Encountering the Sacred

Feminist Reflections on Women's Lives

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Editor(s): 
Rebecca Todd Peters, Grace Yia-Hei Kao
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , December
     2018.
     192 pages.
     $38.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780567683007.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Including the editors, a dozen women speak in this collection of personal essays by ten contemporary Christian feminist theologians. The editors’ introduction states, “As a group, we are reformers and revolutionaries, Catholic and Protestant, lay and clergy, queer and straight, single and married, parents and without children, white and of color” (9). Most of the authors are Protestant and many are ordained in their churches. A helpful list of contributors at the end of the volume provides specific summary information about each author’s professional position and personal religious affiliation.

The volume is intended to bring Christian feminist theology to a non-academic readership. According to the editors who solicited these essays, “Too often the insights of feminist theologians have been stuck in classrooms, disseminated only in specialized conferences, lost in obscure journals, or buried in libraries” (8). Consistent with and helpful to the goal of reaching a general audience, the brief introduction provides concise definitions of feminism and Christian feminism as well as a summary sketch of Christian feminist theology.

Each short essay stands on its own. Drawing upon personal life experience and  theological training, each author addresses a clearly identified theme. The theme is listed parenthetically after the essay’s title in the Table of Contents. This is a useful feature for readers searching for reflection upon a specific topic. In keeping with the collection’s stated intent, all the essays are written to be accessible to a general reader in vocabulary and length. The pieces range from about twelve to seventeen pages each and many of the essays use sectional sub-headings. Most, though not all, of the essays use endnotes; some use an endnote to reference another work in the volume.

A unifying, distinct feature of the collection is that after each piece, the editors provide “a ritual prayer or blessing, order of service, or some other call to action,” followed by several discussion questions which the editors hope will facilitate dialogue in “classrooms, churches, or book clubs” (11). After the questions, the editors also offer a short list of titles for further reading related to the essay’s theme.

This volume succeeds in its goal of bringing Christian feminist theological reflection to a broader audience by providing short, easily readable, personal pieces with a unifying frame of suggested guided response after each essay. The themes are friendship, pregnancy, simple living, miscarriage, racism, sexual assault, gossip, infertility, death and dying, and voluntary childlessness. The deeply personal reflections are memorable and moving.

The title led me to expect authorship by a variety of religious feminists. From the title only, I had expected a more diverse understanding of what it might mean to encounter the sacred, not exclusively Christian authors. Though the editors suggest possible use of the collection in a classroom, the volume assumes a Christian readership. Because of the assumption of a Christian audience and, in some cases, invitations to discuss difficult, even traumatic personal experiences, many of the discussion questions following the essays would not, in my view, be appropriate for an undergraduate university classroom.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alison Downie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Date of Review: 
February 17, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rebecca Todd Peters is Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University.

Grace Y. Kao is Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology and Co-Director of her school's Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion.

Keywords: 

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