Feminism and Alternative Religions in America: An Historiographical Study

by Christine Hoff Kraemer


The powerful women’s rights movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries emerged from America’s devoutly religious culture, and so have always been inextricably intertwined with religious issues. Women’s rights activists have commonly reacted against the religious mainstream of their day – attempting to reform mainline religious institutions, embracing new religious movements, or rejecting religion entirely in favor of free thought – although these reactions have not always been rejections of mainline religious beliefs. Many Victorian women, for example, based their claim to public power on standard Victorian gender norms, understanding their public roles to be the same as their assigned private ones. Just as they were expected to be nurturing mothers and guardians of morality in the home, working to blunt their husbands’ naturally fierce and competitive natures, so they also saw themselves as the rightful moral guardians of the public realm, providing a corrective to the dehumanizing impact of capitalism. Other women’s rights activists in the mid to late nineteenth century were more radical, however, attacking the institution of marriage as a form of prostitution and protesting the culture’s commitment to compulsory motherhood. The contemporary diversity of voices in feminism, leading some theorists to prefer the term “feminisms” instead, is hardly a turn of the millennium phenomenon. Since the middle of the nineteenth century at least, American feminisms and American religious movements have been in a complex dance, sometimes mutually reinforcing each other, sometimes critiquing each other and producing reform.

            In the past fifteen years, a significant number of books have been produced by historians and anthropologists (who, incidentally, are almost exclusively female) treating the interaction of feminism with radical new religious movements. In light of the incredible successes of the women’s rights movement in America since the middle of the nineteenth century, the influence of these new religious movements cannot be overlooked. This is not to suggest, however, that the influence of mainline religious movements – particularly the evangelical Protestantism of the nineteenth century – on feminism is not equally profound. Interestingly, books on the history and anthropology of feminism (as opposed to the broader category of women) and new religious movements are approximately as numerous as books on feminism and mainline religious traditions. Although neither area has yet been thoroughly covered, the strong interest of feminist scholars in new religious movements suggests that the impact of these movements may be far greater than their small size would suggest.

            Scholars examining the area have disagreed as to whether these new religious movements have helped or hindered the cause of women’s rights and liberation. Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America is forceful in its assertion that spiritualist practices, particularly trance speaking, opened opportunities for women to speak in public and cleared the way for women to serve as explicitly political speakers later. Beryl Satter’s Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 1875-1920 understands New Thought ideas as serving an ambivalent role in the women’s rights movement. According to Satter, rather than motivating feminist activism or undermining it, New Thought authors tended to espouse ideas that articulated the culture’s conflicts over gender roles without necessarily subverting or transcending them. Catherine Tumber’s American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality: Searching for the Higher Self, 1875-1915 is a blanket condemnation of what Tumber calls “modern gnosticism,” a philosophy she sees as being articulated in New Thought, Theosophy, and the late twentieth-century New Age movement. Gnosticism, she asserts, undermines attempts at feminist reform by encouraging a radical inward turn and stripping believers of a stable moral self from which to make judgments about the political realm. Cynthia Eller’s Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America gives a qualified “yes” to the question of whether the movement successfully supports social reform. She observes the potential apolitical dangers of a radical inward turn but ultimately supports the legitimacy of spiritual feminists’ claim to political and social engagement. Finally, Jone Salomonsen’s Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity among the Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco makes a claim for this feminist witchcraft tradition as being implicitly political on the basis of its beliefs and practices alone. Though she mentions participants’ activity in feminist-anarchist politics, her approach emphasizes the political impact of simply performing a radical feminist religious identity. Although diverse in their arguments and split in their methodology – due to the nature of the subject matter, the former three books are historical, while Eller’s book is historical-anthropological, and Salomonsen’s almost entirely anthropological – these books amply demonstrate the importance of alternative religious beliefs and practices in the history of the feminist movement.

            Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits (1989) traces the importance of women and women’s rights in the Spiritualist movement since its inception in 1848 – incidentally also the year of the momentous Seneca Falls Convention. She suggests that even after Spiritualism’s decline in the late nineteenth century, the self-confidence that women gained in the gender egalitarian environment of Spiritualism benefited the women’s suffrage movement, particularly insofar as Spiritualism contributed some of its best speakers to the cause. In some ways, Spiritualist beliefs reflected the standard gender norms of the nineteenth century. Mediums, those individuals who could enable communication with the spirit realm, were understood to have passive, receptive, “negative” personalities, and were primarily women. Although some men were able to act as mediums, this was believed to be due to their possessing these feminine traits. Paradoxically, however, the very passivity of women mediums that allowed them to go into trance and deliver messages from well-meaning spirits catapulted them into active, public roles. Spiritualist trance speakers became enormously popular in the mid-nineteenth century, and women as young as sixteen would speak in trance in front of crowds of hundreds of people often for an hour or more, on a topic chosen shortly before the speech by the audience. The popularity of female trance speakers, Braude suggests, eroded social conventions about the inappropriateness of women speaking in public, making it possible for later women to speak publicly on the issue of women’s rights a few decades later.

In 1857, Martha Hulett, a seventeen-year-old farmer’s daughter, made a sensation by speaking in trance in Rockford and the neighboring towns. Fifteen years later, Alta C. Hulett, age eighteen, probably Martha’s relative, lectured in the same Illinois towns on her right to practice the profession for which she had prepared but from which she was excluded because of her sex: law. Alta Hulett authored the legislation that permitted women to practice law in Illinois and became the first woman admitted to the Illinois bar. If these two women were related, or even if they were not, they present a revealing comparison. [. . .] In 1857, the speaker and her audience attributed her eloquence to spirits; in 1873, she spoke on her own authority. (200-201)


Braude also notes the prevalence of radical politics in Spiritualism in general, which as a group was strongly abolitionist. Further, women in the Spiritualist movement advanced some of the most daring critiques of gender roles of the time. Some spiritualist women’s rights activists condemned the institution of marriage as “body and soul destroying,” arguing that social and economic pressures often forced women into loveless marriages and comparing the exchange to prostitution. Proponents of “free love” – then understood as the philosophy that sexual activity should take place only when both parties are willing, whether married or not – emphasized the right of wives to withhold sexual access from their husbands and to choose when to reproduce, both for the sake of their own health and to avoid the burden of having more children than could be properly cared for. Radical spiritualists saw their beliefs in free love, abolition, and women’s rights as being intimately tied up with the spiritual liberation of individuals, and thus having everything to do with their fundamental belief in spiritual progress.

            Braude’s argument that Spiritualism reinforced and supported the women’s rights movement is powerful. Not only was Spiritualism’s theology understood as being compatible with a radical critique of current gender roles, its practice offered unique opportunities for female empowerment. Trance speaking and séances provided spaces for women to speak with authority, not just about spiritual issues, but about social issues as well. This focused and well-researched study leaves little to be desired. Braude’s examination of Spiritualism, however, does present new questions relevant to the interaction of feminism and new religious movements that she leaves unanswered. What, for example, precipitated the split between Spiritualism and reform politics in the 1870s, after which women’s mediumship became passive and mediums ceased to lecture? Braude suggests that scandals revealing particular mediums as hoaxes contributed to Spiritualism’s decline, but suggests that it was Spiritualism’s drifting away from radical reform in general that caused mediumship to cease to empower women as individuals. What risks does a reform movement’s strong association with a fringe religious group pose to its credibility? Spiritualism’s decline caused the religious thrust of the women’s rights movement to move instead to evangelical Christianity, which also may have softened the more radical critiques of the Spiritualist agitators. Braude’s book suggests that a vital new religious movement may help to incubate and support radical reform ideas, but may also put the credibility of these ideas at risk if its own is threatened. More research, particularly into how the popularity of Spiritualism in the women’s rights movement transitioned into the popularity of New Thought among the same group several decades later, will help to put Braude’s tightly focused study into its larger context.

