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Brown Bag Speaker on Feminism and Catholicism


By Erin Hannon

This semester the History Department brought back its Brown Bag speaker series. Held during the lunch block on Thursdays, the theme for this year’s series is “Gender, Feminism, and History.”  In the fall, the series covered a vast array of topics including homosexuality in South Africa, women’s roles during China’s war with Japan, and abortion in the 1950’s. For this semester the topics are just as interesting.

The first speaker of the semester was RC’s own Dr. Mary Henold. Much of Dr. Henold’s research focuses on the intersection between Feminism and Catholicism. Dr. Henold’s first book, and earlier research, focuses on some of the louder voices that fall under the Catholic and Feminist groups. However, her current research, looks at the less studied “women in the pews,” or the laywomen.


Between 1960 and 1975, there were two events that had a huge impact on both Catholicism and Feminism: the Second Vatican Council, and the Women’s Liberation movement. The Second Vatican Council was a worldwide meeting of bishops where the Catholic Church worked to adjust to the modern era. This event encouraged laypeople to be more active and involved in the everyday community of the Catholic Church. Around this time the Women’s Liberation Movement began gaining more prominence. This Movement encouraged women to take back their agency and strive to be more independent.

These two events collided and led to many contradictory views. Each side had many strong supporters as well as many vehement critics, however, the majority of people fell somewhere in the middle. The Catholic laywomen in particular were the most involved with these new advancements. They faced many difficult decisions and were often forced to choose between the two conflicting views.

Instead of picking a side, these women ended up using elements from both movements and changing their involvement in the Catholic Church. While they did not see themselves as feminists, the laywomen began to view themselves as more important and strived to play a bigger role in the Church.

The speaker series will continue on February 25th with Dr. Nichole Sanders from Lynchburg College. Dr. Sanders will continue discussing the connection between gender and religion in her speech entitled, “Morals at Mid-Century: Sex, the Union Feminina Catolica Mexicana and the 1950’s Mexico City Pro-Moralty Campaigns.” As with all of the speakers, students and faculty from all majors are encouraged to attend.