their traditions and who therefore stand in a place of creative tension that is positive. Second, Bednarowski tells us, women's religious thought is characterized by a sense of the immanence of the divine or sacred world, with a strongly persistent habit of bringing religion down to earth. Third, says Bednarowski, if women favor religion on the ground, they also celebrate the revelatory power of the ordinary, and their claim that the ordinary is sacred is important for its capacity to generate a certain kind of religious thought. Fourth, she says, women's religious thought is characterized prominently by themes of relationship and relatedness, important again here for their ability to yield fruit in religious thought. Finally, in Bednarowski's reading, American women's religious thought is pervaded by the theme of healing, a healing that is conceptualized in ever more expansive ways to encompass well nigh the whole of life.

In positing and describing all of this, Bednarowski treads ground that is laced with scholarly land mines. Is she trying to claim that there is something unique about women as women when they are being religious? And should she be? Are the themes she uncovers so general as to be simply descriptions of the human? Or are they merely truisms about women conveyed ubiquitously by American vernacular culture? What role do history and lived experience play in thought? Do all women in America fit into the same or similar religious molds? Can Bednarowski talk about thought at all except in the context of an . . .

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