            Beryl Satter’s Each Mind a Kingdom (1999) argues that female New Thought authors’ debates about the nature and consequences of desire shaped Protestant beliefs about mind, body, spirit, and will. Although many of these writers were not radical in their political views, the fact that they dealt heavily with gendered models of self was one of the elements that made their views so popular in the women’s rights movement of the late nineteenth century. Satter divides these authors into “anti-desire” and “pro-desire” writers, each of whom understood the divide between mind and matter and the gender associated with this split differently. “Anti-desire” authors idealized desireless womanhood, demonstrating how the renunciation of desire could allow women to distance themselves from compulsory heterosexuality and motherhood, both of which were understood as oppressive. Others of a more utopian bent, many of whom were associated with the women’s movement, imagined entire societies based on a spiritual, feminine desirelessness and renunciation of masculine matter, societies in which marriage could be perfected and peace achieved. “Pro-desire” authors attacked this model of selfless womanhood, focusing on the contradiction between the ideal of feminine selflessness and the fact that society’s wealth came from the “masculine” desire and competitiveness of men working in the corporate world. They argued instead that the repression of healthy desire was destructive, and that both mind and matter were positive influences in the psyche. Writers such as Helen Wilmans praised desire as the essence of humanity and particularly of women, suggesting that to free desire would intensify women’s instinct to serve and love. She went even further in praising the pursuit of wealth, embracing social Darwinist ideas to support her belief in the goodness of competition. In all of these authors, however, selfhood, desire, mind, and matter were gendered objects, although they disagreed as to which were masculine and which feminine, which desirable and which to be repressed.

            Satter understands these as cultural expressions of and reactions to attempts changing social and economic conditions. She writes:

They show how late-nineteenth-century women struggled to create a new kind of white woman’s self or ego in the midst of a culture that was rapidly changing the ground rules of gender. They reveal the origins of modern gender ideals that continue to impede women’s ability to claim a strong ego, to speak honestly about their experiences, or to attain cultural legitimacy without the most carefully crafted of ruses. New Thought women sought to reconfigure female identity to fit within a new economic order and a new order of subjectivity. Their lives and their writings help to illuminate the constrictions that still bind. (17-18)


Satter closes the book with a comparison to the modern New Age movement, which she sees as being similar to New Thought not only in its mind-matter dualism, but also in the way New Age authors struggle with gendered selfhood, vacillating between conventional and radical conceptions of gender in an attempt to adapt to changing conditions. Popular New Thought writings pervaded the nineteenth-century women’s movement and were instrumental in shaping notions of gender that in turn shaped both spiritual and political concerns, particularly attitudes toward corporate capitalism. Popular New Age writings, Satter suggests, are doing the same for the current generation, helping readers to renegotiate the ideal of the nuclear family, and influencing political debates such as the relative functions of government and industry and the responsibility of the government for the welfare of individuals.

            Satter’s argument regarding the connection between New Thought and women’s rights is much more implicit than in Braude; Each Mind a Kingdom is really more concerned with gender than with feminism per se. Nevertheless, her assertion that these authors were widely read and popular amongst women’s rights activists of the time, and several of the authors’ explicit support for the women’s rights movement, demonstrates that many saw a connection between New Thought ideas and their belief in women’s liberation. Satter’s book is particularly useful in pointing out, however, that the women’s rights movement was hardly united in its ideology surrounding gender. Authors that clearly should be considered feminist due to their shared focus on the liberation of women both praise and condemn desire and corporate capitalism. Some renounce compulsory marriage and motherhood as forms of oppression; others laud reformed marriage and motherhood as the surest routes to women’s freedom. As in our own time, late nineteenth-century activists were divided as to what exactly was liberating for women, and in conflict about which issues were most important to women’s rights. Satter demonstrates that New Thought writings are one site where these cultural struggles can be seen with unusual clarity, written as they are by popular female authors, some with close ties to the women’s rights movement.

            Satter’s conclusion about the New Age movement of the late twentieth century is tantalizing in its brevity, but as with Braude, raises questions that Satter does not answer. Although Satter’s sketch of the similarities between the function of New Thought and New Age authors in the midst of cultural crisis is intriguing, one wonders what could be said for the long period in between these two religious movements. Did popular religious writers cease articulating conflicts over changing gender norms in the first half of the twentieth century? Or, perhaps, were gender norms simply less contested during these times? For several of the authors examined here, the aptness of the comparison between late nineteenth-century and late twentieth-century religious movements is taken for granted, but the cultural conditions that produced these similarities remain largely unexamined. Satter’s work is highly satisfying in itself, but could use additional contextualization by examining the fate of these religious ideas in the first half of the twentieth century and the causes surrounding their re-emergence – along with a revitalized women’s rights movement – in the 1960’s.

