My Take: Five women in religion to watch
Kecia Ali, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Anthea Butler, Esther Fleece and Karen King are five women to watch for in religion this year
March 5th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

My Take: Five women in religion to watch

Editor's Note: Sarah Sentilles is a scholar of religion and the author of three books, most recently a memoir, "Breaking Up with God: A Love Story." She tweets as @sarahsentilles.

By Sarah Sentilles, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The year 2012 has only just begun and already women are revolutionizing what it looks like to be religious, to study religion and to engage in social change. Here are five women to watch in 2012:

Kecia Ali

Kecia Ali, a feminist scholar who focuses on Islamic jurisprudence and women in early and modern Islam, is one of the organizers of “Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority,” a conference that will be held at Boston University in March. Participants will be asking crucial questions about who has the right to speak for or about Muslim women, important work at a time when the image of the “veiled Muslim woman” is still being used to prove the supposed inferiority of Muslim cultures and to justify Islamophobia.  Ali is the author of "Sexual Ethics and Islam" and, most recently, "Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint" (2011). Her current research focuses on biographies of Mohammed.  She is an sssociate professor of religion at Boston University.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber is changing what church looks like — and she’s changing what ministers look like while she’s at it. The tattooed founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints is a leading voice in the emerging church movement, what people like Diana Butler Bass are calling a new Reformation. Bolz-Weber is committed to the belief that the Bible still matters, that you shouldn’t have to leave parts of yourself behind when you show up at church and that the Lutheran tradition can be revolutionary. The House for All Sinners and Saints is social justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent and progressive. You can even buy a church T-shirt with the slogan “Radical Protestants: Nailing sh*t to the church door since 1517” emblazoned on the back. Bolz-Weber is the author of "Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television." More of her writing can be found in The Christian Century and her own blog, the Sarcastic Lutheran.

Anthea Butler

Anthea Butler models what engaged scholarship looks like in the 21st century. Butler, an associate professor of religious studies and graduate chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, brings a scholar’s eye to contemporary politics and decodes the work religion is doing in the public square. She’s a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches and a prolific tweeter. Whether she’s discussing politics, popular culture, Pentecostalism or the history of African-American women’s religious lives, Butler demonstrates an unceasing commitment to telling the truth and holding people accountable. Her newest book, "The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin's Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right," will be published this summer by the New Press. It explores Palin’s Pentecostal roots and the fervent Christianity of her followers, revealing what Jeff Sharlet calls “a new kind of piety—a ‘supersized’ folk religion that’s part Pentecostalism, part evangelicalism, part Catholicism, and part high heels.” In the meantime, Butler will be tweeting about the presidential election and the pedophilia scandal in the Philadelphia Archdiocese (she tweets as @AntheaButler).

Esther Fleece

The assistant to the president for millennial relations at Focus on the Family, Esther Fleece was hired to bring the so-called “millennials” back to the conservative Christian movement. She has her work cut out for her. Fleece says she has friends who voted for Obama and she also has friends who are gay. Fleece tweets (you can find her @EstherFleece) and blogs about a variety of topics ranging from Tim Tebow’s Christianity (in a recent post at On Faith she compared Tebow to John the Baptist) to why women shouldn’t live with their boyfriends but should rather make them “put a ring on it.” She’s working to redefine what it means to be young and evangelical at a time when conservative Republicans are looking for that particular demographic’s vote. It will be interesting to see just who ends up influencing whom.

Karen King

Karen King is the first woman appointed as the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, the oldest endowed chair in the United States, and she is at work on a book about “martyrdom and its discontents” that rethinks the role of violence in the formation of Christianity. She writes against polarized opinions about religion and violence often heard today — either religion is essentially intolerant and thus naturally given to violence, or religion is essentially peaceful. As a way out of this impasse, King focuses on controversies among early Christians themselves over how to understand and respond to the violence aimed against them. (Full disclosure: King was my professor at Harvard Divinity School and in 2010 we co-convened a Radcliffe seminar, “Christianity and Torture.”) In her books and her lectures, King makes Christianity’s ancient history relevant and revolutionary as she investigates what is at stake and for whom. She is the author of "The Secret Revelation of John; and Revelation of the Unknowable God."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Sentilles.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Islam • Lutheran

soundoff (352 Responses)
  1. busana muslim

    Mantap.. Mari kita budayakan busana muslim kita... semangat and sukses selalu sob.. Thanks..

