home what'snew resources ask amy news activism antiviolence events marketplace aboutus
Articles & Speeches
Feminist.com Bookstore
Find Services In Your Area
Inspiring Quotes
Links/ Best of the Feminist Web
Our Bodies, Ourselves Reading Room
Partners & On-Site Non-Profits
I N S P I R I N G * Q U O T E S



Faithful readers will recall that, in last quarter’s selection, I promised a second chapter of quotations on religion. My foray into researching Jewish women over the last couple of years for my latest book, The Quotable Jewish Woman, stimulated me into exploring what women of other faiths and other paths might have to say about the subject. I found so many, one quarter’s posting just wasn’t enough.

The following selection is from women ranging from an ancient Roman mathematician to seventeenth century playwrights to contemporary Christians and Jews, as well as other paths. Their thoughts and beliefs are as diverse as you might suspect, considering the range of time and practice.

Religion is such a big topic today. From considerations of what impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on those of the Muslim faith to the conflict between mostly Muslim Palestinians and mostly Jewish Israelis, from our own nation’s religious right to the rise of New Age spirituality.

The other day, it was announced in my local paper that Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, was releasing a brand new translation, from the original Aramaic, of the Bible to appeal to 18 to 34-year-olds who, the publisher’s research shows, “are leaving churches in large numbers but remain more ‘spiritually intrigued’ than any other demographic.” (My emphasis.)

At a time when the world is in chaos, with wars and insurgencies and revolts occurring just about everywhere, young people are hungry for faith and spirituality. Many established religions are going through some pretty heavy duty changes, dealing with issues ranging from the ordination of women to homosexuality. Today’s society encourages questioning authority, not automatically buying into whatever is laid out before one. More and more people, either within or outside of the context of their religious faith, are trying to carve out their own spiritual paths.

Many of the courageous and admirable women in the quarter’s selection have espoused unpopular and controversial opinions about faith; others are strict adherents of their religion.

I hope your spiritual path will be stimulated and enhanced by this column’s offering.

In sisterhood, Elaine Bernstein Partnow, Editor


I have elsewhere tried to show that Art is not the handmaid of Religion, but that Art in some sense springs out of Religion, and that between them is a connecting link, a bridge, and that bridge is Ritual. – Jane Harrison (1850-1928), English writer, classical scholar, archaeologist; from Reminiscences of a Student's Life, 1925

. . . Quaker meetings [were] the first enclaves in American society in which women were encouraged to speak out in public . . . [with] the faith . . . that each individual, regardless of sex, had to act according to his own inner lights . . . – Gail Thain Parker (1943- ), American college administrator, educator, writer; from The Oven Birds, 1972

We have been saying, Lucy, that 'tis the strangest thing in the world people should quarrel about religion, since we undoubtedly all mean the same thing; all good minds in every religion aim at pleasing the Supreme Being; the means we take differ according to where we are born, and the prejudices we imbibe from education; a consideration which ought to inspire us with kindness and indulgence to each other. – Frances Brooke (1724-1789), English editor, librettist, translator, playwright, historian, writer; n ée Moore, a.k.a. Mary Singleton; from The History of Emily Montague, Vol. I, 1769

Everyone's conscience in religion is between God and themselves, and it belongs to none other. – Margaret Cavendish (1623/24-1673/74) English/French writer, playwright, poet; a.k.a. Duchess of Newcastle, Mad Madge, n ée Lucas; Note: Cavendish's plays were written as closet dramas, to be read rather than staged; from Sociable Letters, 1664

"These people represented to me," she said, "an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin: and 'tis most evident and plain that simple nature is the most harmless, inoffensive and virtuous mistress. 'Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the world than all the inventions of man: religion would here but destroy that tranquility they possess by ignorance; and laws would teach 'em to know offences of which now they have no notion." – Aphra Behn (1640-1689), English translator, novelist, spy, poet, playwright; first woman in history to have earned a living as a writer; from Oroonko,The Royal Slave, 1688

"If a religion is unpatriotic, it ain't right." – Harriette Arnow (1908-1986), American writer; from The Dollmaker, 1954

No future life could heal the degradation of having been a woman. Religion in the world had nothing but insults for women. – Dorothy Miller Richardson (1873-1957), English writer; from Pilgrimage, Vol. II, 1938

