Spiritual motherhood: Finding common ground in the ‘sacred feminine’

Is there a special spirituality in motherhood? Different religions have different answers. In Catholicism and Mormonism, motherhood is upheld as a special, sacred realm for women — a vocation or calling all its own. In other faith traditions, motherhood is acknowledged but is not often a focus of sacred texts, exegesis or preaching.

But virtually every world religion has some revered mother figure — Durga (Hinduism), Tara (Buddhism), Rachel (Judaism), Mary (Christianity), Khadijah (Islam) — and even some newer religions have strong female mother figures, such as the Heavenly Mother in Mormonism. Scholars say many are linked to the prehistorical idea of the “sacred” or “divine feminine” — the worship and reverence of the female.

Is there something intrinsically spiritual or religious in motherhood? In the feminine? How might this be a bridge between different faiths? What role does the ancient concept of the sacred feminine continue to play in contemporary religions? In the religious and spiritual lives of contemporary women who are — and are not — mothers?

Recent developments

The concept of womanhood has been at the center of several developments in world religions recently:

Background

Academic centers

Online resources

  • TheJewishWoman.org, a project of Chabad, maintains online resources for Jewish women and spirituality, including a page titled “Spirituality and the Feminine” and another on birth and parenting.
  • The Spiritual Motherhood Sodality was established by Pope John Paul II to foster a sense of motherhood as a vocation for women within the Catholic Church. It was founded by the Rev. Joseph Aytona and is based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Contact 800-818-0584.
  • The United States Institute of Peace maintains a special section on its study called Women, Religion and Peace. Its website contains videos and interviews on the subject of women, religion, spirituality, peace and conflict resolution.
  • Women’s Spirituality Forum

    The Women’s Spirituality Forum in San Francisco is a nonprofit group focused on Earth-based and Dianic religions and spiritualities and women. Contact via founder Z Budapest.

International sources

National sources

Scholars

  • Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez

    Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez is an assistant professor of religion at Temple University in Philadelphia. She specializes in American religious history and women and religion. She is at work on The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, in which she argues that Mary appealed to both American Catholics and Protestants at a time when the two groups were deeply suspicious of each other.

  • Ghazala Anwar

    Ghazala Anwar is an associate professor of Quranic studies at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist school, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. She is also on the steering committee of GTU’s Women’s Studies in Religion program. Among her areas of interest are women in Islam and gender equality.

  • Ann Braude

    Ann Braude is director of the women’s studies in religion program at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. She teaches a course titled “Religion, Gender and Politics: A Transnational Perspective.” Her books include Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion.

  • Anthea Butler

    Anthea Butler is associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies and graduate chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a noted African-American chronicler of the Pentecostal movement. She wrote the chapter “Unrespectable Saints: Women of the Church of God in Christ” in The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past.

  • Miriam Robbins Dexter

    Miriam Robbins Dexter is a research scholar at the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is co-editor of Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries.

  • Cynthia Eller

    Cynthia Eller is a professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., where she specializes in women and religion and New Religious Movements. She has written several books on women and religion in prehistory and contemporary feminism.

  • Ruqayya Khan

    Ruqayya Khan is an associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. She is an expert on women in Islam and Islam in the digital age. She teaches courses on feminism in the Quran and Islam and environmentalism.

  • Adair T. Lummis

    Adair T. Lummis is a religion sociologist and a faculty associate in research at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. Her research focuses on denominational policies; gender, spirituality and leadership in communities of faith; and clergy concerns. Her books include, as co-author, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Tammi J. Schneider

    Tammi J. Schneider is a professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. She is an expert on Hebrew women in the Bible and is the author of Mothers of Promise: Women in the Book of Genesis.

  • Susan Crawford Sullivan

    Susan Crawford Sullivan is an associate professor of sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. She is the author of Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty.  She teaches courses in sociology of religion; Catholic thought and social action; women, religion, and poverty; and families and societies.

Authors/speakers

Practitioners/clergy

  • Zsuzsanna Budapest

    Zsuzsanna Budapest — more commonly known as Z Budapest — is one of the founders of the revival of Earth-based, women-focused spirituality movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She is the author of more than a dozen books on women’s spirituality and Earth-based religions and teaches in San Francisco.

  • Rose Cole

    Rose Cole describes herself as a “visionary” and is frequently on television describing spirituality and womanhood. She promotes something she calls “rituality” — the creation of rituals for women based on their everyday lives — and offers private coaching and training for “high priestesses.” She offers coaching classes in “sacred motherhood.”

  • Phyllis Curott

    Phyllis Curott is one of the world’s first public Wiccan priestesses. She is founder and president of the Temple of Ara, a shamanic Wiccan community. She lives on Long Island in New York and is the author of multiple books on Wicca and goddess spirituality, including Book of Shadows.

     

     

    Contact: 888-507-9934.
  • Grandmother Flordemayo

    Grandmother Flordemayo is on the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, an organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the wisdom of indigenous women. She is Mayan, originally from Central America, but now living in New Mexico. She is a trained curandero, or healer, and travels to speak about indigenous women’s wisdom and spirituality.

  • Heather MacFadyen

    Heather MacFadyen is a Christian podcaster and blogger who writes about motherhood at GodCenteredMom.com. Contact via her website.

  • Anne Scott

    Anne Scott is a Sufi teacher and founder of the DreamWeather Foundation in Sebastopol, Calif. She develops and leads workshops and retreats on women’s spirituality in the United States and other countries.

  • Charlene Spretnak

    Charlene Spretnak is one of the founders of the women’s spirituality movement in the U.S. She is the editor of The Politics of Women’s Spirituality and author of Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church.  She is a professor emerita at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She lives in Ojai, Calif.

Regional sources

Northeast

  • Kelli Bickman

    Kelli Bickman describes herself as a “spiritual warrior” and multimedia artist. Her art has been called part of the “Neo-Goddess” movement. She can talk about her expressions of the divine feminine through art. She lives in Woodstock, N.Y., which she describes as “the epicenter of peace and love.”

  • Lindsey Carlson

    Lindsey Carlson is a Christian, a pastor’s wife and a mother of four who writes frequently about Christian motherhood on several blogs, including her own, Wisdomrejoices.com. She lives in Maryland. Contact via her website.

  • Kumkum Pareek Malik

    Kumkum Pareek Malik is a psychologist originally from India who now practices in Wellesley, Mass. She focuses on the spirituality of motherhood, especially from a Hindu perspective.

Midwest

South

West/Northwest

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