Sr. Joan Chittister to promote feminism alongside religion

Feminist values have become more prominent within the social discourse of the last century; it has been an even longer road for those values to emerge in the dialogue of religious communities. The need for advocates of justice, peace and equality within religious communities is immense. Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, a Benedictian Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, is one of those advocates, using her work to promote feminist values alongside religious ones. 

She will give her lecture, titled “The Time is Now,” at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19 in the Hall of Philosophy to close Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “New Profiles in Courage.” 

She is a theologian, author and has served as the Benedictine prioress and federation president, and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Chittister said she wants to question and observe the roles of every institution, group and citizen involved in developing a culture. 

“(America) is moving more and more into a position of observership, we observe everybody else (and) we observe what’s going on,” Chittister said. 

In the current state of the U.S. government, people often observe without taking action. There’s no participation other than sharing a social media post, she said; the questions that need to be asked are being ignored.

“When I was a young woman, there was no feminist talk at the time,” Chittister said. “The strongest women I saw anywhere in my life were the sisters who taught me, and I saw them as strong, independent, committed and loving women — they were so good to me.”

From a young age Chittister knew she wanted to be a sister. She said there was almost no activism for women when she began work with the sisters. 

“These sisters became a model to me of womanhood,” Chittister said. “I admit that there was no language in my world to talk about groups of women and the impact of them.”

Reflecting on the attack on Salman Rushdie Friday morning at Chautauqua, Chittister said the assault does not necessarily change her speech, but rather emphasizes the importance of such conversations.

“I want to talk about the whole notion that we are living in a culture that enables last Friday,” Chittister said. “We’re a country of violence, the most violent country on the globe, and we don’t even seem to care.”

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The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.