“The Perils of Passivity: Women’s Leadership in Spiritualism and Christian Science” in Women’s Leadership in Marginal Religions: Explorations Outside the Mainstream
Braude, Ann. “The Perils of Passivity: Women’s Leadership in Spiritualism and Christian Science,” Pages 55–67 in Women’s Leadership in Marginal Religions: Explorations Outside the Mainstream. Edited by Catherine Wessinger. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Braude examines whether the leadership and doctrines of 19th-century Spiritualism and Christian Science empowered women or further limited their opportunities. Both Christian Science and Spiritualism rejected the doctrine of the Fall, understood God as Mother-Father, and offered roles for women outside of home. However, although women jumped at these opportunities and became financially independent, as mediums in Spiritualism and as teachers and healers in Christian Science, their roles also required some passivity. A reliance on direct communication in Spiritualism precluded ordained clergy, freeing up women for leadership. But the medium had to silence her own person so the spirit could use her body. Christian Science also empowered women through direct spiritual knowledge and experience by preempting the authority of clerical office. However, Mary Baker Eddy ordained the Bible and her textbook, Science and Health, as Pastor of her Church, guaranteeing doctrinal consistency. Braude sees Christian Science promoting “the exclusive authority of one woman rather than promoting women’s leadership as a principle” (61). Christian Science women were empowered to play an active role in support of their churches and their health, leaving behind the normative Victorian female passivity. But in order to guarantee the perpetuity of Eddy’s vision, women had to live under Eddy’s shadow and accept well-defined limits for leadership.