Both Sanday (reviewed by me here and here) and Du are anthropologically trained ethnographers researching indigenous societies. As previously noted, their work offers explicit epistemological modifications of great benefit for a more humane, feminized science. This is not the only valid methodology available, however, to a women's spirituality scholar, as is demonstrated by the next selection: the ground-breaking 2006 book Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. This is of particular personal interest due to Ohio Bear Clan Seneca and professor Barbara Alice Mann's successfully interweaving Western scholarly research with a powerful native perspective — the Iroquoian Story Keeper's style of oral record — to produce a book which is at once rigorously researched, deeply approachable, and fascinating reading.

Each chapter opens with a selection of Iroquoian mythic history, related as though the story were being told by an elder, and followed by more standard scholarly writing which explores a relevant aspect of women and the Iroquoian culture — though even this is richly threaded with the author's characteristic bluntness and humor, in specific denial of the Western fallacy of the disinterested, distanced researcher. From the very start Mann strongly challenges the current sources commonly accepted within Western scholarship:

I never trusted the Puritanical sermon format that engendered [the "thesis format" style of research], with its simplistic propositions marching onward, as to war. It is too easily corrupted for polemical purposes masquerading as scholarly inquiry, even as it lapses into empty cleverness. Ethics also intrude. Instead of examining all points, the thesis format outfits carefully selected points — those most useful to the author — thus impersonating a full discussion while, in fact, studiously ignoring inconvenient evidence. I much prefer the wider-ranging nature of Iroquoian discourse, which allows all points a hearing, and in the voices that raised them. (Mann, 7)

[Personal comment: Yes, I loved the irony of having this statement in a comps essay. Alas, it had to be cut later for space issues.]

Through an experiential epistemology of critical and participatory subjective-objectivity, Mann reviews the entirety of the written record regarding the wide-spread Iroquoian culture, with herself clearly positioned as an active, spiritual, searching agent. This powerful application of a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion almost painfully reveals the unwitting and ingrained racial prejudice and misogyny inherent in the patriarchal cultures which crash so dramatically into the Iroquois Nation, both influencing and attempting to destroy it.

Fascinatingly, Mann's thoughtfully critical empirical and qualitative review reveals a wealthy, tolerant, spiritual, stable, and widespread historical culture, powerfully grounded in matriarchal principles as explicated by German feminist philosopher, professor, and researcher of societies Heide Göttner-Abendroth (whose work is reviewed next). Indeed, in her chapter selections Mann appears to include a quiet homage to Göttner-Abendroth's arrangement of the principles of matriarchal cultures: after chapters explaining Iroquoian social conceptions of balance and how modern Western research instead wipes women clean from the record, Mann explains the profound influence and direction of Iroquoian women in the politically consensus-seeking, economically gift-oriented, socially egalitarian, and spiritually feminine divine realms. Strikingly, Mann also traces the slow erosion of women's rights, duties, and honors through the often violent influence of the two Western "religions" of capitalism and Christianity. Despite this horrifying record of Western atrocities, however, the author's interjections of dry humor make this a profoundly hopeful work, offering the unique template of a far more egalitarian and widely distributed matriarchal society than is ordinarily available for modern study and learning.

The final ethnographical study in the subsection titled "Women's Cultural History" is German feminist philosopher, professor, and social researcher Heide Göttner-Abendroth's fascinating Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe. First published in English in 2012, the book reveals Göttner-Abendroth's scrupulously researched conceptualization of the deep structures common to matrifocal societies worldwide, in order to construct a working theoretical paradigm regarding identification of matriarchal societies. The resultant elements within such societies are: economic mutuality based on the circulation of gifts; non-hierarchical, horizontal structures of matrilineal kinship; politically egalitarian and consensus-seeking; and embodying a sacrality originating in the Feminine Divine (Göttner-Abendroth, xxv). The research performed covers both historical and still-extant cultures ranging across the globe: from Asia, Oceania, and Africa through the Americas — though as the author notes, there are many more matriarchies than those named in her book.

Of unfortunate necessity in a patriarchal world, the matriarchies mentioned in Göttner-Abendroth's brief but fascinating studies are indigenous or non-dominant cultures. Ordinarily in such situations there is a real concern of a colonizing Western perspective insinuating itself into the research; Göttner-Abendroth works to avoid this through a constant referring back to the members of the societies themselves, as modern ethnographers examining their own cultures. Thus, despite a stringent adherence to scientific inductive investigation, in her pursuit of truly interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research the author's passion and dedication for the subject shines through, enabling her to neatly avoid the false god of Western scientific method's objective, distanced, dispassionate researcher. Fascinatingly, Göttner-Abendroth also specifically addresses the colonizing mentality, dialectically presenting patriarchy itself as axiologically brutal and dehumanizing for men and women both, though in different fashions for each.

Overall this monumental work is of tremendous promise, offering both liberatory social alternatives and hope to women, indigenous, people of color, and non-human others, as they struggle for their rights and their land across the globe. It is now, while nearly swamped in this culturally aberrant, blindly narcissistic patriarchal/capitalistic ideology — which is also apparently bent on self-destruction — that we most need visions such as these: of true, achievable societies of peace in a better world.

 

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