            Catherine Tumber’s American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality (2002) is badly mistitled. New Age Spirituality is a tangential concern for Tumber; she devotes a few pages to it in her introduction and conclusion, just enough to condemn it on the basis of her research, which is confined to the period 1875-1915. Further, the book’s central concern, what Tumber calls “modern gnosticism,” does not appear in the title. In the introduction, she asserts that gnosticism is an elitist movement characterized by a mood of nihilism and despair, one that is inherently apolitical and inward-turning. She states that ancient Gnostics regarded the material world as radically evil, a creation by a malevolent demiurge seeking to cut off human beings from God. Salvation, then, lay in acquiring knowledge (gnosis) of the divine spark within. The fundamental characteristic of gnosticism, according to Tumber, is that “it indulges a longing for radical escape from the contingencies of history, politics, and nature [. . .] The gnostic’s singular preoccupation is with the self and the cultivation of ‘special powers’ that enable one to execute a cosmic exit at will” (2).

Tumber argues that in the New Thought movement, Theosophy, and other alternative religious movements in the late nineteenth century, gnosticism mixed with feminism and undermined effective political action by, among other errors, encouraging a radical inward turn and undermining the historically contextualized moral self. She further argues that gnostic feminists blurred the public and private to a destructive degree by extending the notion of rights to the private realm. Activism, she argues, became focused on the individual’s “right to health and wholeness” and away from the political realm (57). Gnosticism escaped criticism for these qualities from feminists, however, because it almost never presented itself in a pure theological form; instead, it was usually syncretized with other religious ideas and systems, leading to “intellectual confusion” and “obscuring important moral distinctions drawn by the anti-materialist traditions with which gnostic reformers aligned themselves” (113). Tumber is particularly harsh on what she sees as New Thought’s capitulation corporate capitalism, although she provides relatively scant evidence for this acceptance; Satter’s evidence shows that the issue was not as clear-cut as Tumber suggests.

Particularly when placed next to Satter, Tumber’s argument is thoroughly unsatisfying. The book contains a good deal of detailed research on several female New Thought authors, Edward Bellamy’s Nationalism, the Greenacre community, and the connection between Bohemianism and Theosophy, but this research is embedded in a thoroughly sloppy argument. Tumber often strays from her opening definition of gnosticism, slapping any tradition that shows strains of philosophical idealism with the label, and especially neglecting the fact that relatively few of the New Thought traditions actively saw the material world as evil. Tumber also proceeds on the assumption that individual transformation is fundamentally apolitical and produces no meaningful social change. This assumption, while one that can be supported, is hardly universally accepted, and Tumber’s failure to justify it weakens her argument considerably. Further, the distinctions Tumber makes between New Thought authors and the Transcendentalists – she particularly praises Emerson highly – seem arbitrary and biased. In speaking of Emerson’s idealism, she asserts, “It is all too easily forgotten that with mystical utterances like these, Emerson sought to revitalize the Christian faith, not to replace it with the moral and political passivity with which mysticism is often associated” (73). Tumber, however, brushes aside the fact that Emerson himself has been criticized for endorsing moral passivity; she insists that Emerson’s emphasis on divine immanence makes his system morally superior to, for example, New Thought author Abby Morton Diaz’s belief that the fight for women’s rights was morally justified by transcendent spiritual truth. The fact that Tumber sees Emerson, not particularly known for any kind of social justice work, as being more morally grounded than a committed activist like Diaz on the basis of her theology alone, is difficult to justify. The above quote about Emerson is problematic for other reasons as well – it is difficult to argue that Emerson, who shortly before he left the ministry refused to ever again serve communion because of his rejection of the associated beliefs, was trying to revitalize Christian faith. Further, her claim that mysticism is associated with passivity needs further justification, particularly in light of traditions such as Catholicism, where monasteries and nunneries were often centers of both mysticism and reform and social justice work.

Made on a theological rather than a historical level, Tumber’s argument simply does not fit with the facts that she records in such loving detail. If gnosticism undermined feminist activists’ moral agency, why are so many New Thought authors associated with the women’s rights movement? Along with Tumber’s assumption that personal transformation is essentially apolitical, she condemns the New Thought community of Greenacre for its gnostic inward turn without addressing the potential political impact of alternative models of community. This tradition is strong in the Christian traditions she so highly praises, beginning with John Winthrop’s notion of the Puritan colony as a “city on a hill,” but this fairly obvious inconsistency remains unaddressed. Repeatedly, Tumber returns to Emerson as an exemplar of a social justice-oriented Christian tradition, a tradition which she seems to reify at the same time as she fails to adequately describe it. The religious thinkers and movements she discusses are compared with this insufficiently articulated ideal and invariably found wanting.

