A 'Holy Alliance'

With Faith and Feminism,

With Faith and Feminism, Helen LaKelly Hunt has given the faith and feminist communities an engaging tool with which to reconstruct bridges that haven’t linked the two since their founding. Motivated by her own commitment to the feminist movement and her strong Christian faith, Hunt’s book is an exploration of the lives of five remarkable women who have integrated faith and activism in a way she’d like to achieve in her own life, she writes. The biographies do not stand alone but rather serve as lenses through which Hunt invites women today to read the tapestry of their own lives and to begin their own "journey toward wholeness."

Some of the women she’s chosen - such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth and suffragist Lucretia Mott - may be known to feminists, and some - such as Dorothy Day and Teresa of Ávila - to the spiritually inclined. Another, Emily Dickinson, may be known for different achievements altogether. Here, Hunt unites them under one umbrella of faith and feminism, because "their religious and spiritual lives were indivisible from their public achievements." Her examination brings to light the tremendous influence that religious faith and spiritual beliefs had on each woman’s self-understanding and sense of inherent dignity, imbuing them with the courage to struggle, in their own way, for women’s rights when such rights were not only questioned but outright denied.

Hunt doesn’t limit herself to biographical overviews. Though they are rich and informative enough on their own, Hunt uses the biographies to illustrate five different steps of what she calls "the journey toward wholeness," for "[E]ach brief biography shows us how one woman was able to integrate pain, shadow, voice, action, or the expanded awareness of connection into her life and reach her potential as a human being."

The steps are part of Hunt’s work as a therapist and co-founder, with husband Harville Hendrix, of Imago therapy. Hunt uses Joseph Campbell’s journey of the hero as a template but suggests that, in contrast to the hero, the heroine’s journey is an inner one. Once completed, the heroine’s task is to "share her knowledge, wisdom, and energy with the people around her." The five steps of the journey, as illustrated by the five women in the book, are: Claiming your pain (Emily Dickinson), integrating your shadow (Teresa of Ávila), finding your voice (Sojourner Truth), taking action (Lucretia Mott), and living communion (Dorothy Day). By accompanying these women on their journeys, Hunt invites readers to do the same in their own lives. She includes a substantial section on reflection and dialogue to guide readers individually or in groups.

LATER HUNT EXTENDS the wholeness metaphor further and applies it to the feminist movement itself. Not only are the heroine’s five steps applicable to individual lives, but to movements as well. Hunt suggests that the feminist movement could move toward wholeness if it made a conscious effort to reintegrate women for whom religion and spirituality are important, for "when we fracture our potential for united action and divide ourselves along social, political, economic, or religious lines, we diminish our power."

Hunt’s argument could be made a little more clear if she better differentiated between "spiritual" and "religious." Although she acknowledges the distinction between spiritual beliefs and a practiced faith in institutional churches early in the book, she does not maintain the distinction and often speaks about "spirituality and religion" jointly, as if they are the same thing. Many feminists - especially eco-feminists - do have spiritual beliefs even though they are not comfortable in institutional religious communities. Joining the two words gives the mistaken impression that most feminists shun both religion and spirituality.

This by no means distracts from or diminishes the remarkable contribution that Faith and Feminism makes to the much-needed dialogue between faith and feminism. Hunt has made a worthy and important addition to both movements, and to thousands of women (and men) for whom faith and feminism are important, and complementary, sources of strength, activism, and identity.

Michaela Bruzzese is a freelance writer living in Chile and a Sojourners contributing writer.

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