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-by Virginia Lieson Brereton
Your Daughters Will Prophesy
"You Have Stept Out of Your Place": A History of Women and Religion in America
By Susan Hill Lindley
Westminster John Knox Press
599 pp.; $35
Susan Hill Lindley's survey of American women and religion arrives on the scene at an auspicious moment, after two or three decades of vigorous scholarship in women's history in general and in women's religious history in particular. It reflects where scholars find themselves at this juncture--both in its strengths and its roads not yet taken.
The book is the most comprehensive attempt to date to synthesize the diverse literature of the recent decades, covering the various forms of Protestantism (mainline, evangelical, and African American), sectarian and utopian groups, Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and even, in the final chapter, sections on women in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Goddess religions. Where religious traditions are unfamiliar to most readers (e.g., Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam), Lindley offers brief descriptions. She is also sensitive to variations according to region, acknowledging the ways in which women's experience in the South or West differed from that in the Midwest or Northeast. Moreover, Lindley demonstrates an astonishing grasp of the literature and of the major historiographical controversies, both in women's religious history and in American religious history more generally. For instance, she reminds us that, in the nineteenth century, women's ambitions to preach were not precisely the same as their aspirations to ordination; women could preach without being ordained. Her footnotes are good guides for anyone wanting to explore a particular topic or issue further.
Most important of all, Lindley goes a long way toward organizing this vast body of heterogeneous material, tracing unifying themes such as that of "True Womanhood," the nineteenth-century ideal that constructed women as primarily mothers and wives, more moral, private, virtuous, and spiritually minded than men, and confined mostly to home. ...