Tumber closes by condemning a variety of modern theologians, including Mary Daly and Starhawk, for their gnostic tendencies. One wonders what exactly Tumber could mean by “gnostic” when both these thealogians teach radically embodied traditions; Starhawk in particular is highly politically active, organizing endless peace and anti-capitalism demonstrations. Yet this final gaffe is simply characteristic of the entire book. The main problem of American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality is that it attempts to solve a problem that does not exist. Tumber asserts that New Thought undermined feminist political activism, yet points to a time when feminist political activism was at its liveliest and most effective. Instead of looking at the historical data and then forming a thesis, Tumber seems to have formulated a thesis based on theological conviction alone – in this case, the belief that true religion is and must be historically grounded – and has attempted to make the evidence fit the thesis. Unfortunately for Tumber, the evidence at least partially speaks for itself. Though Tumber is the only one of the five authors to strongly claim that an alternative religious current hindered the cause of women’s rights, her argument is incoherent at best.

Cynthia Eller’s Living in the Lap of the Goddess (1993) is a primarily anthropological examination of the late twentieth-century feminist spirituality movement, as expressed in workshops, retreats, mail-order courses, books and pamphlets, and small groups. Eller’s aim is primarily descriptive. She charts feminist spirituality’s similarities to, differences from, and origins in the contemporary neopagan movement, and describes its philosophical affinities and borrowings from non-Western traditions. In addition to chapters on ritual practice and unique theology, Eller examines the myth of a matriarchal prehistory as a touchstone of spiritual feminist belief, particularly as it grounds the movement’s utopian politics. It is in the concluding chapters that Eller switches from description to argument. Feminist spirituality has a clear political agenda: environmentalism, nonviolence, feminism, and community (191). Eller argues, however, that with the growth of the spiritual feminist movement over the past three decades, spiritual feminism has grown apart from political feminism. Unlike in Radical Spirits, where Braude describes radical politics and radical religion as going hand-in-hand, particularly at both spiritual and political conventions, Eller writes:

Jeanne Garawitz remembers that in the late 1970s conflict between spiritual and political feminists shook up the women’s community in the city where she lived. She reports: “There were some women that were very, very, very political, who were like, ‘This is bullshit! We need a Take Back the Night march, we need legislation, we need more police protection, and you guys are sitting there going “om, om, om, om.”’” [. . .] Spiritual and political feminists no longer need to argue with one another because they are no longer best friends. Most political feminists do not meet spiritual feminists as they go about their political business.                [. . .W]hen the National Organization for Women holds its annual conference, it does not include a special session on introducing goddess worship in the elementary schools or an opening ritual in which participants are smudged with cedar and sage. And when the Re-formed Covenant of the Goddess holds its annual conference, it does not include a keynote speech on recent Supreme Court challenges to Roe v. Wade or a workshop on strategies for ensuring that Title IX legislation is respected in the local schools. The two worlds have grown apart. (189-191)


Despite this breach, Eller feels that there is a genuine political dimension to spiritual feminism. She points to the community’s use and interpretation of the word “witch” as a way of standing in solidarity with women throughout history who have been persecuted or even killed partially on the basis of gender. She argues that spirituality can empower women for activism such as lobbying Congress in the same way that psychoanalysis may empower a purely political feminist. Her most unusual argument for the legitimate political dimension of spiritual feminism is based on its utopian vision. Spiritual feminists, she suggests, engage in political activity invigorated by the vision of a just society, an entirely new order not based on the patriarchal structures of the present. Eller writes:

Lest this be perceived as a tyranny of the dreamable over the achievable, it is worth considering that a reverse tyranny may obtain in political feminism: that of the achievable over the dreamable. [. . .] For [political feminists], it is most important to keep their eye on the hurdle immediately in front of them: get abortion rights signed into law, for example [. . .] Political feminism sometimes looks to [spiritual feminists] like digging the same ditch every day and waiting for the patriarchy to fill it back in overnight. (206-207)


Although Eller observes that a heady utopian vision can translate into ineffective political action on the part of feminists if they fail to focus enough on the immediate issues, she argues that spiritual feminists as a group are alive to this danger. Although she offers no predictions about the future political significance of feminist spirituality, she strongly asserts its success in empowering women to achieve their personal goals.

