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Creative Conformity

The Feminist Politics of U.S. Catholic and Iranian Shi'i Women

Elizabeth M. Bucar

Publication Year: 2011

Much feminist scholarship has viewed Catholicism and Shi'i Islam as two religious traditions that, historically, have greeted feminist claims with skepticism or outright hostility. Creative Conformity demonstrates how certain liberal secular assumptions about these religious traditions are only partly correct and, more importantly, misleading. In this highly original study, Elizabeth Bucar compares the feminist politics of eleven U.S. Catholic and Iranian Shi'i women and explores how these women contest and affirm clerical mandates in order to expand their roles within their religious communities and national politics.

Using scriptural analysis and personal interviews, Creative Conformity demonstrates how women contribute to the production of ethical knowledge within both religious communities in order to expand what counts as feminist action, and to explain how religious authority creates an unintended diversity of moral belief and action. Bucar finds that the practices of Catholic and Shi'a women are not only determined by but also contribute to the ethical and political landscape in their respective religious communities. She challenges the orthodoxies of liberal feminist politics and, ultimately, strengthens feminism as a scholarly endeavor.

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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p. vii-vii

Substantial portions of this book were written with the support of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. I thank Tom Banchoff, the center’s director, for the gift of time to think and write, and the faculty at Georgetown, who welcomed me warmly into their community during my fellowship year. Writing was also supported by faculty excellence...

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Note on Transcriptions

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pp. ix-x

This book includes Arabic and Persian terms, written in non-Latin alphabets, that are transliterated according to a modified version of the IJMES style. Words found in Merriam–Webster’s dictionary are spelled as they appear there and not treated as technical terms (e.g., hijab). Exceptions include terms on the IJMES word list (e.g., shari‘a). All remaining technical terms are italicized and fully transliterated with diacritical marks (macrons and dots). The IJMES style is that diacritics should not...

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pp. xi-xxvi

It is August in Tehran. I’ve been walking up and down the same two blocks in the center of the city for an hour. I’ve asked the attendant at the door of the neighborhood mosque and the man who sells phone cards at the corner, but neither has ever heard of the Iranian Network of Women’s NGOs or its director, Shahla Habibi. I try a couple of doorbells on the unmarked buildings, but there is no response. Finally...

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Introduction: Creative Conformity, Clerical Guidance, and a Rhetorical Turn

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pp. 1-32

This book uses a comparative study of women’s moral discourse to describe and explain one way in which women produce ethical knowledge. I work within and between women, clerics, and traditions to describe both the citation and innovation of women’s moral discourse, as well as the dynamic interactions between clerics and laity. The goal of the study is to challenge views of women as merely...

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Chapter One: What’s a Good Woman to Do? Recasting the Symbolics of Moral Exemplars

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pp. 58-79

Exceptional women tend to become moral exemplars for the rest of us. Sometimes they are born into moral greatness, sometimes selected by divine hand, and sometimes the result of a particularly gracious reaction to fortune or courage in the face of bad luck. Such women become deeply involved in histories of communities, remembered for acting in ways we find admirable: Eleanor Roosevelt in the aftermath of World War II or Rosa Parks in the face of racial segregation. Sometimes...

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Chapter Two: Surprises from the Laps of Mothers: Leveraging the Gaps in Procreative Virtues

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pp. 58-79

That clerics in these two traditions devote enormous rhetorical energy toward instructing women on the issues of reproduction and procreation is a sign of the times. Contemporary worldviews demand that women have some say in their own fertility. Motherhood has become increasingly understood as a choice rather than...

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Chapter Three: Scripture, Sacred Law, and Hermeneutics: Exploring Gendered Meanings in Textual Records

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pp. 80-108

Sacred texts have a special place in the ethical discourse of communities. For Christians and Muslims they contain road maps for moral living by recording the Word of God or other forms of revelation. For the longevity of a community they become important references for moral continuity and flexibility: although texts themselves remain the same, they must be reinterpreted in the context of modern...

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Chapter Four: Performance beyond the Pulpit: Presenting Disorderly Bodies in Public Spaces

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pp. 109-133

Veiling is often offered as evidence of Muslim gender-based discrimination; in the Roman Catholic Church it is the prohibition of women from the priestly vocation. These two practices offend prominent secular-liberal sensibilities, and certainly women within each tradition argue against clerical opinions on them. This chapter takes a slightly different approach. I consider whether and how the logics of...

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Chapter Five: Republication of Moral Discourse: Compromise and Censorship as Political Freedom

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pp. 134-159

This chapter explores how Catholic and Shi‘i women produce and reproduce religious moral discourse within national and global political forums. Although male clerics envision women’s proper participation in public debates about secular politics to be based on the articulation of official dogma, I consider how women apply the logics of this participation to pluralistic and democratic contexts...

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pp. 160-179

Here I summarize the payoffs of a comparative case study that attempts to redefine feminist politics. Earlier in the book, descriptions of actual arguments women used helped us understand how feminist politics employ various tactics to construct ethical knowledge. The analysis broke down arguments to see better the practice of justification and the interactions of moral discourse. The aim was to see...

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Epilogue: Revisiting Shahla Habibi

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pp. 180-184

This book begins with an anecdote of my first interaction with Habibi during which I inadvertently insulted her by labeling her feminist. Although I have addressed that faux pas, my concern is not in preventing the offense she took, but rather preventing my inability to understand the feminist politics that her offense signaled.


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pp. 185-186


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pp. 187-196


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pp. 197-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781589017528
E-ISBN-10: 1589017528
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589017399
Print-ISBN-10: 1589017390

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Feminism -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Feminism -- Political aspects -- Iran.
  • Women -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Women -- Political activity -- Iran.
  • Catholic women -- United States.
  • Muslim women -- Iran.
  • Shiites -- Political activity -- Iran.
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