In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Special Introduction from the Religion and Politics Editor
  • Elizabeth Pritchard (bio)

Entering the twenty-sixth year of producing first-rate feminist scholarship in religion is reason enough for celebration. With this issue, we have sweetened the occasion by assembling the range of sections for which the Journal has become famous—articles, poetry, roundtable, and review essay—and by formally introducing a new section entitled “Religion and Politics.” This section is dedicated to the task of unpacking the religious rhetorics and disciplinary practices (like “confession”) encoded in political speech and public policy. The editorial board of the JFSR is well aware that producing feminist scholarship in religion is a profoundly political act. Nonetheless, we are convinced that the contemporary intersections of religion and politics are both proliferating and particularly volatile. Many examples could be cited: the rising tide of “religious” violence; the expanding political valence of heterosexist, racist, and paternalist “family values” and “faith-based initiatives”; the curtailing of women’s access to birth control and safe abortion; the metastasizing surveillance of campus speech and dress; and the continuing pressures of migration and globalization, which expose women’s bodies to unmitigated violence, economic vulnerability, and the asymmetrical and unwieldy burdens of preserving cultural continuity and authenticity. These developments call for sophisticated, rigorous, and timely responses in the pages of this esteemed journal.

The articles gathered here evidence the remarkable range of issues in the field as well as some persistent themes: the extraordinary and ambivalent power of women’s bodies in public, whether gaping, gazing, mourning, or nursing; the contextual, relational, and dynamic dimensions of feminist and womanist ethics; and the therapeutic and political valences of religious speech and ritual. In the first article, Rachel Muers outlines a feminist ethics of breast-feeding that directly challenges the individualization of the responsibility of feeding infants—a responsibility that is placed almost exclusively on the shoulders of the “total mother.” Muers calls on feminists to recognize breast-feeding as a significant human good, but, at the same time, cautions them as to how contemporary [End Page 1] discourses surrounding breast-feeding reflect troubling historical and religious images of “compleat” mothers whose choice to breast-feed is in accord with a God-ordained prophylactic safeguarding “quality” families. Muers assembles biblical, theological, and feminist ethical resources, such as the primacy of relationships (including that between mother and the agential infant) and the womanist ethic of survival, to face head on the class and racial privileges that figure into the distribution of risks of feeding infants.

If you thought you knew Medusa—she with snakes in her hair and whose mere gaze turns the beholder to stone—Miriam Robbins Dexter begs to disagree. Carefully rereading ancient Greek and Roman texts, Dexter reveals the complexity and ambivalence associated with the one whose Greek name means “ruling one.” Dexter suggests that this Medusa is a synthesis of the Neolithic bird/snake Goddess and the demon Humbaba, who is beheaded by Gilgamesh (hence Perseus’s severing the head of Medusa). Dexter’s study reveals that the psychoanalytical framing of Medusa, whether as threatening castration or as the symbol of apparently fearsome female genitalia, is a truncation of the earlier goddess as source of life as well as death. Dexter appreciates feminist retrievals of the fearsome Medusa head as an icon of anger and rage. (One might mention here the best-selling children’s book series based on the hero Perseus, soon to be in movie theaters; in this series, the beheading of Medusa is only somewhat offset by the use of that head to stop an abusive husband.) At the same time, Dexter rightly reminds readers to beware of continuing this truncation of the fullness and complexity of Medusa’s varied powers.

In a December 2009 report, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life released poll data indicating that large numbers of Americans mix elements of diverse traditions. Hence, Michelle Voss Roberts, in her article “Religious Belonging and the Multiple,” offers readers timely theoretical resources for analyzing the increasingly syncretic habits of Americans as well as their broader significance for the study of religion. Voss Roberts argues that the preponderance of such mixing challenges key concepts...


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