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"The revolution begins in the heart" : exploring the spiritual lives of women activists for social justice Treadway, Anna J.

Abstract

In recent years, scholars in the field of education have begun to discuss the relevance of spirituality to teaching and learning. Yet the topic of spiritual activism is still largely uncharted in the literature—and the studies that do explore it tend to overlook the lived experiences of everyday activists in the contemporary setting. Similarly, while scholars document the misuse of "spirituality" by the Religious Right, very few specify how progressives actually conceptualize, articulate and integrate spiritual concepts into their work and lives more broadly. As such, this project investigates the motivations and life experiences that inspire the social justice activism of five women from Seattle, Washington. Focusing specifically on the relationship between spirituality and social justice, my primary research questions are: 1. What motivates, inspires and sustains women's activism for social justice? 2. To what extent do participants frame activism as a spiritual calling? What do their spiritual lives add to their activism, and vice versa? 3. Do they experience tensions between their spiritual paths and their political work? If so, what are these challenges and how do they navigate them? I employ a critical feminist framework that recognizes personal experience as the foundation of theory, and honors those parts of us that have been silenced in many academic circles, including spiritual inspirations and traditions. Using narrative inquiry, I completed in-depth interviews with five women from diverse activist and spiritual traditions, and share their stories through my written text. I also use autobiographical techniques such as personal narrative and reflection to write my own memoir as a spiritual activist. In short, this research uncovers stories of spiritual practice as forms of renewal, creativity, knowledge, agency and "sacred interconnectedness" in the lives of its participants. It also finds that despite occasional tensions between spiritual and political paths, these women experience an overall seamlessness between the two. As such, I argue that spirituality is not an escape from politics; rather, it is a kind of activism, as to engage with "spirit" offers the inspiration, hope and power needed to envision and enact liberating alternatives to political and social problems.

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