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Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny

Religious Speeches Transcending Gender


Elizabeth W. McLaughlin

This book collection is a celebration of women who speak truth to power in the public square. A perfect fit for undergraduate students of rhetoric, gender, religion and history, Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny showcases the speech texts of 14 women addressing societal issues from the values of their religious beliefs and discourse communities. Between the tensions of the duty of gender roles and human destiny, these global voices representing different time periods and religions address the thematic issues of faith, society, education, reform, freedom and peacemaking. Written in clear, straightforward language, students will directly encounter the words and voices of leaders who strive to make the world better for all in the quest for human dignity. Each speaker seeks to forward the transcendent value of human freedom as reinforced by her explicit references to the divine. This collection is appropriate for 200-400 level undergraduate classes and offers a broad sampling of women who speak in the public square.

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Can a woman properly serve as the spiritual leader for her religious community and speak divine wisdom to her people? The answers vary with the sacred stories, culture, and changing histories that shape the narratives of religion. In the world’s major religions descending from Abrahamic faith, the answer is traditionally no, with a handful of exceptions. Organized religion is historically patriarchal, with male leadership, hierarchies, and chains of command. Sacred texts, their interpretations and culture, often undergird prohibitions on women’s leadership.

According to most in Jewish and Christian traditions, for example, the sin of Eve in Genesis grounds the eternal subordination of women as punishment (Genesis 3:16). In many communities, women are even forbidden to speak from a platform or teach when men are present. Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, and others are notably patriarchal. Other religious traditions, however, are historically more egalitarian. Two examples are the Iroquois and Cherokee nations of North America as women served as clan leaders and performed sacred rituals. ← 15 | 16 →

Today, a growing number of women lead their churches, synagogues, and places of worship—but they are not without their critics. Advances for women in business, education, and society have generally been realized more slowly in religion. However, while some fundamentalist groups still limit women’s roles, women as spiritual representatives are becoming a quotidian reality. The two speeches in this section reflect different traditions and different paths. These women share a commitment to translate their religious beliefs into action....

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