Almost every one of the great religions of the world has made special provisions for them, and the woman who has preferred a celibate to a domestic life has been able to occupy a position of honor and usefulness. – Mary Livermore (1820?-1905), American lecturer, writer, social reformer; n ée Rice; from What Shall We Do with Our Daughters?, 1883

A successful woman preacher was once asked "what special obstacles have you met as a woman in the ministry?" "Not one," she answered, "except the lack of a minister's wife." – Anna Garlin Spencer (1851-1931), American feminist, educator, minister, social reformer; from Woman's Share in Social Culture, 1912

Reader, you forget that economics precedes religion; worship grew out of eating, not the other way around. – Anne Roiphe (1935- ), American novelist; from The Pursuit of Happiness, 1991

Rather than being any longer a threat to the established androcratic order, Christianity became what practically all this earth's religions, launched in the name of spiritual enlightenment and freedom, have also become: a powerful way of perpetuating that order. – Riane Eisler (1931- ), Austrian/Cuban/American author, social historian; founder, Center for Partnership Studies, International Partnership Network; from "The Other Half of History: Pt. II," The Chalice and the Blade, 1987

…that both Muslim fundamentalists and the Christian right are today focusing their attempts to regain control in a rapidly changing world on frantic efforts to maintain control over women, particularly over women's sexuality. Moreover, given their mythologies about "holy wars," it is also understandable that they should use "divinely approved" violence to do so… – Riane Eisler, from "The New Eves and the New Adams: The Courage to Question, the Will to Choose, and the Power to Love," Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body, 1995

The difference between a saint and a hypocrite is that one lies for his religion, the other by it. – Minna Antrim (1861-?), American writer; from Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions, 1902

Nobody can deny but religion is a comfort to the distressed, a cordial to the sick, and sometimes a restraint on the wicked; therefore, whoever* would laugh or argue it out of the world, without giving some equivalent for it, ought to be treated as a common enemy. – Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), English poet, essayist, letter writer; daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont (marquess of Dorchester and 1st duke of Kingston); wife of Edward W- M- I; mother of Edward W- M- II (writer, traveler); from Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley, 1767

All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final. – Hypatia (370?-415), Roman educator, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher; Quoted in 4000 Years of Women in Science (http://www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS), 1 August 1997

THE MAN. Can't they realize that mankind was founded on two basic principles? Religion and Death? The one motivates the other. Both motivate the man! – Candice Bergen (1946- ), American screen actor, photographer, writer, playwright; daughter of Edgar B- (fl. 1930s-1950s; ventriloquist), wife of Louis Malle (1932- ; Fr. Film director); from The Freezer, 1968

One current of continuity runs underneath all the abortive phases of my life. From childhood on I have been obliged to drop anything I was doing to run after any man who seemed to know a little more than I did about God . . . I most want to write about: how a modern woman has sought the face of God--not the name nor the fame but the face [ital] of God--and what adventures came to meet her on this ancient human path. – Mary Antin (1881-1949), Russian/American writer, patriot; wife of Amadeus William Grabau, geologist (a Lutheran); Quoted in Twentieth Century Authors by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, 1942

There would be no value in worship services and symbols did they not, preserved in their Purity and Beauty, serve as aids to right living. – Lily Montagu (1873-1963), English religious figure; founder of the Jewish Religious Union (1902); Int. JRU (1926); proponent of Liberal Jewish movement; from Sermon to the Reform Synagogue, Berlin (August 1928), quoted in Lily Montagu: Sermons, Addresses, Letters and Prayers, Ellen M. Umansky, ed., 1985

Religion urges us to fight evil as contrary to the Divine Law. It urges us to combat abject misery, sin and disease because God is. In His name we can work, as we believe in co-operation with Him, since through Him goodness must ultimately prevail. – Lily Montagu, Ibid.

My heart went out, seeking the God of my people. In thousands of homes those white candles burned tonight. I joined an invisible congregation. – Jessie Ethel Sampter (1883/93-1938), American poet, Zionist, political activist; from The Speaking Heart (unpub. Autobio.), n.d.

