Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My favorite presentation at the MHA Conference

Let me preface this with the disclaimer that I was not able to attend the whole conference. First I was not able to get off work to attend the Friday sessions. Then most of the presentations I wanted to hear were at 10:00 AM which was the same time I was talking. So I missed a great deal. But I did get to attend the morning plenary session on Saturday where I heard Catherine A. Brekus speak. She spoke on how women have been marginalized in the telling of religious history, and on how that has evolved over time. In that evolution women have been presented, in the case of Mormon women, as either enslaved or empowered (and you had to pick one).

I enjoyed her use of the term agency to describe the role of women in the history of Religion. Agency is the freedom to determine one's own fate. It is contrasted to the word patient, which describes someone who is acted upon. From this we get the idea of a physician treating a patient or the behavior of someone being patient.

Brekus went on to say that women are agents in religious contexts, but only inside a framework over which they have no agency. Historians, however, seldom study women who chose to remain within that framework. And since most LDS women chose to do just that, there has been little study of LDS women. One comment that Brekus hears from time to time is "how can women let themselves be fooled like that" which is the wrong question to ask. Chosing to remain within that framewok is a choice in and of itself.

In fact, the observation that women tend to by more religious than men needs to be studied. Till now, the question has simply been given an assumed answer; because that is how women are. Brekus asks the question why are women like that. In her presentation she did not provide a developed hypothesis, but thought it might have something to do with their proximity to mortality. The act of bringing a child into world used to be full of danger.


Susan W H said...

You anticipated my questions for you--did you get to attend other sessions and was there any one that stood out? First of all, thanks for posting your entire presentation. Almost everything I've read on Cane Creek focuses on the missionaries. Your work provides an important balance. How tragic that the fear shadowed the lives of the Condors for so many decades.

Thank you also for your comments on Brekus. I would have like to have heard her presentation as well.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Susan. The point of view I wrote from was deliberate for the very reasons describe.

Next year's MHA Conference is in St George. Maybe that will be close enough for you to make it.