What’s in a Name? Exploring the Dimensions of What “Feminist Studies in Religion” Means

  • Miriam Peskowitz


At our best, feminist and other critical scholars continually interrogate the categories upon which we rely, and question the terms of our conversations.1 We do so in order to find and practice increasingly powerful ways to explain, to interrupt, and to re-imagine the very powerful cultures of gender and sexuality in which we live. Twenty years of feminist study of religion demonstrates that feminist scholars of religion focus on a wide variety of topics—gender, sexuality, women, men, social structures, cultural regimes of knowledge, modes of knowing, and the contours of disciplines—within multiple religious traditions, as they relate to nations and regions, racial and ethnic communities. Our study is organized in ways that often compete and conflict. This fact of difference and dissent is, simply, but not simply, a starting point for today’s feminist studies of religions. I mean to call this endeavor feminist studies of religion, not feminist studies in religion, to re-emphasize feminist scholarship on non-Christian topics, to stress feminist work that is critical of religious authorities in a wide variety of ways, and in order to raise questions about the absence from this forum of feminist scholars of religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as those feminist scholars who treat Christianity not theologically but as a historicized religion that demands critical attention.


Critical Scholar Feminist Scholar Feminist Study Religious Authority Feminist Discourse 
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  1. 8.
    Juvenal Satires 2.36–57. See E. Courtney, A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal (London: Athene Press, 1980), 130–31.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    This appears in contemporary Jewish and Christian sources as well. The Rabbinic tractate, Mishnah Ketubah, uses imagery of woolwork to construct notions of private space for women, and to legislate paternal and husbandly control of female wages and products. Jerome’s (slightly later) “Instruction for Rearing a Virgin Christian Daughter” (403 C.E.) suggests as part of this discipline to “Let her learn too how to spin wool, to hold the distaff, to put the basket in her lap, to turn the spindle and to shape the yarn with her thumb” and follows this with a regulation of woven materials deemed appropriate for clothing her body and those deemed inappropriate. This demonstrates the doubled mode of gender control that was deployed through textiles: the interconnected policing of moral character and policing of the body. See translation in Ross Kraemer, ed., Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 127–37.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    This effacement of material conditions seems not unrelated to the hegemony of Christianized valuations of the spiritual. See Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar

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© Elizabeth A. Castelli 2001

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  • Miriam Peskowitz

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