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10 Inspiring Women Religious Leaders

First Posted: 08/15/11 02:13 PM ET   Updated: 10/15/11 06:12 AM ET

Editor's Note: For thousands of years, women have participated in religious observance and worked to support religious institutions -- often in greater numbers than men. Unfortunately, women in leadership roles have too often been discouraged, resisted or prohibited in all religious traditions. In recent years, women have risen to the top of major religious denominations as well as becoming household names as religious teachers. These ten women leaders are groundbreaking in different ways; and approach the religious project from very different perspectives. Yet all have much to teach us as they, and thousands of other women religious leaders, lead the way towards greater gender equality in religion and in all areas of the human experience.

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  • Dr. Ingrid Mattson

    Dr. Ingrid Mattson is Professor of Islamic Studies, founder of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program and director of the <a href="http://macdonald.hartsem.edu/" target="_hplink">Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary</a> in Hartford, CT. She earned her Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago in 1999. From 2006-2010 she served as President of the <a href="http://www.isna.net/" target="_hplink">Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)</a>; she previously served two terms as Vice-President. She is the first woman elected to those positions. Dr. Mattson was born in Canada, where she studied Philosophy and Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo, Ontario (B.A. '87). From 1987-1988 she lived in Pakistan where she developed and implemented a midwife-training program for Afghan refugee women.

  • Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

    The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected <a href="http://www.episcopalchurch.org/presiding-bishop.htm" target="_hplink">Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church</a> in June 2006. She serves as Chief Pastor and Primate to the Episcopal Church's members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses. She joins with other principal bishops of the 38 member Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, seeking to make common cause for global good and reconciliation. Over the course of her nine-year term, Bishop Jefferts Schori is responsible for initiating and developing policy for the Episcopal Church and speaks on behalf of this Church regarding the policies, strategies, and programs authorized by General Convention. She has been vocal about the Episcopal Church's mission priorities, including the <a href="http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/" target="_hplink">United Nation Millennium Development Goals</a>, issues of domestic poverty, climate change, and care for the earth, as well as the ongoing need to contextualize the gospel.

  • Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins

    Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins serves as General Minister and President of the <a href="http://www.disciples.org/" target="_hplink">Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada</a>. As General Minister, she is general pastor of the 700,000-member denomination, responsible for representing the wholeness of the church, for reconciling differences, and for helping the church retain its clarity of mission and identity. As General President, she is the chief executive officer for the denomination, responsible for overseeing the work of the church's various structures. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Phillips Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from the Yale Divinity School, and a Bachelor's Degree in French and Economics from Butler University.

  • Sharon Salzberg

    Sharon Salzberg has been a student of Buddhism since 1971, and has led meditation classes and retreats worldwide since 1974. She teaches both intensive awareness practice (insight meditation) and the profound cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion in a non-sectarian, inclusive framework. She is a co-founder of the <a href="http://www.dharma.org/" target="_hplink">Insight Meditation Society</a> in Barre, Massachusetts and <a href="http://www.dharma.org/bcbs/index.html" target="_hplink">The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies</a>. Her newest book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Real-Happiness-Meditation-28-Day-Program/dp/0761159258" target="_hplink"><em>Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program</em></a> was published in January 2011. She is also the author of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Force-Kindness-Change-Your-Compassion/dp/1591793556" target="_hplink">The Force of Kindness</a></em>, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Trusting-Your-Deepest-Experience/dp/1573223409" target="_hplink">Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience</a></em>, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Lovingkindness-Revolutionary-Happiness-Shambhala-Classics/dp/157062903X" target="_hplink">Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness</a></em> and <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Wide-World-Sharon-Salzberg/dp/1570624283" target="_hplink">A Heart as Wide as the World</a></em>, and co-author with Joseph Goldstein of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Wide-World-Sharon-Salzberg/dp/1570624283" target="_hplink">Insight Meditation: a Step-by-Step Course on How to Meditate</a></em>.

