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Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up For Religious Equality

Religious equality for women? Amen.

Taking Back God (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; paper edition, Counterpoint) is an account of the surge of women in this country rising up and demanding religious equality. These women love their religion but hate their second-class status within it.

Read the transcript--or listen to the podcast--of my conversation about women "taking back God" on National Public Radio in March 2010.

I met with Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Muslims, and observant Jews. These women seek the same meaningful spiritual connections enjoyed by their brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons. They are critical of their faith’s male-oriented theology and liturgy. They reject the traditional interpretations of their religious tradition that give women a different, and to their minds lesser, status.

I show that these women are not abandoning religion. Rather, they are taking back their faith and making it stronger. They are transforming religion while maintaining tradition.

For example, there is a network of Catholic women who are illicitly ordained as priests. Evangelical Protestant women are engaging in serious, high-level Bible study in which they challenge Scriptural interpretations that place husbands as heads over wives, who are instructed to be subservient. Mainline Protestant women are gaining leadership positions, giving them more of a say in whether or not their theology and rituals include women.

Meanwhile, Muslim women are participating in prayer services in which a woman recites the sermon and women pray adjacent to men, not behind them. Observant Jewish women are attending prayer services in which the curtain dividing the women from the men is pushed aside so that a woman can chant the words of the Torah.

These women know that religion, when practiced together with a commitment to gender equality, can empower women rather than limit them. And when women are fully included, their religion becomes more durable.

The conflict these women face--honoring tradition while expanding it to synchronize with modern values--is ultimately one that all people of faith grapple with today.

"It is a joy to find a book on women and religion that speaks from the point of view of religious women--women who love not just their spirituality but organized religion, who care about tradition and ritual, and who hear the voice of egalitarianism as divine. At last, a treatment of Islamic gender debates which does not isolate Islam from other religions, or assume that Muslims are inherently more sexist than others. This book is a sincere attempt to understand, in a broad, generous, interfaith perspective, the concerns of religious women for equality and justice."

--Mohja Kahf, associate professor, Middle East and Islamic Studies Program, University of Arkansas;
and author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

"Rich in anecdote, careful in analyses, strong in message, this highly readable and sophisticated text not only will inform the public at large but also chart the way forward for so many women who have chosen to take this journey."

--Blu Greenberg, author of On Women and Judaism and founding president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

"Taking Back God is an enlightening, inspiring look at how our faiths can--and should--reflect our highest ideals about morality and God. It's a must-read for anyone who cares about religion in America today."

--Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of Surprised by God and editor of Yentl's Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism

"Religious feminism is not dead! If you believe in gender equality and belong to any of the three great 'religions of the Book,' Taking Back God will both energize and anger you. As an observant Jew herself, Leora Tanenbaum carefully nuances the secondary status of many women in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She shows how women are challenging repressive traditions in light of the core values of their faith. As a Christian feminist myself, I especially appreciated learning and Jewish and Muslim women in parallel circumstances and with similar interpretive hurdles. Tanenbaum blends extensive research with human interest stories and an embracing attitude that keeps one turning the pages."

--Reta Halteman Finger, assistant professor of New Testament, Messiah College, and former editor of the Christian feminist magazine Daughters of Sarah

"In Taking Back God, Tanenbaum has done a great service by presenting a riveting account of the sexist sins of our fathers in not one but three major religions, and by giving the faith-filled women fighting to elevate women's place in these religions the respect and attention they deserve. To every woman of faith who has ever sat in her church, mosque or temple feeling belittled, hurt, angry and alone, this one's for you."

--Angela Bonavoglia,
author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women are Leading the Fight to Change the Church

"Leora Tanenbaum is so uncannily accurate in capturing not only the facts but the nuanced heartbeat of a world that I know so well that I read the book in a sitting. This is the most comprehensive overview of the status of women and religion I've read. It chronicles the harm religion can do to bothmen and women, but also holds out a promise of radiant hope."

--Frank Schaeffer,
author of Crazy for God

Table of Contents

1. Women on the Verge of an Uprising
2. A Love-Hate Relationship with Tradition
3. Catholic Women vs. the Vatican
4. Evangelical Women Spread the Good News about Women and the Bible
5. Are Mainline Churches Making Men Less Manly and Women Too Prominent?
6. The Alarm Has Rung and Muslim Women are Wide-Awake
7. God Gave the Torah to Jewish Women Too
8. The Sexual Lives of Religious Women
9. Lost in Translation: Women's Language in Worship