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Discussion Questions: Religious Imagination of American Women

Religious Imagination of American Women, pp 1-85 for April 9

Overview: Read these three chapters with some care and take your time. Many of these examples of women religious writers will be names now familiar to you. This book will allow you to review many important points covered earlier in the course and place them into an analytic framework, which will be particularly useful to you in writing your paper.

A couple of key definitions for this chapter:

Ambivalence -- which means having mixed feelings (in the case of many of these writers, very strong positive AND very strong negative feelings bundled together about their religious heritages.

Immanence of the sacred -- that is, the sacred/divine/God located in us and in creation around us, rather than above and outside the world. However, you’ll find the writing makes it clear this preference for immanence isn’t simplistic or wholesale in women’s writing.

Chapter #1 -- American Women as Religious Thinkers: Dissenting Participants
** Discus (p. 2) Bednarowski’s perspective about what can be said broadly about women’s religious thinking, while recognizing the diversity and differences among women’s communities.
** In what ways are the ideas commonly found in women’s religious writing USEFUL to women? (3)
** Review the 15-point summary of the state of American feminism and of the feminist study of religion (3-7). Which of these points are familiar to you from earlier reading, and which are new? Any puzzles?
** Bednarowski traces the perception of women’s religious thinking as dangerous DISSENT (pp. 12-13), especially tracing the uproar over the first Re-Imagining Conference held in Minneapolis in 1993. What is accurate about seeing women as dissenters -- and how is this dissent revitalizing to the tradition rather than destructive?

Chapter #2 -- Ambivalence as a New Religious Virtue: The Creativity of Women’s Contradictory Experiences of Their Traditions

** Discuss the impact of Valerie Saiving’s article (which we read) (p. 16). Why did it make such a big impact with so many women?
** Discuss women as ‘simultaneous insiders and outsider’. (p. 17) How does this perception fit with prior reading we have done and your own experience?
** What can be positive and productive about women’s ‘cultivated ambivalence’? (19+)
** How does a consciousness of ‘otherness’ help women in their efforts to seek change within religious traditions? (21+)
** Discuss the specific examples that particularly stood out for you of how women described their experience of ‘otherness’. (pp. 22-25)
** What are some ways of seeing ‘otherness’ as positive? (25-28)
** Discuss the creative potential in experiences women have of ‘doubleness’ -- being both insider and outside at the same time. (Some of these voices will be familiar.) (29-32)
** In spite of their outsider status and experience of doubleness, what do women cherish about their faith communities, and why do they stay? (32-40)
** In the conclusion of this chapter, how does Bednarowski summarize the positive potential AND the risks of an attitude of ‘cultivated ambivalence’? (41-43)

Chapter 3 -- The Immanence of the Sacred: women’s Religious Thought Comes Down to Earth

** From the quotes and discussion at the beginning of this chapter, how might women find meaning in understanding the sacred as ‘immanent’?
** What are some theological risks in putting too much emphasis on immanence? (47-48)
** Where in American religion historically has there been an emphasis on immanence? (49-50)
** Historically, why have women been drawn to experiencing the divine as immanent? (50-52)
** What are some ways women in different traditions are bringing creative renewal to their theological understanding in a grounded way, not as an escape from reality as critics warned? (52-54)
** How are women’s views of the role of Mary in theology changing? (54-56)
** What impact does a grounded, embodied theology of immanence have on our understanding of sin and ethics? (59-62)
** How does women’s understanding of immanence make Buddhism more versatile and accessible? (62-64)
** How does a theology of immanence affect the language and imagery we use for God, opening it up in rich ways? (64-68)
** In specific, how does inclusion of feminine images for the Divine affect women’s sense of self and of possibilities as women? (69-72)
** What are some concerns about immanence and feminine language brought up by Christian evangelical writers? (73-75)
** On p. 76, Bednarowski looks at spiritual feminists who have moved out of established religions. How do these women characterize their theological understanding of the nature of the divine? (75-78)
** What are the stakes and priorities for women of color in defining and naming God? (78-80)
** Why do ‘metaphysical traditions’ appeal to women? What do these women have to contribute to the thinking about religion? (81-83)