‘Why We Stay’ merges faith and feminism

By: Ayana Rowe ~Head Copy Editor~

Why we stay
Photo courtesy of facebook.com | “Why We Stay” featured six women’s stories of why they remain religious.

Before a crowd of more than 100 members of the Xavier and surrounding communities, six women representing the three Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – explained why they remain faithful.

“Why We Stay,” a four-hour symposium, gave feminists the opportunity to explore how faith and feminism work together. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the Xavier department of theology, Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice, Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and others hosted this interfaith event. Nostra Aetate is a document first published in October 1965 that established better relations between the Catholic church and non-Christian religions. In a room full of people representing Christianity, Islam and Judaism, among other viewpoints, the vision of Pope Paul VI was honored.

The evening began by dividing the audience into tables of people with the same faith tradition. After hearing from the first panel, which consisted of the coeditors of the book “Faithfully Feminist,” each table discussed questions about the observance of faith traditions and feminism. This same structure was repeated after the second panel, in which the foreword writers of “Faithfully Feminist,” spoke. However, this time the tables included members of different faith groups.

“Faithfully Feminist” is the sixth volume in the “I Speak for Myself ” series. Co-founded by Maria Ebrahimji, who gave the introduction to the symposium, “I Speak for Myself ” aims to deliver interfaith texts that are diverse in scope to teach readers about personal experiences of faith. The co-editors of “Faithfully Feminist” – Amy Levin, Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert and JenniferZobair, representing Judaism, Catholicism and Islam, respectively – gave their personal definitions of feminism and related their faith journeys to the audience.

“(Feminism is) honoring the humanity of every person, both women and men, and uprooting oppression wherever it exists,” Messina-Dysert said. The evening provided a nuanced look into the broad topic of faith and feminism, as the panelists gave personal stories of their own struggles and victories within their faiths.

“I had been Catholic and I was very used to a gender struggle in my religion,” Zobair said regarding her conversion to Islam. Despite this struggle, Zobair has continued in her Islamic faith, providing a voice for other Muslim women through her novels and essays.

The second panel was comprised of Dr. Judith Plaskow, Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Dr. Amina Wadud, representing Judaism, Catholicism and Islam, respectively. “Why I stay…I never really thought of leaving,” Plaskow said.

Plaskow pursued her doctorate in religious studies at Yale during the 1970s, at the same time that the university first allowed women to enroll in the undergraduate programs. It was then, as a part of Yale’s women’s group, that Plaskow found feminism. Since then, she has taught a number of courses on Jewish feminism.

The message that united each speaker’s narrative was that the oppressed must be willing to reflect on their current state. Then they must engage in conversation with others who experience oppression to seek a way to change the norm. “You cannot be an agent of yourself or your beliefs if you don’t know yourself and your beliefs,” Wadud said. “One thing is more frightening than not speaking your truth and that is being silent,” Zobair said.