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Women connecting faith.

Still Believing: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Women Affirm Their Faith Edited by Victoria Lee Erickson & Susan A. Farrell (Orbis Books, 2005, 154pp) 1-57075-582-5, $20.00

ARE YOU WONDERING whether belonging to a religious tradition can remain meaningful for you? Doubting whether you believe any more? Looking for spiritual reading, a book for your study group, inspiration for your women's faith community--or a reason to gather women scholars? Pick up Still Believing.

In Still Believing, twelve women academics and community professionals who are Muslim, Christian or Jewish tell their powerful and compelling stories of "believing and having faith through the years." Their lives demonstrate how women scholars remain connected to faith traditions and communities.

The book's first part, "A Legacy of Believing," introduces the reader to three women who have chosen to continue to connect with the deep well of faith they inherited from their families and faith communities. Kathleen Duffy, a Catholic professor of physics, tells how the star-studded sky she discovered when she was a child continues to allure her to a personal creative power, a God who satisfies her soul and expands her vision to participate in a "world order that honors the other's insights and culture." Louise M. Temple, a professor of biology who grew up Baptist, lives out the values she learned and chose to make her own when sitting in a mimosa tree as a child: "My faith provides a solid foundation for life; it buoys me up during the hard times, gives me a love for all humankind, and inspires a great joy in living." Nurah W. Ammat'ullah, a Muslim developer of faith-based community initiatives, was baptized Anglican, enjoyed an eclectic religious education and had conversations throughout her life with Allah, who instructed her to do good works, seek knowledge and leave humanity better than she found it. She captures the heart of Still Believing: "To me, faith is an essential intangible that is as real and as necessary as the air that I breathe. My faith connects me to my grandmothers--though none of the immediate ones practice Islam--all of whom are devout practitioners of different faith traditions."

THE SECOND PART, "THE REWARDS of Belonging," describes the rocky paths that some women walk as they wrestle with believing and belonging. Vanessa L. Ochs, an assistant professor of Jewish studies and an observant Jew, finds that "believing is not about having certainty about God or being in relationship with God. It is about belonging, not just to a people, or even to a culture, but to one particular embodied, artistic, noble way of being human." Judith Lorber, who is founding editor of the journal Gender and Society and "a Jewish feminist atheist," is drawn to the synagogue when her friend dies to say kaddish, a prayer for the dead--to a God she does not believe in. Why? To seek "comfort in ritual, comfort in community." Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, an assistant dean, professor of psychology and evangelical Christian, voices an important message of Still Believing: A thinking person can keep on believing by "living the questions of faith" in dialogue with one's life. Anna Karpathakis, a Greek Orthodox who is an assistant professor of behavioral sciences, adds, "It is precisely as I delve deeper in my work, both research and teaching, that I find my need for 'God' increasing."

The book's third part, "Opening the Ancient Treasure Box of Faith," shows how four women find the future to be anchored in faith. Mira Morgenstern, a professor of Jewish studies, admits that "being a practicing woman of faith is challenging in every arena in which I conduct my life." Victoria Lee Erickson, co-editor of the book and a minister in United Church of Christ, uncovers the oft-hidden treasure in the traditions of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar: "When I meet you, I am required to see God in your face." She reminds the reader that this divine meeting lessens fear and defensiveness and opens the self up to the other, a key message of this book. Dina Pinsky, assistant professor of sociology, researcher of Jewish life, and third-wave feminist who benefited from the struggles of earlier generations, writes that "feminist interpretations of Judaism and feminist innovation in Jewish religious practice are within the bounds of the ancient Jewish tradition of innovation, questioning and debate." Azza M. Karam, an Egyptian Muslim who directs women's programs for an interfaith organization, notes an important reality that she has seen: "Not only are women of faith the bulwark of faith-based services--forming, in some instances, over 90 percent of basic service providers in religious communities--but, whether Traditional African, Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Baha'i, these women of faith see a huge difference between the spirit of their faith and the practices done in the name of their religion." Susan A. Farrell, co-editor of this book, sociologist, Catholic feminist and board member of Catholics for a Free Choice, shows how many Catholic feminists in the women-church movement "feel that it is their faith that gives them the strength to use the margin as a prophetic stance."

In speaking of their encounters with the Holy One, these authors help the reader discover a collective story: Believers who identify with Judaism, Christianity and Islam are kin who share a holy source. This intrafaith and interfaith storytelling challenges the reader to encounter the other and engage her values, commitments and visions.

To read Still Believing is to be enriched by the stories of powerful, creative women of faith and to be challenged to connect beyond one's own world. New stories will be written because of it.

DIANN L. NEU, D. MIN., LGSW, is cofounder and codirector of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual ( water) in Silver Spring, Md.
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Title Annotation:Still Believing: Jewish, Christian, And Muslim Women Affirm Their Faith
Author:Neu, Diann L.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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