bell hooks,
“Feminist Spirituality”

Truly, there can be no feminist transformation of our culture without a transformation of our religious beliefs.

bell hooks, “Feminist Spirituality” in Feminism is For Everybody, 2000, pp.106
Image Source: bell hooks. Wikimedia Commons.

We’ll start our exploration of religion and spirituality by reading a short chapter from bell hooks’ book, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. hooks* argues that patriarchal religions—like the fundamentalist Christianity that she grew up with— displace women’s experiences, but more importantly, perpetuate dualism, hierarchy, and domination. She points out that the dualism that characterizes Judeo-Christian belief systems enables racism, sexism, and other forms of group oppression. Many feminist activists and scholars reject the spiritual altogether, but for hooks, a non-patriarchal faith system organized around creation is a foundation for liberatory politics.

*bell hooks is the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins; it is a name that she chose for herself because it emphasizes her connection to her material grandmother and upsets patrilineal naming conventions. Though it’s tempting to capitalize the “b” and “h” at the beginning of each name, hooks insists that we keep all the letters in lowercase. There are a lot of theories about why she does this, but the most convincing is that she wants to subvert the rules of grammar. Considering how unsettling it is to type a name without capitals, or to see an uncapitalized name in a piece of writing, it’s clear that’s she has a point to make here. Does our connection to rules of grammar teach us anything about how we might be connected to other social rules and conventions?

As you read:

  • Pay attention to the qualities that hooks associates with liberation theology
  • Keep track of hooks’ critiques of religious fundamentalism; how is religious fundamentalism dangerous for women? for feminist projects?

Find the hooks reading here.

Between Allah and Me
(and everyone else)

View Time: 59 Minutes

We’re watching a film about veiling in Canada. Between Allah and Me (and everyone else) follows four Muslim women in Toronto—Farida, Shaila, Naima, and Sara—as they make decisions about wearing hijab.

Muslim women’s veiling takes many forms. Hijab generally involves a veil that covers the neck and hair. Niqab is a covering for the face that may be worn with a hijab. Burka is a full body covering that permits its wearer to see through a mesh opening near the face. The matter of veiling has been a flashpoint for Western feminists for whom the practice is sometimes viewed as a sign of the ways that patriarchal religious systems enforce forms of social control over women’s bodies. In Between Allah and Me (and everyone else), it is clear that women have complex relationships to the practice of hijab.

As you watch:

  • Consider some of the practices or rules enforced by your religious framework—how do you relate to, or adapt them?
  • How would the women in Between Allah and Me (and everyone else) respond to white Western feminist critiques that insist that the hijab is an oppressive tool of a patriarchal religious system?

Find the film here.

Carol P. Christ,
“Why Women and Other Living Things Still Need the Goddess”

. . .the Goddess symbol calls us to rejoin the spirit with nature, the body with the mind, feeling with thinking. … this reintegration will not happen until and unless we can reclaim the Goddesses who were deposed by the God who was set above nature and whose power was conceived as domination.

Carol Christ, “Why Women, Men, and Other Living Things Still Need The Goddess” in Feminist Theology, 20(3), 2012, pp. 253

Carol Christ, born in 1945, is an American feminist historian of religion and a theologian who has made a strong impact on feminist approaches to faith. She is interested in how religious systems produce and use symbols, which in turn impact how we relate to one another. She achieved notoriety in the the late 1970s with an essay that was published in a special issue of the feminist magazine Heresies on the topic of “The Goddess.” Indeed, she was influenced by an entire community of women who were interested in rethinking spirituality, and exploring the spiritual and political possibilities of the goddess.

The article that we’re reading is deeply personal and reflects Christ’s own intellectual and spiritual journey. She describes a time in her life when she realized that her own faith systems had been used to justify violence and war. Faced with the realization that the representation of god that she grew up with was male, dominant, and warlike, Christ insists that new representations are necessary. Christ argues that we can’t simply critique religious language, symbols, practices, and rituals; we need to create new ones.

As you read:

  • Christ draws on a theory of religion provided by anthropologist Clifford Geertz; look for Geertz’ definition of religion
  • Take note of the four transformative possibilities of the goddess
  • Consider what makes a dominating god “dangerous”
  • Reflect on your own faith system—does it include “non-dominating images” of the divine?

Find the Christ reading here.