Hidden in Plain Sight
Ten years ago, historian Ann Braude threw down a gauntlet for her discipline, declaring in the title of a widely read essay, "Women's History Is American Religious History." She was frustrated that scholars who studied women and scholars who studied religion so seldom addressed each other, even though the majority of women in America have always been religious, and the majority of religious adherents in America have pretty much always been women.
Some solid work on religious women has appeared since 1997, but women's history and religious history continue to slide past each other with few nods of recognition. A new volume edited by Catherine A. Brekus urges the strangers to face each other and see what they have been missing. Contributions to The Religious History of American Women vary somewhat in strength, but the best of them amply bear out Brekus's claim that close attention to religious women unsettles standard narratives about both gender and faith in America.
Brekus begins the volume with a masterful overview that highlights recent advances in the study of religious women and indicts both women's historians and religious historians for failing to notice. She notes that George Marsden's textbook, Religion in American Culture, mentions 246 men by name and only 29 women, and many syllabi for American religion courses skip women altogether. She expresses even more frustration with the field of women's history, which seems to have decided in the 1980s that religion was bad for women and should be ignored.
Brekus does not merely request equal time for women. Nor does she aim to replace male-dominated narratives with female-dominated narratives. She wants to change how her colleagues ...