Liz Hodgkinson .In Conversation with .BK Javanti
Circle Books, .Oct 2012, £11.99
Reviewd by Catherine von Ruhland
That’s a weight of a title if ever there was one! To be seen reading it is surely to invite some sort of a response.That I’m sitting on a train, reading a book about belief when there’s a higher chance of encountering someone reading a strident Hitchens makes the cover all the more eye-catching. Then add that word ‘women’ in the title! Trust those flibbertygibbets with their head full of stuff, eh, to get all excited about a man in the clouds!
Except that the very fact this is a book about women and their faith written by a woman in conversation with a nun is very much the point. Liz Hodgkinson admits to being very much of her age. She is a secular British journalist who has lived through and enjoyeed one of the most radical growth spurts in women’s rights the modern world has known. There she is on the cover, attired in black with her dyed hair and striking red lipstick and matching nails. Yes her broad grin is matched by that of the contrasting figure of her long-term Indian friend, who is wrapped in a white, pale-blue-edged sari, her long grey hair plaited down to her waist. Sister Jayanti is UK director of the Brahma Kamaris, a woman-led spiritual organisation based in Rajasthan.
The conversation - the sharing, considered core of the book is in question and answer format - begins from a position of agreement despite the women’s strong differences in perspective. ‘Religions have always repressed women and stamped down on any notion of equality, so one of the first dilemmas we ponder is why should intelligent, educated women of today give spirituality any credence?’They recognise too that not until secularisation began to take hold, in the last century did women’s equality emerge especially in relation to education, and once-rigid class structures began to be dismanted. Yet they assert, ‘the secular age has been characterised by by many things but the spread of love, compassion, truth, justice, respect for others and altruism has not been amongst them. Indeed the virtues traditionally expounded by all religions, at least at their core, have been remarkably absent from the secular society’. They note that the current science v religion debate is very much a male forum: this book is a thoughtful challenge to that hegemony.
The book effectivey divides into three sections that respectively consider: women and religion and how they must lead the way; science and religion and achieving a better world; and knowing God and identifying who or what God might be. Why Women Believe in God is a relatively short book of just over 150 pages and written in a clear, unfussy style. It is packed with insight and althoguh I would question a women-led spirituality as much as a male-led one (I saw the teen film Mean Girls halfway through reading the book), clearly women’s insight and contribution is too often neglected. Women after all, they point out, tend to be the ones who keep the flame of belief alight, especially in the home. Neither am I totally convinced by Jayanti’s emphasis on what is effectively Eastern spirituality. Nevertheless her words are wise and her advice to seek God thorough quiet meditation is inclusive
Catherine von Ruhland is a writer and film critic based in LondonLast modified on