CMU professor introduces the power of faith in social justice activism


Philosophy and Religion Faculty Member Laurel Zwissler.

Philosophy and Religion faculty member Laurel Zwissler is scheduled to speak Wednesday about the role religion plays in women's social activism.

Her new book, Religious, Feminist, Activist: Cosmologies of Interconnection, will be the main focus of the conversation from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium in Charles V. Park Library. 

The recently published book investigates political and religious identities of women who see their activism as religiously motivated. The activists in her book recounted stories of run-ins with police, moments of fear, support from their communities and long-awaited success. 

During the event, Zwissler plans to not only explain these characters, but also analyze their relationship between religious and social commitments. She also will address their communities, the history of feminism and the politicization of social justice movements.

"Part of what's fun about interdisciplinary work is there is a little something for everybody," Zwissler said.

Her inspiration came from years of working with activist communities. Zwissler met women who were actively involved in their faith, despite the silencing of religion as conservative or oppressive. 

She said she wrote the book to "talk about something no one was talking about."

People often stereotype Christians as conservative and oppressive, Zwissler explained, which leaves Christian women feeling misunderstood in activist settings. 

"They share an anxiety that they don't want people to feel oppressed or constrained by the religion of others," she said. "They don't want to be mistaken for wielding Christianity in an oppressing way."

Zwissler said "there is a strong effort to try and mitigate Christian privilege" by Christian women in these groups. They often put aside the desire to be understood to give a greater platform to women of other religious affiliations.

Aside from Christians, Zwissler also reflects on the roles of female Muslims and Pagans in social justice movements and elaborates on them through the characters in the book.

The talk is part of the second annual Anthropology of Religion Speaker Series, which is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religion and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.

The event is free and open to the public.