Consciousness-Raising for the Nonreligious

Tom Flynn

Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States, edited by Warren J. Blumenfeld, Khyati Y. Joshi, and Ellen E. Fairchild (Rotterdam/Taipei: Sense Publishers, 2009, I SBN 978-90-8790-677-1 [cloth], 978-90-8790-676-4 [paper]). 184 pp. Cloth $99; paper $39.

Remember consciousness-raising? Dismissing it as a trapping of the 1960s is too glib. It is the tool by which successive waves of activists sought (often successfully) to aid members of disadvantaged groups in recognizing that they were disadvantaged, in spotting practices used by privileged groups to perpetuate their unjust advantages, and in resolving to resist the status quo. Name an American minority that’s improved its social position in the past few decades—African Americans, Latinos, women, Native Americans, LGBTs, and so on—each has spawned its own consciousness-raising literature. Early entrants in the genre had to devote themselves to persuading members of their particular target group that the social forms they’d grown up with were neither benign nor neutral but rather encoded social structures that served the majority by duping or cajoling majority members to “love their chains.” Members of a genuinely oppressed minority could scarcely be expected to resist social practices that they still embraced as cultural norms! The best-remembered book of this sort may be Betty Friedan’s 1963 The Feminine Mystique, which sought to convince women that the “see Jane cook” housewifely stereotype was worth rebelling against.

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