Accepted Paper:

Female empowerment through spiritual motherhood? Exploring the intersections of contemporary spirituality and alternative mothering movements  


Anna Fedele (CRIA, University Institute of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the intersections between contemporary spirituality and alternative mothering movements. Particular attention will be paid to the way in which spiritual feminist conceptualizations of motherhood as empowering are opposed to those of other feminist authors and groups.

Paper long abstract:

This is an exploratory paper based on ongoing research on the religious dimension of alternative mothering movements. I use the term "alternative mothering movements" (AMM) as an umbrella to describe different social groups and movements that advocate contested practices such as homebirth, full-term breastfeeding (typically a period of several years) and attachment parenting. I will refer to fieldwork in Spain carried out among members of the Goddess movement as well as on ongoing research in Portugal and in the Swiss Leman area. These mothers (and some fathers) insist that birthing and breastfeeding are not only physiological processes but also religious and spiritual occasions. The theories and practices they use to justify their choices, make sense of their rituals and sustain their communities are influential to and at the same time influenced by contemporary spirituality. Scholars focusing on the religious dimension of motherhood in the United States (e.g. Klassen 2001; Ward 2000) have analyzed the way in which scientific concepts and religious metaphors and symbols are woven together to advocate homebirth or long-term breastfeeding as a choice that is natural, healthier and empowering for both mother and child. What interests me is the way in which these mothers often describe themselves as feminist activists or as part of a spiritual feminist movement and oppose other feminist authors (e.g. Badinter 2010) or groups that consider intensive mothering as primitive and disempowering for mothers.

Panel P030
Innovation and continuity in the anthropology of gender and sexuality (Network for the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality)