- Roundtable: Negotiating Feminist and Gender Studies
1. Do you see yourself as pursuing studies in gender and religion or feminist studies in religion? (And why?)
I think of feminist studies in religion as a subset of gender and religion because the term feminist carries historical and cultural connotations that distinguish it from other ways of recognizing gender. This means that I see myself as pursuing studies in both gender and religion, as well as feminist studies in religion. Because of the work that I have done in the study of Islam, as well as my current research on motherhood, I am aware that some groups of Muslim women and some mothers would rather not associate themselves as feminists. Some Muslim women believe that feminism is synonymous with contemporary Western cultural norms—specifically, secular liberal norms—that they reject in favor of a religious worldview that affirms women as different but as important as men in society and before God. Some mothers, too, see themselves in this way—as different, but equally important—and do not believe that feminism includes them. While I disagree because I think that women who benefit from the political activism of feminists (for example, the right to vote, attend universities, pursue a career, and so on) are arguably also feminists, I also find that forcing [End Page 139] a feminist label upon these women is unnecessary because I can still describe using other vocabulary the beliefs that they hold about women and gender.
2. What kinds of challenges have you faced in your course work and research?
The greatest challenge in course work is being at the right institution at the right time. By this, I mean having the option of taking courses every semester or finding an available mentor who focuses on your subject matter of interest. I would venture that this is less of an issue if you study, for example, Paul or Western Christian theology more generally because there is likely someone who will be offering a course that is directly relevant. This was not true of feminist ethics, gender and religion, or Islam when I was in graduate school in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These courses were not offered with frequency or predictability, and were considered additions to one’s “main” area of study.
As for research, my greatest challenge is perhaps the most common one for young female faculty—trying to balance the demands of teaching, raising a young child with a partner who also has a full-time career, and research. I have been very fortunate to have held tenure-track appointments at research universities that have superb libraries with amazing online resources, fair teaching loads, and supportive colleagues. If one of these three was absent, research would be extremely difficult. Also, my posts have provided me travel stipends so that I could attend annually one or two conferences, where I could regularly meet with scholars who focus on comparative religious ethics. These conferences have been essential for networking, publishing, and keeping up-to-date on developments in the field. Aside from these issues, I find one formidable research challenge: the institutional difficulty of working across disciplines. It takes a lot of initiative to find colleagues in philosophy, sociology, history, and to develop and maintain those relationships personally and professionally.
3. What sorts of challenges have you faced at your current institution?
I just started at The George Washington University this fall, so I can only guess as to what those challenges might be. I anticipate that my added responsibilities of directing the Peace Studies program will present administrative challenges and require me to adjust my teaching and research balance. I am also keeping my eyes open for a mentor who will be generous in helping to guide me through the institution.
4. What do you see as some of the theoretical limitations in the field of gender and religion or feminist studies in religion?
Even though scholars of gender and religion/feminist studies have accepted religious diversity, we have yet to develop sufficient theoretical frameworks (often adapted from philosophy or anthropology) to make sense of this diversity as ethicists. Saba Mahmood’s work comes...