Handmade Religion: Prayer Shawl Ministries and Women's Theological Imagination

Team Members/Contributors

Donna Bowman University of Central Arkansas Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

Prayer Shawl Ministries (PSMs) in American churches involve thousands of lay women in organized handcrafting efforts aimed at healing and support for their congregations and communities. The modern PSM movement began with two women committed to ecumenism, liberal spirituality, and third-wave feminism; its spread and development, however, encompasses the entire denominational and political spectrum of American Christianity. I seek to investigate PSMs as sites of grassroots theologizing in order to uncover the meanings adopted or constructed as lay women craft these shawls, separately and together. Women have long put their domestic skills to work for the church, but in PSM their material products escape the sanctuary—and the church grounds altogether—and embark on adventures in use and interpretation out of the church’s control. Unlike the recognizable religious objects often taken into hospitals and homes (such as a rosaries or Bibles), the prayer shawl is a functional fabric that gains or loses meaning through the intentions of those who craft it, bestow it, and wrap themselves or others in it. What theological meanings do PSM participants attach to their activities of making, blessing, and giving these shawls? How are these concepts related to principles operative in PSM’s origin, and to the doctrinal stances of the churches that host these groups? Handcrafting may prove to give rise to some inherent or common theological categories across diverse settings, or it may function as a blank slate on which any set of meanings can be inscribed. PSM can serve as a case study to delineate how ministry-specific theologies arise in a lay setting, and to detail the role of gender in such theologizing. Throughout the history of the church, women have played critical but largely unofficial roles in supporting and sustaining its ministries. The health of the church today depends on the intentional valuing and fostering of women’s roles in ministry.

Image Title Year Type Contributor(s) Other Info
  Data-Driven Religion: Empirical Thinking in Theological Inquiry 2015 Journal Article Donna Bowman