Knitting in the Corner


MARCH 18, 2014 

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM




Prayer Shawl Ministries in churches across the nation and in every denomination craft comforting wraps for the sick and grieving. Perhaps you have received a shawl from the Prayer Shawl Ministry at your church, hospital, or hospice; likely you know someone who has.  Founded in 1998 in a liberal, ecumenical, and mystical setting, the movement has spread into every corner of American Christianity—with its original third-wave feminist ideas embraced, rejected, or transformed. By listening to participants in this “women’s ministry,” we can uncover dispatches from the battlefield where feminism, domestic traditions, and religious commitments clash—or come to consensus.

Topic(s) or discussion point(s): 

  • History of Christianity, especially the role of women in churches
  • Origin and development of domestic work, especially in its association with women
  • Meaning formation in the material culture and work sites of contemporary Christianity
  • Feminist critique of Christianity
  • Feminist theology
  • Experience of older women in churches, as discerned through qualitative research techniques
  • Role of handwork and fiberwork in women’s religious experience
  • Harmony and tension between official church teaching and concepts held by lay members


Benefit(s) of attending: 

Attendees will better understand the association of cloth with women and with religious meaning. They will gain insight into the ways older women, a frequently marginalized group in American religious life, conceptualize their relationship to their churches, clergy, official doctrines, and assigned roles. More generally, the Prayer Shawl Ministry provides a case study in how lay people, the “audience” of organized religion that is presumed to be shaped by trained clergy and official doctrine, interpret their church’s pronouncements and construct personal theological systems that work for them, but may not be orthodox in every respect. Understanding this process can help attendees distinguish between the official doctrines of religious organizations, and the personal meanings and concepts that are formed and used by the organization’s members. Such a distinction has frequently proven crucial in history (e.g., the Catholic Inquisition). Attendees will also gain knowledge on the relationship of feminist thought to Christianity both in theory and in practice, leading to a more general understanding of the way religions have responded to liberation movements in the cultures that surround them.

How can this benefit educators?:

As an interdisciplinary topic, this program will broaden perspectives and provide useful examples  for educators whose courses intersect with women’s studies, history, religious studies, family and consumer sciences, political science, and social science.

Presenter:  Donna Bowman


donnabDr. Donna Bowman is Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the Honors College at the University of Central Arkansas. She received her Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Virginia. Her books include The Divine Decision: A Process Doctrine of Election (WJK, 2002), Handbook of Process Theology (Chalice, 2006), and Cosmology, Theology, And The Energy of God (Fordham UP, 2012). She is the recipient of a project grant for researchers from the Louisville Institute in support of her work on women’s handcrafting groups in American churches. Her latest book for Lexington Press, Handmade Religion: Prayer Shawl Ministries and Women’s Theological Imagination, is scheduled for publication in 2014. In addition to her academic work, Bowman contributes writing on television to The A.V. Club ( and knits for her husband and two children in Conway, Arkansas.