    June 16, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  2. Meaghan Roegge

    Lady Gaga, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, activist, businesswoman, fashion designer and actress. Born and raised in New York City, she primarily studied at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and briefly attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before withdrawing to focus on her musical career. She soon began performing in the rock music scene of Manhattan's Lower East Side. By the end of 2007, record executive and producer Vincent Herbert signed her to his label Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records. Initially working as a songwriter at Interscope Records, her vocal abilities captured the attention of recording artist Akon, who also signed her to Kon Live Distribution, his own label under Interscope.*`,;

    http://www.picturesofherpes.coStop by our own website too

    May 24, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  3. Andrea L Putnam Struble

    Where does God's description of women in Ephesians 6 and Proverbs 31 fit into your work?

    April 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Aine O'Brocken

      You assume that all of us who love the Bible follow all of it literally. I do the same thing with the verses you cited as I do with the ones that say no castrated male can be part of the congregation of God...or the ones which say I cannot wear clothing of mixed fibers...or the ones which say that I cannot eat meat and milk from the same vessels.

      September 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  4. A Reasoner

    Is Fleece the perfect name for a person of the cloth or what?

    March 10, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  5. RDL

    Wow. I am always stunned at how incredibly mean people are. I guess I shouldn't be, but I am. While I don't share the views of all of these women, I am grateful for the perspectives each of them bring, no matter what cruel people say.

    March 7, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  6. Here is a much more interesting woman to watch


    March 7, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  7. BigTex

    Glad to hear that the only women of religion that anyone should be looking for are all tied to Christianity. Can people wake up to the fact that there are a lot more religions out there than this one?

    This section should just be changed to "The Right Wing Christian Blog"...because that's all that's ever here!

    March 6, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Chris

      The first woman is all about Islam.....

      March 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  8. Robin Tidwell

    Oh dear...if this is an indication of what "scholars" think, the world is in a lot of trouble.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  9. Nii Croffie

    Love is the ultimate in the character of a beautiful woman. These women shine for daring to express love in such brave new ways. May God bless them as they continue to inspire women of faith, hope and love.

    March 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  10. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    Three contemporary women who do not suffer from the shackles of Dark Age mumbo jumbo:

    Julia Sweeney

    If you have not already done so, please watch Julia Sweeney's monologue "Letting Go of God".

    (Ex-Catholic, now atheist) Julia Sweeney's monologue "Letting Go Of God" will continue to be an effective tool to end the absurdity of religion.

    Buy the DVD or watch it on Showtime. Check your cable listings.
    from http://www.amazon.com
    "Letting Go of God ~ Julia Sweeney (DVD – 2008)

    Five Star Rating

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel.

    "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."

    ref: Washington Post book review.

    some excerpts:

    "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

    "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

    "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

    "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

    Susan Jacoby

    "Susan Jacoby (born 1946[1]) is an American author. Her 2008 book about American anti-intellectualism, The Age of American Unreason, was a New York Times best seller. She is an atheist and secularist. Jacoby graduated from Michigan State University in 1965. She lives in New York City and is program director of the New York branch of the Center for Inquiry.[2]

    Her book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism was named a notable book of 2004 by The Washington Post and The New York Times.[3] It was also named an Outstanding International Book of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement (London) and The Guardian. Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (1984) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

    [2] Jacoby also won an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship [4] in 1974 to research and write about the new Americans: immigration into the U.S.

    March 6, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  11. AGuest9

    I hope the appointments at BU, Penn and Harvard are all fully-endowed. I would hate to think that ANY of my tax money is going toward such foolishness in the guise of education.

    March 6, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 6, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Jesus

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.~~~~~

      March 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • just sayin

      Unfortunately the studies mentioned have been proven false, there is hope for honest studies, study God in prayer

      March 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Jesus

      "Unfortunately the studies mentioned have been proven false"

      You've been proven a LIAR on these blogs over and over again.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  13. Ken Oberman

    Anyone else notice how physically unappealing these women are? Not only is this fact, it is also fact that religious belief is also the ultimate turn-off. These hookers don't even get a third strike. They're all out.

    March 6, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • momoya

      Actually, I find them all appealing in their own unique way..

      March 6, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Post your picture, Kenny.

      March 6, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • MeMelvin

      Ken, you are such a sweet talker.
      Bet you get a lot of action...NOT!

      March 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • michelle t

      Wow... that's just mean. I'm sure their spirit shines, Their superficial beauty isn't as great as their shining spirits!

      March 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Ken Oberman

      momoya, you're an idiot.

      Tom, you can shut the fuck up.

      MeMelvin, I do. Because I have taste and confidence. People who say "not!" are stuck in the 80's. Still think you could have won state if the coach had just put you in? Idiot.

      michelle t, spirit means nothing with a face for radio. Fat and ugly people do not deserve love.

      March 7, 2012 at 3:39 am |
    • Valentine Logar

      Really Ken? I find them all to be natural beauties without artifice or need of it. I wonder, what is your definition of beauty.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:47 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.