Border Crossings: WSRP 25th Anniversary Conference (2006)

The 130 Research Associates who have participated in the Women's Studies in Religion Program have helped create a new field of scholarship shedding light on a host of issues concerning intellectual categories, public policies, and personal understandings. To celebrate the work of both past and future scholars in the program, the 25th Anniversary Conference, on February 3, 2006, focused on how their work both complicates and clarifies categories of gender, nation, and disciplinary studies in the context of globalization.

In National Borders/Gender Borders, the opening session of the conference, keynote speaker Peggy Levitt introduced her work on transnational identities among new immigrant groups, examining models of citizenship that emerge when religious rather than political affiliations serve as the matrix for locating oneself in the world. Respondents placed her discussion in the context of critical studies of religion and gender, exploring how this new field contributes to conversations about transnationalism, globalization, and citizenship.

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In the session Crossing Gender, Genre, and Politics, 2005-06 WSRP Research Associates Gannit Ankori, Constance Furey, Rosemary Carbine, Jia Jinhua, and Shahla Haeri described the projects they are working on this year, presenting the latest work in women's studies in religion.

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In the final session, Borders of Race, Religion, and Discipline, prominent authors Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Karen King, Amy Hollywood, and Michelene Pesantubbee reflected on the reception of the books they worked on as WSRP Research Associates. The session, moderated by Bernadette Brooten, highlighted some of the field-changing WSRP projects that have engendered continuing conversations and set the agenda for further research.

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The day ended with a reception honoring all past Research Associates, program founder Constance Buchanan, and the generous benefactors of the program.


National Borders/Gender Borders

Keynote Address:

"God Needs No Passport: Religion in a Transnational Era." Peggy Levitt, Associate Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College.


Constance Buchanan, senior program officer for religion at the Ford Foundation and founder of the Women's Studies in Religion Program

Paula Hyman, Lucy G. Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, Yale University

Emilie Townes (WSRP 2001-02), Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology, Yale Divinity School

Crossing Gender, Genre, and Politics

Current WSRP Research Associates present their works-in-progress.

Gannit Ankori, "A Faith of Their Own: Women Artists Re-vision Religion"

Constance Furey, "Religious Relationships in Devotional Poetry: Gender and Genre in Renaissance Christianity"

Rosemary Carbine, "Ecclesial Work: Toward a Feminist Public Theology"

Jia Jinhua, "The Roles and Images of Taoist Priestesses in Medieval China"

Shahla Haeri, "Religion, Politics, and Women in Iran: Edging Toward Democracy?"

Borders of Race, Religion, and Discipline

Former WSRP Research Associates present scholarship resulting from the Program.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (WSRP 1980-81), Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African American Studies, Harvard University

Karen King (WSRP 1994-95), Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard Divinity School

Amy Hollywood (WSRP 1999-00), Elizabeth H. Monrad Professor of Christian Studies, Harvard Divinity School

Michelene Pesantubbee (WSRP 2001-02), Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and American Indian and Native Studies, University of Iowa/Iowa City

Moderator: Bernadette Brooten (WSRP 1978-79), Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies, Brandeis University


Constance Buchanan

Constance Buchanan is the senior program officer for Religion, Society, and Culture in the Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program of the Ford Foundation, with primary responsibility for developing the foundation's grant-making program in this new field. She chairs the foundation-wide Inter-Program Working Group on Religion, Society, and Culture and the Global Forum on Women and Social Change, which is charged with reviewing attention to diversity in the Ford Foundation's grant-making program.

From 1977 to 1997 she was a member of the faculty and associate dean of Harvard Divinity School. She was the founding director of Harvard's Women's Studies in Religion Program. She also bore responsibility for developing new initiatives on religion and public life with Harvard's other graduate and professional schools. For six years, she was also special assistant to President Derek Bok for his University-wide project on improving the quality of teaching and learning.

Buchanan has just completed a forthcoming book on morality and politics, Learning From Inequality: What Progressives Need to Know to Win the Real Culture War. She is also the author of Choosing to Lead: Women and the Crisis of American Values (Beacon Press, 1996). The book looks at the relationship between women, motherhood, and the welfare of American society, exploring the barriers—practical, historical, and especially moral—to women's public leadership. Her other publications include "The Anthropology of Vitality and Decline: The Episcopal Church in a Changing Society," in Episcopal Women: Spirituality and Commitment in an American Mainline Denomination (1992); and "The Fall of Icarus: Gender, Religion, and the Aging Society," in Shaping New Vision: Gender and Values in American Culture (1987). She co-edited with Clarissa Atkinson and Margaret Miles Shaping New Vision: Gender and Values in American Culture (1987) and Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality (1985).

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

PhD, University of Rochester in American History
MA, Howard University
BA, University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee

Professor Higginbotham's research and writing focus primarily on African American women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Professor Higginbotham is the author of Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Harvard University Press, 1993), which has won book prizes from the American Historical Association, the American Academy of Religion, the Association of Black Women Historians, and the Association for Research on Non-Profit and Voluntary Organizations.  She co-edited History and Theory:  Feminist Research, Debates and Contestations (1997), and was co-editor with Darlene Clark Hine and Leon Litwack of the Harvard Guide to African American History, published by Harvard University Press in 2001. Her articles on African American women's history cover such diverse themes as constructions of racial and gender identity, electoral politics, religion, and the intersection of theory and history.  Her article "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race," Signs (Winter 1992), won the Best Article prize of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in 1993.  A more recent article, "Rethinking Vernacular Culture: Black Religion and Race Records in the 1920s and 1930s," appeared in the anthology The House that Race Built (1997), edited by Wahneena Lubiano.  She is also completing a study for the Lily Endowment on the history of its grant-making to African American religious institutions and programs. Her current research and writing include a biography of Katherine Johnson, the first field worker for the NAACP, and a second book on racial construction of citizenship.

