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Religious Sisterhood: Encounters of Gender, Religion and Belonging in the UK

This ethnographic study focuses on the emergence of grassroot female interfaith initiatives, analysing the creative ways religious women negotiate their challenges and struggles as women of faith, together.

Scholars of religion show that various religious groups are currently questioning the accepted norms, ideologies and practices that are accepted in their communities. These studies show how religious members struggle to integrate sacred texts and ways of life with contemporary ideals and practices. This scholarship has also revealed how women are expressing discontent with their one-dimensional gender roles and some are even clamouring openly for reform. Scholars have examined the emergence of egalitarian readings of traditional texts, legal issues in marriage and divorce, as well as historical re-readings of women's literary expressions and historical experiences. Whereas former studies have often focused on distinct groups and analysed the particular ways religious members make sense of their inner-communal conflicts, this study suggests a comparative approach to the study of gender and religion. By focusing on the emergence of Jewish-Muslim female interfaith initiatives, this study furthers the understanding of gender and religion by examining the ways women from different religious backgrounds come together as they debate, struggle and critique traditional gender ideals rooted in male leadership and authority. 

This study examines the ways Jewish and Muslim women come together to share these difficulties and strive to achieve social, cultural and civic change. Even though Jewish and Muslim communities have tended to keep distance from one another while questioning each-others loyalties and affiliations, the recent rise in interfaith initiatives among religious women reveals a realignment of forces among religious minorities. At these gatherings women seek to focus on their similar exclusion, bridging gaps through friendship, while eating, praying, learning sacred texts or engaging in social action together. In these settings, they share their struggles with each other and also search for creative and feminine ways to bring forward a better future. Following these preliminary findings, this study focuses on analysing this process of realignment as religious women come together vis-à-vis political and social transformations.