The re-enchantment of feminism: Countering fundamentalisms, encountering the sacred

Alka Arora. “The re-enchantment of feminism: Countering fundamentalisms, encountering the sacred.” Diss. U of Washington, 2008.

This dissertation examines feminists' accounts of their spiritual lives within the broader context of contemporary U.S. discourses on religion and spirituality. Using a critical hermeneutic methodology, I conducted open-ended research dialogues with eight feminist women from a range of religious backgrounds who expressed strong commitments to both activism and spiritual practice. A central concern voiced in these dialogues was the marginalization of women's spiritual accounts, both within traditional religious communities and within feminist political sites. I argue that three discursive frames dominate the conversation about religion and spirituality in the U.S. today, and that each of these frames contributes to the marginalization of feminist spiritual perspectives. The first frame, fundamentalist religion , serves to uphold sexist social norms and silence dissent. Secular materialism has played a role in countering religious fundamentalism, but when it summarily dismisses all religious or spiritual belief systems, it too becomes a totalizing narrative that suppresses difference. Thus, the second frame I analyze is what Wilson (2001) refers to as fundamentalist materialism . The third frame, commodified spirituality , refers to the tendency within late capitalism of producers and consumers to treat spiritual systems from around the world as shallow, consumable items. As a result, alternative, non-fundamentalist spiritual systems become divested of the potential to support transformative feminist politics.

Despite the discourses of fundamentalist religion, fundamentalist materialism, and commodified spirituality, this study posits that many activist women are able to integrate feminist commitments with deep spiritual inquiry in powerful ways. I develop a framework of transrational feminism that is based on an analysis of the research dialogues in this study. A transrational feminist politics involves a recognition that our gendered social and political realities are embedded within a larger, multidimensional and sacred reality. Transrational feminism affirms the sanctity of all forms of embodiment and gender expression; honors the role that divine guidance plays in social movements; and requires the pursuit of both personal and collective healing from gender, racial, homophobic and other socially-produced oppressions.

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