A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Exploration
Rita M. Gross
Berkeley: University of California Press
2009, 352 pp.; $24.95 paper
In 1967, the religion scholar Mircea Eliade read an unusually astute paper on women and religion, written by Rita Gross, then a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and assumed that the young scholar would do her dissertation on the topic. When he approached Gross with this idea, though, she told him that she was uninterested: “I want to do my dissertation on something important,” she said.
Such was the status of women in those days; even Gross had trouble acknowledging the importance of her realization that the all-male field of religious studies was leaving women out of the religion equation. Eliade, Gross tells us, “said that I was seeing things in the data that he, as a man, would never have seen.” As a result of that conversation, Gross made the decision to continue what would turn out to be very valuable research into the religious lives of women.
The fruits of Gross’s labor are collected in A Garland of Feminist Reflections. Now a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire—and a senior teacher in the sangha led by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Khandro Rinpoche—Gross has become one of the groundbreaking voices of feminist critique in religious studies, and in what is sometimes called “Buddhist theology” (using academic insights into the history and doctrines of Buddhism to inform and inspire the contemporary shape and practice of the tradition). Spanning forty years of research and writing, the pieces collected here form a garland, Gross says, because they are “strung on a single thread—the transformation of consciousness effected by the feminist paradigm shift.”
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