[Keeping kosher was] the symbol of an initiation, like the insignia of a secret brotherhood, that set her apart and gave her freedom and dignity. Every law whose yoke she accepted willingly seemed to add to her freedom: she herself had chosen . . . To enter that brotherhood. Her Judaism was no longer a stigma, a meaningless accident of birth from which she could escape . . . It had become a distinction, the essence of her self-hood, what she was, what she wanted to be, not merely what she happened to be. – Jessie Ethel Sampter, Ibid.

My misfortune is my ability to see both sides even of the fundamental religious question. – Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), American religious activist; founder of Hadassah, the National Women’s Zionist Organization of America,1912; director of Youth Alliyah; from Speech to Hadassah (Hotel Astor, New York City), quoted in Summoned to Jerusalem : the life of Henrietta Szold by Joan Dash,1979

In our days of prosperity it is more difficult to sustain a religious spirit than in times of adversity, because we are apt to forget that God who has bountifully given may also take away. – Rachel Simon (182401900?), British diarist, community activist; w. Oswald S-, founder of "Sunday movement" (to establish a universalistic "Church of Israel" as a religious fellowship of Christian theists and liberal Jews.; from Records and Reflections, 1894

Take your children to the Religious School at a very early age. Select for them a teacher who loves little ones and who loves God. What do these babies care about Adam and Eve, or the order of creation? Introduce them to the wonders of plant and animal life. [ital] Show them God ital] in the bursting seed, in the budding flower, in the bird-producing egg, the glorious sunshine. Let them see God and learn to love Him for His blessings in which they share. Let them be made to feel that God means protection, that to Him they owe love and respect and gratitude and loyalty. Make God the starting point and the goal. Love of God, confidence in God, fear, not of God, but of His disapproval, these are the steps by which to develop the feeling of moral obligation, first to the world, then to Judaism. – Julia Richman (1855-1912), American writer, educator, lecturer, administrator; first female school superintendent in New York City; fndr, Young Women's Hebrew Assoc.; dir., Educational Allience, Hebrew Free School, NYC; from Report of National Committee on Religious School Work, quoted in Proceedings of First Convention of the National Council of Jewish Women, 1896

The disappearance of the physical walls of the Ghetto has, however, not meant for all Jewish communities religious tolerance and freedom of conscience, nor the recognition of equality for other religious communities. – Bertha Pappenheim (1859-1936), Austrian/German dramatist, feminist, reformer, essayist, poet; famous patient of Sigmund Freud's, known as "Anna O."; director of orphanage; founder of Jewish feminist organization; reformer against sexual exploitation of women and children; fndr, Care for women; from Address, "The Jewish Woman in Religious Life" (Woman's Congress, Munich: 1912), quoted in Jewish Review, January 1913

. . . for her religion had nothing to do with it. This was hard for the family to accept. Religion, they think, has everything to do with everything. If it was not for their religion, they ask, why else were six million Jews killed? – Marcia Tager (contemp.), American writer; from "Cousins" (1982), found in Shaking Eve's Tree, Short Stories of Jewish Women, Sharon Niederman, ed.,1990

Most of my religious activity today is almost exclusively with women. I think I resent not having been permitted to participate in male ritual and now balk at being "allowed" to participate. It just doesn't feel authentic. This doesn't mean that I still can't, and do, feel very emotional when reciting the "shema" or see the Torah or sing the prayers to our ancient Arabic tunes. But I believe that is more nostalgia than spirituality. – Savina J. Teubal (1926- ), English/Argentine/American writer; from Letter to Ellen M. Umansky (12 June 1989, quoted in Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality, Ellen M. Umansky & Dianne Ashton, eds., 1992

It is hard to think of conversion as a blinding light on the road to Damascus, or as a highly spiritual or intellectual process, when the light comes from a flickering television; the voice of the deity is Bishop Sheen and you have drilled your father on his catechism answers...I was troubled at a young age by the idea that pouring water over someone's head could change both his relationship to God… – Susan Jacoby (1945- ), American writer, columnist; from Half Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past, 2000

Religious education is only valuable intellectually, if the child is educated in a religion versus [just] about a religion. I don't believe you can have both. – Susan Jacoby, Ibid.

