The first publicly ordained Orthodox Jewish female rabbi; an attorney leading the campaign to ordain Mormon women; a nun whose career was threatened for daring to question the Virgin Mary as a symbol of subservience; a Muslim journalist whose organization is re-translating the Qur’an’s most controversial verse. Bringing change to institutions entrenched in centuries of tradition takes a very specific kind of fighting spirit.
In one sense, Sara Hurwitz, Kate Kelly, Elizabeth Johnson, and Zainah Anwar have nothing in common. They’re members of totally different, mutually exclusive religions. They pray in different houses of worship. They study different holy books. And yet in another sense, they have everything in common. They are each attempting to inspire feminist change from within four religions that — to various extremes — pointedly seek to repress them, and to even be part of the establishments that encourage this repression.
Why bother? Why fight? If you’re an educated feminist who was born into such a religion, why not convert to another that doesn’t relegate women to a second-class status? For each of these women, the answer relates to not only her devotion to her own faith, but to her community. This is no small thing: By a rough estimation, there are nearly a billion and a half women on Earth who are Orthodox Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim.
These four women aren’t the only ones fighting for change within their respective faiths, nor are their particular methods the only ones reformers in these faiths are employing. The revolution each is a part of, to outside eyes especially, is modest in practice, if not ambition. It’s about writing and presenting a report to the United Nations. It’s about leading a 200-woman protest on the steps of a church. It’s about graduating a class of three.
Consider these profiles — written by four women of these respective faiths — mere keyholes into much greater rooms that are these tremendous, complex, and always charged situations. These are small parts of a big story, the messy but important collision between revered antiquity and the common sense of modernity.
How do you follow a historic achievement that was called a “radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition”? By starting a school to help train the first generation of female Orthodox Jewish clergy in the hopes they can do the same. Read the full story, by Sigal Samuel, here.
Long whispered about in Mormon feminist circles, the ordination of women is now decidedly in the public eye thanks to a D.C.-based attorney. Read the full story, by Laura Marostica, here.
Widely considered one of the architects of Catholic feminist theology, the 72-year-old nun and professor has often clashed with institutional leaders — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — in her fight for equality in the clergy. Read the full story, by Jamie Manson, here.
By one common reading of the Holy Qur’an, a Muslim woman must choose between rejecting her faith and rejecting the notion of equality. This Kuala Lumpur-based journalist and activist has been working to find a third option. Read the full story, by Rafia Zakaria, here.