PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Online Program Book

Religion and Families in North America Seminar
Theme: Religion and Families in North America
Susan Ridgely, University of Wisconsin, Presiding
Monday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua E (Third Level)

The seminar insists on broad definitions of religion and pulls from as diverse a range of families as possible, in order to create generative conversations. To that end, we will think critically about how the concepts of religion and family are co-constituting terms, asking how religious rhetoric shapes understandings of the family and how families provide a primary context for religious experiences, identities, and rituals.

Michal Raucher, Rutgers University
The Ordination of Women and the Changing Orthodox Family in Amerian Judaism

The ordination of Orthodox Jewish women challenges conventional gender norms that are established within Orthodox Judaism. As the only sect within Judaism that is not egalitarian, ordaining women to serve as members of the clergy has led to an outcry among the movement’s more conservative leadership. Many of its supporters, however, maintain that Orthodox female clergy are positive role models for young, Orthodox girls, because they are educated, observant of the tradition, and career-oriented. Yet, many of the women who have been ordained within Orthodoxy are unmarried, a fact that puts them in a precarious position as role models because of the pro-family and pro-natalist tendencies of the religious tradition. Additionally, those who are married challenge gender norms of the family as their husbands take on the traditional role of rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife). As rabbinic families negotiate new gender roles, they set examples for Orthodoxy that run counter to traditional gender norms. My paper draws on my ethnographic research on the ordination of Orthodox Jewish women in America to consider how women’s ordination establishes new paradigms for Orthodox Jewish families in America. This seminar will help me put these changes in a broader religious, social, and historical context as I relate religious discourse about the family to expanded roles for women.

Jenny Wiley Legath, Princeton University
Protestant Deaconesses and the Creation of Sanctified Fictive Families

In nineteenth and twentieth-century North America, deaconesses were Protestant women who created a vocation of service embedded within a life of consecration. A key component of their chosen lifestyle was living together in a sanctified fictive family. Deaconesses chose to remain unmarried and childless and struggled to convince fellow Protestants of the validity of this choice. Deaconesses argued that instead of exerting their beneficent influence on husband and children, they were helpmeets and mothers to the world. Standing outside traditional families, deaconesses crafted their own fictive families by appropriating norms of white Protestant families. They constructed communal homes, seeking to replicate the interactions of an ideal Christian family, at leisure, at mealtime, and especially at prayer time. Yet, deaconess homes diverged from child-centered Protestant domestic piety by remaining focused on prayer, singing, and Bible reading. Deaconesses created families tied together not by kinship but by a sisterhood of shared consecration.

Samira Mehta, Albright College
So, You Wanted Jewish Grandchildren? The Role of Grandparents in Christian-Jewish Interfaith Families

Grandparents come up repeatedly in depictions of Christian-Jewish interfaith family life, in two very different forms of prescriptive literature: children's books and advice manuals. Grandparents appear in children's literature in two forms. Sometimes, in books such as My Two Grandmothers or Bubbe and Gram children's literature presents the grandparents' homes are places where the child can experience Christian or Jewish tradition, such that she can come to claim both as her own. Other children's books, such as Papa Jethro are dedicated to making children understand that one can have close and loving relationships with grandparents across religious difference. In Papa Jethro, the Christian grandfather enthusiastically supports his grandchild in her Judaism. Advice manuals, however, give a very different depiction of the intergenerational politics of interfaith families, as they are often pitched at Jewish grandparents who are dismayed at the choices that their offspring have made--both in selecting non-Jewish (often Christian) spouses and then in how present those adult children have made Judaism in their home. While advice manuals for interfaith couples often talk about setting boundaries with extended families, advice manuals targeted at these grandparents offer strategies for shaping the Jewish identities of their grandchildren, sometimes in opposition to the wishes of the grandchildren's parents. This paper puts the various depictions of grandparents (predominantly created by Jewish publishing houses) in conversation with mainstream American and traditional Jewish understandings of family and community structure. Where are American ideals of nuclear family constituting a break with older patterns of extended families? When is nostalgia for a imagined extended family mobilized to justify interference in the upbringing of grandchildren? How do Jewish communal organizations offer support to grandparents in dealing with the choices that their children make around interfaith families and what does that support look like--how, in short, does the Jewish community imagine extended families in the contemporary and increasingly pluralistic American society?

Kristy Slominski, University of Arizona
How the “Judeo-Christian” Interfaith Ideal Transformed Sex Education into Family Life Education

By the mid-twentieth century, the framework of “family life” dominated public sex education in America. Happy Christian and Jewish families had replaced venereal diseases and prostitutes as the primary symbols of sex education. Starting in the 1920s, liberal Protestants had led the charge to transform sex education into family life education through their work within the sex education movement. Although physicians held more power within the movement, Protestant social purity reformers had joined with these social hygienists to create the first national sex education organization. Protestants leveraged their social capital, church resources, and personal expertise in social scientific approaches to families to sway sex education in the direction of family life. Through their partnership with the Federal Council of Churches, liberal Protestant sex educators mobilized the interfaith ideal of “Judeo-Christian” family values to promote family life education as a more palatable and effective form of sex education for most Americans.

Business Meeting:
Samira Mehta, Albright College