Contested Feminisms: Women’s Religious Leadership and the Politics of Contemporary Western Feminism
Keywords:Feminism, secularism, reform, politics.
AbstractFeminism is a relatively recent social movement of radical reform, emerging from the mass political movements of democratisation, secularisation and liberalism that swept across the western world from the 17th century onwards. The first wave of organised feminist political action was articulated in the abolitionist, temperance and suffrage movements in America and Europe in the mid 19th century and culminated in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in New York State where the women’s rights movement was born. Religion was a crucial influence in the work of first wave feminists enjoying close ties to the liberal movements of Protestantism, particularly the Quaker movement. However, as modernity progressed into the twentieth century and secularism became incorporated into statecraft, the influence of religion in the public sphere waned and humanist ethics came to the fore in political life. So, although Christianity had been a primary part of first wave feminism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from the 1960s second wave feminism embraced secularism and situated religion as an inherently patriarchal institution, incapable of social change and has yet to acknowledge the pivotal part that women’s religious leadership played in establishing the grounds for contemporary feminist politics. Recently, a third phase of religious feminism, defined as post-secular feminism, shifts the ground yet again to open up new possibilities of engagement between religious and non-religious feminisms. Following on from the first two waves of religious feminism, this third phase holds potential for counter hegemonic action in transforming gender conservative religious institutions, theologies and social practices towards more inclusive, potentially transformative, religious cultures. It also provides space for a new articulation of religious and secular feminist politics.
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