I always found myself more drawn to each religious milieu than I would have anticipated, but in time, a ghoulish threat of being absorbed in alien territory always sent me retreating to the blander and safer ground of home. – Vanessa L. Ochs (contemp.), American writer; from Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred, 1999

To make your spiritual yearning public, I thought, was to announce that you were wounded. To turn deeply into religion was to admit that your own resources were so weak you had to resort to magic and miracle cures for healing. To acquire faith was to mobilize the powers of an overly active imagination. – Vanessa L. Ochs, Ibid.

There hadn't been a god for many years. Not the nightgown-clad patriarch of Sunday school coloring books; not the sensitive young man with the inevitable auburn ringlets Anna had stared through in the stained-glass windows at Mass; not the many-armed and many-faceted deities of the Bhagavad Gita that she'd worshipped alongside hashish and Dustin Hoffman in her college days. Even the short but gratifying parade of earth goddesses that had taken her to their ample bosoms in her early thirties had gone, although she remembered them with more kindness than the rest.

God was dead. Let Him rest in peace. Now, finally, the earth was hers with no taint of Heaven. – Nevada Barr (1952- ), American writer, park ranger, novelist, performer; from Track of the Cat, 1993

I didn't want to believe. Faith is so unhip. Atheism is much more glamorous. – Hwee Hwee Tan (1974- ), Singaporean novelist; from Foreign Bodies, 1998

God said the only people I like are the atheists 'cause they play hard-to-get. – Lotus Weinstock (1943-1997), American comedian, performance artist; mother of Lili Haydn, violinist; from The Lotus Position, 1982

The energy that holds up mountains is the one Mirabai bows down to,

He lives century after century, and the test I set for him he has passed. – Mirabai (1498-1547), Indian Hindu saint, poet, princess; "The Clouds," quoted in News of the Universe, Robert Bly, ed. and adapter, 1980

Yeah, It. God ain't a he or a she, but a It.

But what do it look like? I ast.

Don't look like nothing, she say. It ain't a picture show. It ain't something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you've found it. – Alice Walker (1944- ), American activist, civil rights, teacher, poet, novelist, essayist; mother of Rebecca Walker; founder of Wild Trees Press, 1984; Pulitzer, 1983; NBA, 1983; from The Color Purple, 1982

She taught me to see beauty in all things around me; that inside each thing a spirit lived, that it was vital too, regardless of whether it was only a leaf or a blade of grass, and by recognizing its life and beauty I was accepting God. . . . that when my body became old my spirit would leave and I'd come back and live again. She said God lives in you and looks like you, and not to worry about him floating around in a beard and a white cloak; that the Devil lives in you and in all things, and that he looks like you and not like a cow. . . . Her explanation made much more sense than anything Christianity had ever taught me. – Maria Campbell (1940- ), Canadian writer, social reformer; from Halfbreed, 1973

He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand..I looked thereupon and thought: "What may this be?" And I was answered.thus: "It is all that is made..It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it, and hath all-things its being through the love of God." – Juliana of Norwich (1342?-1417/23), English author, mystic; first Englishwoman of letters; retired in seclusion to Church of St. Julian; from Revelations of Divine Love, 1373

My father had repeatedly proven, when I was a child, that all things have their own spirits and lessons to share. I am just as the sticks and rocks. I may not always know my purpose, but it will be clear to me when I need to know. I will behave just as I am supposed to at that moment. – Vicki Sears (1941- ), American therapist, feminist, teacher, writer

Return to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page

Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years, Elaine started working on the first edition, way back in 1974, she was making the transition from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition. The Quotable Woman has become the standard book of quotations for women's studies programs and organizations all over the English-speaking world. She also wrote The Female Dramatist a few years back, and has just came out with a new collection, The Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine has marveled at how her work in women's history has changed who she is and how she is. Ever eager to share that experience with others, she merged her two passions - acting and women's studies - and began, in 1984, to present living history portraits of notable women to civic and educational institutions. To date she has given more than 400 such presentations to upwards of 50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A., but in Mexico and even China! You can find out more about Elaine by visiting her web site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.

home | what's new | resources | ask amy | news | activism | anti-violence
events | marketplace | about us | e-mail us | join our mailing list

©1995-2004 Feminist.com All rights reserved.