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Book Review “Religious, Feminist, Activist ” by Laurel Zwissler


Religious, Feminist, Activist by Laurel Zwissler examines the political and theological patterns of women who claim that their activism is tied to religious beliefs. This book explores the civic importance of faith in the pluralistic setting of North America and the globalized society. Zwissler approached researching from a perspective of ethnographic interviews with feminist activists of different religions. The author’s approach exposes readers to the journeys of women exploring their identity, religiosity, and civic responsibility. Thus, critical analysis of the book written by Laurel Zwissler is implemented through exploration of the messages, thesis, and research methods used in the text.

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Summary of the Book

Laurel Zwissler’s book called Religious, Feminist, Activist investigates the function of faith in the women’s rights movement in North America. The main focus of ethnographic research is feminists that are based in Toronto (Zwissler, 2018). The book’s essential aspect is the focus on the participants’ religious beliefs, which are Catholicism, United Church Protestantism, or Paganism (Zwissler, 2018). The writer uses a qualitative research method approach, as she gathers interviews with more than sixty women. The author uses observation methods, including the monitoring of three religious groups and the anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas protest in Canada. The author supports her ethnographic portrayal of feminists’ viewpoints by taking into consideration matters she found questionable. For instance, the relationship between rituals and reality, including the case of a group wanting to remove a homeless man because he was on a way of Samhain ceremony (Zwissler, 2018). The central thesis of the book focuses on the conscious making of the community through customs, managing conflicts, and activism.

The book includes four different body chapters that help readers to explore the religious feminist community. The first chapter investigates how customs can build group identity, activism, and political engagement (Zwissler, 2018). The author presents readers to women’s discussion of rituals concerning educational and civic discourses. Mainly, the topic of ceremonies and customs, how they help to create common consciousness and to communicate values (Zwissler, 2018). Moreover, Zwissler explores ways of how they can affect women engaged in them. She notices how various faith groups share similarities, as the Christian tradition intersects with Paganism. Moreover, the interviewees tend to engage in rituals to care for people and smaller groups that support political activism.

In the second chapter, the author introduces readers to the connection between traveling to attend a protest and pilgrimage rituals. One of the main goals of protesters is to meet like-minded people motivated by shared values of social justice and unanimity (Zwissler, 2018). They are observing and declare messages based on their beliefs and build alliances that attempt to represent the meanings and goals they support. Zwissler illustrates that protesters’ enthusiasm creates imagined communities that transform countries and connect minority groups (Zwissler, 2018). However, the author acknowledges that pilgrims might also bring conflict, which is also visible during protests.

The third chapter presents assumptions about the function of faith in the civil sphere to claim that feminists adopt the notion of religiosity to the contemporary political discussion. Zwissler explains religion and spirituality’s ideas through the context of the Protestant Reformation (Zwissler, 2018). She relates the development of secular believes to the philosophy of individualism that is prevailing in North America (Zwissler, 2018). It is based on a value of freedom from government and rejects theology as conventional or often oppressive. Zwissler argues that it is promoting heterosexual male privilege, hidden in the roots of its values “secularism in the West has served not to empty public space of religious values but to unmark dominant religious values, making them if not invisible, then impossible to name…” (Zwissler, 2018, p.135). The author argues that despite the common assumption that progress is a product of secularism, actual interest in revisionist social innovation is connected to the values of different religions. For instance, expressing opinions about personal devoutness is acceptable between individuals from liberal groups; however, discussing church is rarely appropriate. Zwissler argues in favor of “a third space, outside the male-dominated hierarchies of Christianity and the secular state, from which traditionally marginalized people can launch critiques of both” (Zwissler, 2018, p. 202). This belief helps to comprehend the members of both discourses within progressive feminism in North America.

In the last chapter, Zwissler elaborates on the concept of social justice. She envisions it as a moral system that extends feminism by connecting it to more widespread administrative matters such as racism, financial and environmental inequalities (Zwissler, 2018). Social justice values connect political and spiritual in women. Communism, separation theology, and feminism inspire this system (Zwissler, 2018). Zwissler associates this worldview to her interviewees’ practices in the community. She describes the feeling of interconnectedness facilitates a comprehensive picture of what compounds political activity; however, it also may project civic importance to subsequent individual actions.

