Everyday Life and the Sacred

Re/Configuring Gender Studies in Religion

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Editor(s): 
Angela Berlis, Anne-Marie Korte, Kune Biezeveld
Studies in Theology and Religion

Review

Despite the steady rise of “Nones,” those who claim no explicit religious affiliation, in the West today—or, perhaps, because of said growth—there continues to be a thriving interest amongst scholars of religion in “lived religion,” the ways in which religion manifests, functions, and is performed in the quotidian practices and patterns of daily life. In Everyday Life and the Sacred: Re/configuring Gender Studies in Religion, Angela Berlis, Anne-Marie Korte, and Kune Biezeveld compile a range of scholarship produced within the context of the “Cross Section Women’s Studies in Theology” research network at the Netherlands School of Advanced Studies in Theology and Religion (noster) that offers an important contribution to this body of literature. 

In their introduction to the volume—the third produced by this research network—Berlis and Korte lament that, while there is increased scholarly interest in lived religion, as well as increased interest in women’s and gender studies in both religion/the sacred and lived experience/the everyday, there is little out there that combines these two perspectives. Everyday Life and the Sacred seeks to, and succeeds in, making such a combination less rare, bringing “to the forefront how women are actively transmitting, shaping, and renewing religious culture” (4). This focus on women’s contributions and experiences is what they refer to throughout the volume as a “gender-sensitive approach” (4). This marks one of the key features of the volume, the other being that it approaches the topic “from a theological perspective” (5). While the volume is interdisciplinary, drawing on a range of knowledge and methodologies, it proffers to make a theologicalcontribution regarding how “the sacred can be discovered and named in everyday life, illustrated by practices in women’s domains in the past and present” (5). 

The volume is organized in four sections. Part 1, “Categories,” contains a series of essays that rely upon and examine the key categories that guide the volume—turning to systematic theologies to critically and/or constructively explore the religious features and aspects of everyday life from a gender-sensitive perspective. Part 2, “Textures,” explores the place of the sacred in the everyday for women through scriptural studies, engaging with Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts, and Part 3, “Powers,” offers historicalexaminations and insights on the volume’s themes. Finally, Part 4, “Practices,” turns to practical theologies, more specifically, to qualitative empirical research. The volume ends with a brief epilogue synthesizing the contributions, highlighting how the turn to everyday life and the sacred from a gender-sensitive perspective “tear[s] the sacred from the sacred profane opposition with all its gendered connotations” (338). In doing so, it asserts, the volume has opened up new avenues for research at the intersections of religion, theology, and gender. 

The wide range of essays that this volume includes is indicative of both the limitations of the anthology as well as its strengths. The volume’s limitations are evidenced by what is underdeveloped or altogether absent, given the breadth and scope of its contributions. First, while the essays explore or speak from a variety of contexts, there is a strong focus on the Netherlands. While this is not surprising given the context in which the volume is produced, it may serve as, or at least be perceived as, a limitation in scope for non-Western, or even US and other non-European, scholars. 

Most notable, however, is the absence of any mention of trans women, or any discussion of cis-privilege or what a gender-sensitive approach might mean or look like for those who identify as transgender or non-binary. Berlis and Korte note that a “gender-sensitive approach entails an analysis of whether gender aspects are at stake, and, if so, which. Then,” they continue, “how can and do gender aspects shape human behavior” (4)? At best, the failure to attend to trans women’s experiences is a failure to more fully engage with how and what “gender aspects” might be at stake in lived religion and misses significant opportunity for fuller analysis of the ways in which “gender scripts” function and to what ends. Given the persistent challenge of dualisms in the volume—the overarching interrogation of the sacred and profane dualism, and its implications in and for women’s lived religious experiences—the absence of critique directed toward the gender binary itself is confounding and unfortunate. 

The volume is also limited in regard to intersectional analysis. Its contributors are attentive to the specifics of their respective contexts, but the word “woman” is often invoked and referenced without any additional qualifiers such as race, class, sexuality, or disability. The chapters “discuss areas and activities where women take the lead,” but a greater attention to which women are taking the lead, as well as which women are not, would have been a welcome arena of inquiry, adding a layer of texture that could have further deepened its contributions. 

With those limitations in mind, those interested in contemporary research on gender and everyday life from a theological/religious studies perspective would certainly benefit from engaging this volume, finding in it a wide range of creative and cutting-edge scholarship on some key, often-overlooked intersections of gender and lived religion. While the breadth of scholarship encompassed within the anthology at times threatens to overwhelm, that range is one of the volume’s key strengths. Though limited in its analysis (or lack thereof) of the category of woman, the volume is abundant and rich in the variety of disciplines, methods, religions, contexts, and approaches it engages and contributes to. Especially notable here is the spectrum of theological scholarship it engages. Much of the work on lived religion has focused on historical scholarship and, to a somewhat lesser degree, on empirical and qualitative research—this volume, while contributing to those bodies of literature as well, also uniquely engages the intersections of religion, the everyday, and gender from systematic theological and scriptural/textual scholarship. While there remain still more avenues to be opened and explored, Everyday Life and the Sacred travels down paths previously unexplored, discovering and traversing untrodden intersections, and is thus a rich and helpful addition to scholars and students.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brandy Daniels is a postdoctoral fellow and Lecturer at the University of Virginia.

Date of Review: 
June 26, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Angela Berlis is professor of the history of Old Catholicism and general church history at the Departement für Christkatholische Theologie and Co-director of the Competence Centre for Liturgy of the Theological Faculty at the University of Bern, Switzerland. 

Anne-Marie Korte is professor of religion and gender at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. She is President of the International Association for the Study of Religion and Gender (IARG) and editor in chief of Religion and Gender. 

Kune Biezeveld (1948-2008) was lecturer in systematic theology and professor of women’s studies in theology at the Protestant Theological University, Leiden, The Netherlands.

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