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Creative Conformity

Creative Conformity: The Feminist Politics of U.S. Catholic and Iranian Shi'i Women

Elizabeth M. Bucar
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Creative Conformity
    Book Description:

    Much feminist scholarship has viewed Catholicism and Shi'i Islam as two religious traditions that, historically, have greeted feminist claims with skepticism or outright hostility. Creative Conformity demonstrates how certain liberal secular assumptions about these religious traditions are only partly correct and, more importantly, misleading. In this highly original study, Elizabeth Bucar compares the feminist politics of eleven US Catholic and Iranian Shi'i women and explores how these women contest and affirm clerical mandates in order to expand their roles within their religious communities and national politics. Using scriptural analysis and personal interviews, Creative Conformity demonstrates how women contribute to the production of ethical knowledge within both religious communities in order to expand what counts as feminist action, and to explain how religious authority creates an unintended diversity of moral belief and action. Bucar finds that the practices of Catholic and Shi'a women are not only determined by but also contribute to the ethical and political landscape in their respective religious communities. She challenges the orthodoxies of liberal feminist politics and, ultimately, strengthens feminism as a scholarly endeavor.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-752-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Transcriptions
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Creative Conformity, Clerical Guidance, and a Rhetorical Turn
    (pp. 1-32)

    This book uses a comparative study of women’s moral discourse to describe and explain one way in which women produce ethical knowledge. I work within and between women, clerics, and traditions to describe both the citation and innovation of women’s moral discourse, as well as the dynamic interactions between clerics and laity. The goal of the study is to challenge views of women as merely victims of male authority by showing how women negotiate with powerful clerical moral guidance. Themes include how clerical rhetoric works as moral guidance, how authority creates diversity of response, how the logical parameters of discursive...

  7. CHAPTER ONE What’s a Good Woman to Do? Recasting the Symbolics of Moral Exemplars
    (pp. 33-57)

    Exceptional women tend to become moral exemplars for the rest of us. Sometimes they are born into moral greatness, sometimes selected by divine hand, and sometimes the result of a particularly gracious reaction to fortune or courage in the face of bad luck. Such women become deeply involved in histories of communities, remembered for acting in ways we find admirable: Eleanor Roosevelt in the aftermath of World War II or Rosa Parks in the face of racial segregation. Sometimes they become important on a more intimate level, such as within families: I have been told I share some of the...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Surprises from the Laps of Mothers: Leveraging the Gaps in Procreative Virtues
    (pp. 58-79)

    That clerics in these two traditions devote enormous rhetorical energy toward instructing women on the issues of reproduction and procreation is a sign of the times. Contemporary worldviews demand that women have some say in their own fertility. Motherhood has become increasingly understood as a choice rather than a strict duty (to husband, family, or community). This in turn requires that religious leaders interested in shaping the virtues of procreation and child rearing direct rhetoric toward women. In some communities reproduction is most often discussed in relation to the moral permissibility of certain actions (contraception, abortion, assisted fertilization) within specific...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Scripture, Sacred Law, and Hermeneutics Exploring Gendered Meanings in Textual Records
    (pp. 80-108)

    Sacred texts have a special place in the ethical discourse of communities. For Christians and Muslims they contain road maps for moral living by recording the Word of God or other forms of revelation. For the longevity of a community they become important references for moral continuity and flexibility: although texts themselves remain the same, they must be reinterpreted in the context of modern living. Texts are thereby living archives for the proper practices within a community and opportunities for rethinking these practices in light of new circumstances.

    Many texts dealing with ethics assume a fundamental difference between men and...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Performance beyond the Pulpit: Presenting Disorderly Bodies in Public Spaces
    (pp. 109-133)

    Veiling is often offered as evidence of Muslim gender-based discrimination; in the Roman Catholic Church it is the prohibition of women from the priestly vocation. These two practices offend prominent secular-liberal sensibilities, and certainly women within each tradition argue against clerical opinions on them. This chapter takes a slightly different approach. I consider whether and how the logics of veiling and ordination are taken up by women in their discursive practices. I thereby test the dimension of my thesis that all clerical rhetoric provides possibilities for creative conformity. Is it possible that even rhetoric about veiling and exclusion from the...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Republication of Moral Discourse: Compromise and Censorship as Political Freedom
    (pp. 134-159)

    This chapter explores how Catholic and Shi‘i women produce and reproduce religious moral discourse within national and global political forums. Although male clerics envision women’s proper participation in public debates about secular politics to be based on the articulation of official dogma, I consider how women apply the logics of this participation to pluralistic and democratic contexts. In doing so, they are able to intervene in the public production of knowledge in ways unanticipated by the clerical rhetoric. They thereby construct new visions of the proper role of religious citizens in secular politics as well as the role of all...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 160-179)

    Here I summarize the payoffs of a comparative case study that attempts to redefine feminist politics. Earlier in the book, descriptions of actual arguments women used helped us understand how feminist politics employ various tactics to construct ethical knowledge. The analysis broke down arguments to see better the practice of justification and the interactions of moral discourse. The aim was to see the precise production of women’s creative conformity. Despite a focus on radically different issues, various feminist tactics of intellectual engagement are observed cross-culturally: symbolics, procreation, hermeneutics, embodiment, and republication.

    Three tasks remain. First, we can now stand back...

  13. EPILOGUE: Revisiting Shahla Habibi
    (pp. 180-184)

    This book begins with an anecdote of my first interaction with Habibi during which I inadvertently insulted her by labeling her feminist. Although I have addressed that faux pas, my concern is not in preventing the offense she took, but rather preventing my inability to understand the feminist politics that her offense signaled. My agenda is not merely to convey Habibi’s political agenda in her own words, but rather to explain the full impact of her actions within the Iranian context. Our interaction demonstrates the analytical challenge a cross-cultural feminist project faces: a double-layered misinterpretation, or what I call academic...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 185-186)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-196)
  16. Index
    (pp. 197-201)