            The primary weakness of Eller’s work is its introductory quality. As a primarily anthropological work, it traces spiritual feminism’s origins back no further than the 1950’s. This inadequate attempt at historical context neglects the similarities between the combination of spiritual feminism, neopaganism, and political feminism in the late twentieth century and the combination of Spiritualism, New Thought, and the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth century. Further, Eller’s analysis focuses too heavily on neopaganism as the parent of spiritual feminism, ignoring the arguably equal impact of political feminism. Finally, Eller’s commitment to accurately describing the spiritual feminist community has left her little room to make judgments about it. This complaint is partially addressed, however, by her 2001 follow up The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future.

            Jone Salomonsen’s Enchanted Feminism (2002) is the most theologically sophisticated of the five books. Salomonsen’s primary training is as a theologian, and her method is ethnographic; the book is an account of her experiences as a participant-observer (though she problematizes this concept) in the feminist Reclaiming witchcraft community of San Francisco from 1984-1994. Salomonsen examines the community’s ritual, anarchist-feminist politics, immanentist theology, and historical origins in loving detail. She argues that the origins of the groups’ immanentism, communalism, and search for ecstatic experience can be found in radical Protestant groups existing from the thirteenth century to the seventeenth century – for example, the Brethren of the Free Spirit. Further, the communalism of Reclaiming witches has significant similarities with groups such as the Shakers, and its consensus process was borrowed directly from the Quakers. Ultimately, she argues, Reclaiming witches are continuing the work of the Reformation by finding new sources of spiritual authority and restoring a cosmology in which human beings have a meaningful place, and may be more properly understood as subcultures of the Judeo-Christian tradition, rather than as members of the new religion of Wicca, with its specifically British occult origins.

            Oddly, though Salomonsen’s book is peppered with references to Reclaiming’s political activities, she fails to examine the confluence of religion and political activism in any real depth. She succeeds, however, in presenting a community where politics are inseparable from religion. Although she does draw certain lines between what she calls “utopian witches” – practitioners whose religious beliefs are primarily an expression of their pre-existing political beliefs – and “generic witches” – witches who may live outside the community, and whose beliefs stem from personal religious experiences which are often mystical in nature – Salomonsen demonstrates that this community cannot be understood apart from its feminist-anarchist ethic.

            Unsurprisingly, however, Enchanted Feminism suffers from the weaknesses of most ethnographies. Although it succeeds in contextualizing Reclaiming within a tradition of religious thought (though, incidentally, a tradition of religious thought many Reclaiming witches explicitly reject due to its situation in patriarchal religions), it does little to contextualize Reclaiming as a religious movement within American culture or even within spiritual feminism. Although Salomonsen attempts to bring Starhawk, the movement’s primary thealogian, into dialogue with Christian reformers such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, the book in general is very tightly focused on issues internal to the community, which at the time of Salomonsen’s writing remained small but internationally growing. The book serves as a powerful snapshot of a community in a certain place and time, but gives the reader few tools to contextualize it in a larger social, political, or religious context.

            Ultimately, my complaint about Salomonsen’s book can be extended to this subject area as a whole. These works describe the interaction of feminism with particular alternative religious groups very well, but a good survey pulling all of these threads of feminism and alternative religion together is lacking and desperately needed. Further, I was also unable to find an existing survey of American feminism and religion in general; even studies of the impact of nineteenth century evangelicalism on feminism seem to be as tightly focused as these works on alternative religious groups. As demonstrated by these books, however, the connection between feminism, religion, and political activism is complex and vital to the women’s movement throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The similarities between the periods at the end of each century are particularly promising ground for additional exploration, especially as such a study might explain the ebb in woman-centered spirituality in the first half of the twentieth century. Students of history who want to fill in the gaps between these tightly focused works in order to account for historical change will find this field still wide open.

Works Cited


Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1989.

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Salomonsen, Jone. Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity Among the Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. Religion and gender. London ; New York: Routledge, 2002.

Satter, Beryl. Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 1875-1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Tumber, Catherine. American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality: Searching for the Higher Self, 1875-1915. American intellectual culture. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.


Copyright (c) 2002 by Christine Hoff Kraemer