Reviewed by Agnes Haigh Widder
Blessed book, this. Comfortably and accurately filling its stated niche--the goal was an "accessible, affordable, one volume work for scholars, religious leaders, students, and the general public"--it is affordable both by libraries and by individual scholars for their personal libraries, and is recommended to all.
This handbook contains more entries on more women in American religious history than any of three competing works do. It has a few entries for women's organizations and notable-events in North American women's religious history, but does not cover broad topics or movements. Although it strives for ecumenicity, faiths other than Christianity are not much in evidence; but then, the publisher is a Christian trade press. It emphasizes women practitioners and leaders in their religious communities in the American past rather than academics and theologians.
The Handbook's paragraph-length entries are arranged alphabetically, offer further reading suggestions, and are signed by the individual scholar contributors. Information in the entries includes life dates, significance and claim to fame, personal history, positions held, and books authored. The bibliographic references are mostly in the field of religion, not in women's studies; some include websites. Most of the subjects are deceased (Jane Addams, the Beechers, Mary Baker Eddy, Sarah Bass Allen, Eva Bowles, Marguerite Bourgeoys, Sarah Jane Farmer, Maria Frances Xavier Cabrini, Mother Ann Lee); living women are included if they are firsts, founders, unusually prominent in their fields, or members of underrepresented groups (Maria Pilar Aquino, Maya Angelou, Amy Grant, Tammy Faye Bakker, and Rosemary Radford Ruether; but not, mysteriously, Katherine Jefferts Schori, Ann Graham Lotz, Joni Eareckson Tada, Joan Chittister, Kathleen Norris, or Ruth Hailey Barton).
The book has no index. The alphabetical list of entries at the beginning is rather unnecessary since the book is arranged alphabetically. The mostly female contributors are professors (of religion, theology. American religious history, church history, Jewish studies, Judaism, Near East studies, Christian ethics, preaching, worship, evangelism, gender studies, pastoral theology, and the like), graduate students in these fields, practicing or retired ministers or church workers, nuns, independent scholars or writers, librarians, archivists, or religious organization members or executives. Volume co-editor Susan Hill Lindley (now deceased) was a professor of religion at St. Olaf College; Eleanor J. Stebner is an associate professor and chairs the Department of Humanities at Simon Fraser University.
One competing title, the one-volume Encyclopedia of American Women and Religion, by June Melby Benowitz (ABC-CLIO, 1998), has longer entries, but covers fewer subjects. Another, the three volume Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (edited by Rosemary Skinner Keller & Rosemary Radford Ruether, Indiana University Press, 2006), does not have biographical entries, although women are accessible by name via its index. The third competitor, Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion, edited by Serinity Young (Macmillan Reference USA, 1999), does have biographical entries, but because its scope is the world, it has fewer entries on American women.
[Agnes Haigh Widder is the humanities bibliographer for Michigan State University Libraries and the selector for British Isles, France, medieval studies, and religious studies.]
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|Title Annotation:||The Westminster Handbook to Women in American Religious History|
|Author:||Widder, Agnes Haigh|
|Publication:||Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|