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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
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Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
New Book by Rita Gross Addresses Feminism's Impact on Religions
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MAILED: April 28, 1997

EAU CLAIRE -- A new book by a member of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's philosophy and religious studies faculty is receiving critical acclaim for providing a feminist critique and vision of how feminism has changed the world's religions and the way they are studied.

Rita M. Gross is the author of "Feminism & Religion: An Introduction," published in October 1996 by Beacon Press, Boston. Author and reviewer Carol P. Christ says the book should be required reading " in every course on religion, in every religious community." The Library Journal review describes the book as "outstanding, highly recommended for all libraries." Publishers Weekly describes it as an "illuminating work," concluding that historians of religion and theologians are in debt to Gross "for casting a bright light on the relationship between women and religion."

According to Gross, the book is both a survey and a critical discussion of the development of the women's movement in religion over the past 30 years. She says two agendas are important in the task of surveying issues that have been central to feminism and religion during that time. First it is important to discuss feminism and the entire scope of religion, not just merely the culturally familiar perspectives of Christianity and Judaism. Second, the book explores both the feminist study of religion and what happens when feminists critique and reconstruct their religions from the point of view of feminist values.

The book begins with definitions of feminism, religion and religious studies, as well as the relationship between them. It continues with a brief historical sketch of the interactions between feminism and religion, introducing some of the major players and issues. The remainder of the book addresses four central issues for feminism and religion: the need to include information about women in all descriptions of religion; the question of whether or not the world's major religions are inevitably sexist and disadvantageous to women; the question of whether it's necessary to "reread " the past; and finally the issue of the future and the forms of post-patriarchal religion.

Gross points out that all religions, including Christianity and Judaism, have not always been patriarchal and she notes some groundbreaking work done by American Christian feminists in the 1800s that had been largely forgotten by the 1950s. She examines feminist spirituality, "which has developed the contours of organized religion," according to the Publishers Weekly review.

Her analysis is strengthened by her inclusion of non-Western religions as well as a freedom from androcentrism, according to Library Journal reviewer Carolyn Craft, from Longwood College, Farmville, Va. "Gross not only evaluates past and present but also explores possibilities for future development in the areas of Woman-Church, ecological awareness, affirmation of embodiment and finitude and affirmation of relationship and community."

Gross, who is known worldwide for her scholarly activity in Buddhist and feminist studies, joined UW-Eau Claire's faculty in 1973. She is the author of "Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism," and coeditor, with Nancy Auer Falk, of "Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives."

"Buddhism after Patriarchy" was selected by Choice as one of 1993's outstanding academic books. Last fall it received the Frederick J. Streng Book of the Year Award from the Society for Buddhist and Christian Studies.

A recipient of UW-Eau Claire's Excellence in Scholarship Award in 1990, Gross teaches courses in women and religion, comparative religions, and non-Western religions. Since writing a dissertation 22 years ago on the role of women in aboriginal Australian religions, she has published numerous scholarly articles and book reviews and delivered presentations at national and international conferences and universities. Her scholarly reputation is enhanced by her contributions to the editorial boards of several nationally circulating journals. A practicing Buddhist, she is a past president of the Society for Buddhist and Christian Studies and coedits the society's journal. She holds a bachelor's degree from UW-Milwaukee and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago.

"Feminism and Religion" is available locally at Borders Bookstore for $17.


UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: April 28, 1997