Professor Higginbotham was a WSRP Research Associate in 1980-81. 

Paula Hyman

PhD, Columbia University
MA, Columbia University
BA, Radcliffe College
BJEd, Hebrew College of Boston

Paula Hyman is the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, with appointments in the history and religious studies departments at Yale. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Women's Faculty Forum.

A graduate of the Hebrew College of Boston and of Radcliffe College, she received her MA and PhD from Columbia University, where she taught Jewish history for several years. She has also taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and served there as dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies. She is a fellow and vice-president of the American Academy of Jewish Research. She was a founding member of Ezrat Nashim, one of the most influential American Jewish feminist organizations. She serves on the editorial board of several journals, and lectures frequently in a variety of academic and communal settings.

A specialist in the modern period, Dr. Hyman has devoted her research to two areas, the history of French Jewry and Jewish women's history. Among her books are The Jews of Modern France (1998); The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth-Century (1991); From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906-1939 (1979); The Jewish Woman in America (co-authored with Charlotte Baum and Sonya Michel) (1976); and The Jewish Family: Images and Reality (co-edited with Steven M. Cohen) (1986). Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History (1995), which has appeared in a Hebrew translation, remains her favorite book. Most recently, she edited, introduced, and annotated an English translation of Puah Rakovsky's memoir, titled My Life As a Radical Jewish Woman (2002), which has also been released in paperback. She is also co-editor with Deborah Dash Moore, of the two-volume Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (1998). The encyclopedia has received the American Library Association's Dartmouth Medal Award, awards from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the New York Public Library, and the National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies in Honor of Barbara Dobkin.

Peggy Levitt

PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MSUP/MPH, Columbia University
BA, Brandeis University

Peggy Levitt is Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Wellesley College and a Research Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. She is currently writing a book, God Needs No Passport about how migrants are transforming religious pluralism in the U.S. She is co-director of the Transnational Studies Initiative at the Hauser Center and co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation project on how global discourses about women's rights are translated into local contexts. Her book, The Transnational Villagers, was published by the University of California Press in 2001. The Changing Face of Home: The Transnational Lives of the Second Generation (edited with Mary Waters) was published by Russell Sage in 2002. She also edited (with Josh Dewind and Steven Vertovec) a special volume of International Migration Review on transnational migration in fall 2003.

Michelene Pesantubbee

PhD, University of California/Santa Barbara
MA, University of California/Santa Barbara
MS, University of Oklahoma/Norman
BS, University of Oklahoma/Norman

Michelene E. Pesantubbee is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and American Indian and Native Studies at the University of Iowa. She specializes in Native American religious traditions, Native American women and religion, and Native American religious movements. She is the author of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast (University of New Mexico Press, 2005) and "Beyond Domesticity: Choctaw Women Negotiating the Tension between Choctaw Culture and Protestantism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 67/2 (June 1999). She is executive secretary of the American Academy of Religion and serves on the steering committee for the Women and Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion.

Professor Pesantubbee was a WSRP Research Associate in 2001-02.

Emilie Townes

PhD, Northwestern University
DMin, University of Chicago, The Divinity School
AM, University of Chicago, The Divinity School
BA, University of Chicago

Emilie Maureen Townes, an ordained American Baptist clergywoman, is a native of Durham, North Carolina. She holds a doctor of ministry degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a PhD in Religion in Society and Personality from Northwestern University. She is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School.

She has served as Carolyn Williams Baird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and as professor of Christian social ethics and Black church ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology and instructor in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. Additionally, Townes served as an adjunct professor of ethics and society at Garrett-Evangelical and was a member of the field education staff. She has also been an adjunct professor at Chicago Theological Seminary and McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she served as interim pastoral leader of Christ the Redeemer Metropolitan Community Church for three years. She is a past chair of the Board of Directors of reStart, Inc., an interfaith agency for the homeless in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dr. Townes served on the Commission on Life and Theology of the American Baptist Churches and on the National Commission on the Ministry. She is a former member of the General Board of the American Baptist Churches. Townes is a member of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the American Academy of Religion, and the Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches. She has served on the Women in Ministry Coordinating Committee of the National Council of Churches and the board of directors of the Ecumenical Women's Center. While a member of the Chicago Baptist Association, she served on its ordination commission and its long-range planning committee. She was the director of the Lilly Endowment teaching workshop, "Mining the Motherlode of African American Religious Life," sponsored by the American Academy of Religion and the Wabash Center Teaching and Learning Workshop for Pre-Tenure African American Faculty.

Dr. Townes's primary area of concern is African American women in the church. Her writing, teaching, and activism have centered on this and on drawing the linkages among race, gender, class, and other forms of oppression. Townes is co-editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She is also the editor of two anthologies, A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering and Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation. Her own books are Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope and In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness. Her most recent book is Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care. She is currently focusing on two areas of research. The first is the interrelationship between culture and evil. The second is women and health in the African diaspora with attention to Brazil and the United States.