Santa Clara University

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Jessica Coblentz: Religious Feminism

In fall 2006 a group of SCU students set out to answer questions connecting theology, gender, and personal religious experience. Taking their discussions beyond the classroom, they embarked on a project that became the Religious Studies Student Gender Initiative (SGI).

Jessica CoblentzReligious studies major Jessica Coblentz, an SCU Provost Junior Research Fellow, played a key role. She and other students tackled questions that included: Is fundamentalism necessarily a threat to feminism? Can you separate a Western conception of modernity from a religious agenda?

In April, the examination of religious and ethical questions led the SGI students to an international conference in Syracuse, N.Y., that brought together priests, theologians, and scholars of philosophy, politics, and anthropology. To get there, the SCU students had to come up with $10,000—the bulk of which was supplied by the Faculty-Student Research Assistant Program.

Coblentz and the other students brought back ideas—and more questions—in May to a symposium at SCU and a session of the Ethics at Noon program, sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Not surprisingly, the students didn’t come up with any neatly packaged answers in their symposium. But Coblentz captured one of the essential elements of the discussion: the fundamental ethics of respecting the dignity of those around us—and of showing that respect in deeds as well as words. “Every time we listen, sincerely,” she says, “considering the views of another, that’s when we begin to be feminists in this religious community.”