Feminist Spirituality

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Feminist Spirituality

Feminist spirituality is a grassroots religious movement inside and outside established religions that reclaims the power, value, and dignity of women. It is a commitment to bringing about in oneself and in the world an alternative vision of justice and equality for all. It focuses on women's heritages, women's body as the locus of the divine, and women's work of replacing patriarchal, kyriarchal societies with equality for all. This empowering spiritual quest starts with women's search for meaning rooted in women's experiences. It is Earth-centered and embodied and oriented toward global justice. Feminist spirituality stands at the heart of human transformation, challenging accepted ways of knowing and being. It includes feminist knowledge, rites, religious practices, prayers, and beliefs.

The term "feminist spirituality" emerged during the second wave of the modern feminist movement in the United States in the 1970s. Feminists charged that Judaism and Christianity were sexist religions with a male God and male leadership that legitimized the superiority of men in family, religion, and society. They began to examine traditional arguments for female subordination, deploring the exclusion of women from the ministry, and rejecting teachings that denied women's selfhood. Some gathered in consciousnessraising groups to voice their own experience, critique patriarchal culture, and work to transform it. Some recovered a Goddess-centered religion that grounded women in a sacred, embodied self.

The 1980s saw this movement emphasizing inclusiveness, respecting the importance of differences and commonalities among women. It was challenged with and enriched by a diversity of voices, contents, methods, and perspectives, including those drawn from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American traditions, and African cultures, as well as twelve-step programs, self-help programs, and the New Age movement. Diverse feminists began working to eradicate patriarchy and kyriarchy in all forms, including racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, imperialism, ethonocentricism, and ageism.

Feminists with roots in established religions have searched for spiritual resources in their sacred texts and traditions. Jewish women recovered female images from the Torah, Talmud, and kabbalah; rediscovered women's prayers and poetry from the Diaspora; and reintroduced traditional women's rituals such as Rosh Chodesh (new moon). Christian women recovered the biblical and apocryphal figures of Sophia and Mary and worked for women's ordination. Catholic women retold stories of women's spiritual communities, created the women-church movement, and celebrated feminist Eucharistic meals. Protestant women sparked the Reimagining movement. Womanists reinterpreted the violence in the crucifixion of Jesus. Mujeristas gave voice to the struggles of women for liberation. Wiccan feminists abandoned established religions and revitalized the Goddess. Native American feminists restored memories of woman-centered and Mother-ritual-based cultures.

Although feminists hold a variety of beliefs about feminist spirituality, there is agreement about empowerment (healing) for women as the goal and reward, ritual as a tool of empowerment and a means of communication with the sacred, and nature as sacred.

Feminist spirituality groups exist in a variety of settings, from covens to sacred circles, women-church base communities to reimagining communities, living rooms to farmlands, city centers to country corners. Most are small, meet regularly, offer spiritual sustenance that institutional religions lack, raise feminist consciousness, provide community, facilitate women's spiritual search, and invite action for social justice. They often transcend religious and denominational boundaries. Typically, groups emphasize shared leadership, personal stories, equality, affirmation, and ritual celebration.

Spiritual feminists have uncovered and recovered female deities to symbolize female sacred power and mirror women as holy. Since Mary Daly wrote Beyond God the Father in 1973, declaring, "If God is male, then the male is God," feminists have publicly challenged exclusively masculine images of God and named female deities. They speak of the Great Mother, Goddess, Grandmother, Spider Woman, Corn Woman, Gaia, Sophia, and Mary. North American women have revived veneration of the ancient goddesses of Europe, the Near East, Native America, Shamanism, Buddhism, and Celtic mythology.

Feminists all over North America have created liturgies and rituals that honor women's experiences, communicate with the sacred, and empower women for personal and social transformation. They use symbols and stories, images and language, ritual elements and art forms that emerge from women's experiences. Women's life cycle rituals celebrate the holiness of women's bodies and the goodness of women's choices, commemorating menarche, partnering, reproductive choices, conception, miscarriage, abortion, childbirth, menopause, croning, and death. Healing ceremonies support women surviving rape, incest, domestic violence, addictions, breast cancer, hysterectomies, and HIV-AIDS. Wheel of the Year celebrations reinstate the sacredness of the ecological cycles of spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the four equinoxes. These ritual experiences are participative, circular, and body-centered. They provide a collective place where women's ways of knowing—thinking, feeling, reacting, living—become normative. They raise feminist consciousness and challenge humanity to achieve a global transformation toward justice.

See alsoBelonging, Religious; Ecofeminism; Feminist Theology; God; Goddess; Mary; Masculine Spirituality; Matriarchal Core; Matriarchy; Names and Naming; New Age Spirituality; New Religious Movements; Ordination of Women; Patriarchy; Priestess; Religious Communities; Spirituality; Womanist Theology; Women's Studies.

Bibliography

Christ, Carol P., and Judith Plaskow, eds. WomanspiritRising: A Feminist Reader in Religion. 1979.

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess. 1995.

Plaskow, Judith, and Carol P. Christ, eds. Weaving theVisions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. 1989.

Winter, Miriam Therese, Adair Lummis, and Allison Stokes. "Feminist Spirituality." In Defecting in Place. 1994.

Diann L. Neu