Creative Conformity

The Feminist Politics of U.S. Catholic and Iranian Shi'i Women

Elizabeth M. Bucar

"This comparative study makes a valuable contribution to feminist efforts to shake up binary assumptions about what it means to be empowered or oppressed."
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Much feminist scholarship has viewed Catholicism and Shi'i Islam as two religious traditions that, historically, have greeted feminist claims with skepticism or outright hostility. Creative Conformity demonstrates how certain liberal secular assumptions about these religious traditions are only partly correct and, more importantly, misleading. In this highly original study, Elizabeth Bucar compares the feminist politics of eleven US Catholic and Iranian Shi'i women and explores how these women contest and affirm clerical mandates in order to expand their roles within their religious communities and national politics.

Using scriptural analysis and personal interviews, Creative Conformity demonstrates how women contribute to the production of ethical knowledge within both religious communities in order to expand what counts as feminist action, and to explain how religious authority creates an unintended diversity of moral belief and action. Bucar finds that the practices of Catholic and Shi‘a women are not only determined by but also contribute to the ethical and political landscape in their respective religious communities. She challenges the orthodoxies of liberal feminist politics and, ultimately, strengthens feminism as a scholarly endeavor.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Creative Conformity, Clerical Guidance, and a Rhetorical Turn

1. What's a Good Woman to Do? Recasting the Symbolics of Moral Exemplars

2. Surprises From the Laps of Mothers: Leveraging the Gaps in Procreative Virtues

3. Scripture, Sacred Law, and Hermeneutics: Exploring Gendered Meanings in Textual Records

4. Performance beyond the Pulpit: Presenting Disorderly Bodies in Public Spaces

5. Republication of Moral Discourse: Compromise and Censorship as Political Freedom


Epilogue: Revisiting Shahla Habibi


"This comparative study makes a valuable contribution to feminist efforts to shake up binary assumptions about what it means to be empowered or oppressed."—Kate McCarthy, Religious Studies Review

"In Creative Conformity, Elizabeth Bucar makes good use of rhetorical analysis to illumine the ways Roman Catholic and Shi'i women carve out space for themselves while sustaining connections with their respective communities. Readers will learn much from this interesting and unique study."—John Kelsay, associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences, and Distinguished Research Professor of Religion, Florida State University

"Elizabeth Bucar generates tremendous insights through interviewing and studying writings by leaders of women’s movements in both Iran and the United States. Bucar locates herself in the prose through engaging examples, and she frames the comparative inquiry with reflections on the research and practice of feminism in a global setting. Creative Conformity demonstrates the careful work needed to develop a cross-cultural feminist politics, to understand and appreciate the diverse ways that women empower themselves within the traditions they inhabit. The book also provides new ways of thinking and acting for secular academic readers."—Jonathan Schofer, associate professor of comparative ethics, Harvard Divinity School

"Creative Conformity is a welcome addition to the literature on women's religious thought. Bucar rejects easy binaries between conservative and feminist, and contributes to the current rethinking of agency, ethics, and the female subject. Alert to the perils of comparative work, she draws out important parallels as well as salient differences between Catholic and Shi'i women's varied responses to the authoritative pronouncements of their respective male leaders. This book is vital reading for those concerned with gendered scholarship and activism in Christian and Muslim contexts."—Kecia Ali, assistant professor of religion, Boston University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Elizabeth M. Bucar is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is the coeditor of Does Human Rights Need God?

228 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Feb 2011

228 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-739-9
Feb 2011

228 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-752-8
Feb 2011

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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