Critical Analysis

One of the main challenges of reading the Religious, Feminist, Activist was the author’s academic writing style. The book’s language is not particularly complicated; however, the perception of the text shifts from a traditional book to an academic article. This is less of a critique but rather an observation, as the book is unique and does not resemble similar ethnographic research made into a book. Moreover, Zwissler explained that both feminism and spirituality are terms that are usually hard to define, as individuals pursue them differently. It was challenging to comprehend the definition of the two critical words that she focused on throughout the book. Thus, it is hard to be scientific while researching the meanings that are not universal for every individual involved in the study.

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Zwissler’s methodology consists of conducting interviews with Catholic, Pagan, and Protestant active feminist groups and participation and observation of their distinct communities. The former included political protests, volunteering, and artistic ritual activities. The author investigates possible connections between modern activism and women’s reformation efforts throughout Progressive time. By putting contemporary feminists within a particular historical setting, Zwissler brings a distinct emphasis on spirituality that motivated individuals for social change around gender, sexual orientation, and equality. One of the most significant aspects of the qualitative research method is the opportunity to review theoretical bases against the actual life in which participants build and maintain themselves as unique individuals. Thus, Religious, Feminist, Activist provides a connection between discussions about feminism and faith, amongst academics, within popular literature, and religious activists. The book was published to the general public, making the scientific findings accessible to anyone interested in the topic of religion and activism.

Zwissler educates readers about the internal reasons and means of feminist believers, including presenting a remarkable description of differences between Christian activists and religious traditionalists. Mainly, exploring the possible explanations as to why Christian feminists are not as widespread in theological, political discourse, unlike conservative Christians. It was particularly interesting when some women referred to their religion as a privilege; therefore, hesitating to include a topic of faith in their activism. These individuals place the desire to reach equality before their self-expression as Christians because of how it might contribute to Christian hegemonic influence in the world. Thus, even though this book focuses only on several religious denominations, the author has presented readers with an alternative take on Christian and Pagan interpretations of quality. Women in the book are uniting based on their viewpoints, coming together in alliances that grant guidance and promote tolerance and empathy. It is rare for a book published for the general public to include such a personal and in-depth study of political activism and theology.

Zwissler gives a broad interpretation of social justice, implying that the values are based on the judgment of systematic oppression of various groups of people. Therefore, these individuals deny the authority of existing structures, such as the federal government, because the primary goal of activists is to reach equality. Thus, the author explained how activism helps different like-minded individuals to meet outside the hegemonic systems to establish alternative institutions. The reason why various religions are cooperating is that contemporary political powers could not bring equality and justice. Faith is not the main reason to rebel but rather a lack of comfort and satisfaction in other spheres of life within the system. It was interesting to learn more about how an unjust political structure has adverse effects on both minority ethnic and theological groups, as well as the members of one of the most predominant religions in the region. Furthermore, she reviews scholarly and civic discussions and often defines terms and ideas for the parts of her audience that might not be familiar with them. Zwissler’s approach is not purely descriptive, as she applies theories to her observations.

One of the main criticism that rose after reading the Religious, Feminist, Activist was the comprehension of reasons that led the author to address social activism and religiosity. It is interesting to learn more about various groups of people that are influencing politics. However, Zwissler points out that people have a one-sided view of Christians due to the partial representation in the media. However, this religion is currently considered to be the most predominant one in the world. Thus, it is hard to understand the argument of prejudice against Christian people fully, because particularly in North America, most people are exposed to Catholics and Protestants. Moreover, the author claims that the world is a combination of secularism and religion because people are not as polarised as the media tends to approach them. Zwissler is raising a crucial point; however, as the book widely focuses on religion and the effects it has on activism rather than on the feminist movement in general, the claim appears inconsistent.


Religious, Feminist, Activist examines intersections of political activism and academic discussions about faith in the public area. The book explores the meanings of the term community formed by globalization and individuals that criticize it. Moreover, the book’s central message is to highlight spirituality and gender in more extensive social disputes around what is considered a legitimate civil discussion. The research is using a qualitative method by interviewing women that belong to the movement. Some aspects of the book, such as language and lack of comprehensive terms were challenging, however, the author manages to integrate a scientific approach to a fascinating research topic.


Zwissler, L. (2018). Religious, Feminist, Activist: Cosmologies of Interconnection (Anthropology of Contemporary North America). University of Nebraska Press.

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