  • Ruth Messinger

    Ruth Messinger is the president and executive director of <a href="http://ajws.org/" target="_hplink">American Jewish World Service (AJWS)</a>, an international development organization providing support to more than 200 grassroots social change projects in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Ms. Messinger is also a visiting professor at Hunter College, teaching urban policy and politics. Prior to assuming her position at AJWS in 1998, Ms. Messinger was in public service in New York City for 20 years. She served 12 years in the New York City Council and eight years as Manhattan borough president. She was the first woman to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for major in 1997. Among her numerous accolades, Ms. Messinger has been named one of the 50 most influential Jews of the year by the <em>Forward</em> for the last five years. Ms. Messinger graduated from Radcliffe College and received a Master of Social Work from the University of Oklahoma in 1964.

  • Rev. Joyce Meyer

    Rev. Joyce Meyer is one of the world's leading practical Bible teachers. A <em>New York Times</em> bestselling author, her books have helped millions of people find hope and restoration through Jesus Christ. Through <a href="http://www.joycemeyer.org/" target="_hplink">Joyce Meyer Ministries</a>, she teaches on hundreds of subjects and has authored over 80 books, which have been translated into over 80 different languages. More than 12 million of her books have been distributed around the world, and in 2007 more than 3.2 million copies were sold. Joyce holds a PhD in theology from Life Christian University in Tampa, Florida; an honorary doctorate in divinity from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and an honorary doctorate in sacred theology from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Rev. Dr. Suzan Cook

    The Rev. Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook is a United States Ambassador-at-Large for <a href="http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/" target="_hplink">International Religious Freedom</a>, pastor, author, and presidential advisor. She has had a distinguished career in public service, having served as a White House fellow on the Domestic Policy Council and worked with a Cabinet Secretary. She participated in the historic Obama Presidential inauguration at the National Cathedral. Rev. Suzan Cooks is also the president and CEO of Charisma Speakers Inc. She was a television producer with NBC and ABC and also served with CBS. She is the author of three bestsellers, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Moving-Up-Sujays-Turning-Getting/dp/0385524293" target="_hplink">Moving Up</a></em>, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Live-Like-Youre-Blessed-Encouragement/dp/038551719X" target="_hplink">Live Like You're Blessed</a></em> and <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Live-Like-Youre-Blessed-Encouragement/dp/038551719X" target="_hplink">Sister Strength</a></em>.

  • Sister Carol Keehan

    Sister Carol Keehan is the ninth president and chief executive officer of the <a href="http://www.chausa.org/" target="_hplink">Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA)</a>. She assumed her duties as of October 2005. Sister Carol has worked in administrative and governance positions at hospitals sponsored by the Daughters of Charity for more than 35 years. Sister Carol has held influential roles in the government of a variety of health care, insurance, and educational organizations. She is a representative to the International Federal of Catholic Health Care Associations (AISAC) of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care and serves on the board of <a href="http://crs.org/" target="_hplink">Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore</a>.

  • Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

    Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as the spiritual leader of <a href="http://www.cbst.org/" target="_hplink">Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST)</a> also known as the LGBT synagogue, and is regarded as one of the most important rabbis in America. Under her leadership, CBST has become an important voice in Judaism, in the worldwide discourse on the nature of religious community, and in the movement to secure basic civil rights for gay people everywhere. Prior to joining CBST, Rabbi Kleinbaum was Director of Congregational Relations at the <a href="http://rac.org/index.cfm?" target="_hplink">Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism</a> in Washington, DC, from 1990-92. Rabbi Kleinbaum is a recipient of the Jewish Fund for Justice Woman of Valor Award. She is a graduate of the Frisch Yeshiva High School and Barnard College and was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

  • Anju Bhargava

    Anju Bhargava is the only Hindu American appointed to President Obama's <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ofbnp" target="_hplink">Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships</a> and was the only Indian-American to serve in the Community Builder Fellowship, President Clinton's White House initiative. She is the Found<a href="http://www.hinduamericanseva.org/" target="_hplink">er of Hindu American Seva Charities</a>, which is now becoming a national movement for Hindu faith-based community service programs addressing social issues. A Vedantic teacher, she strives to combine philosophy and practice from a contemporary view and is active in interfaith collaboration. She was a founding member of the New Jersey Corporate Diversity Network, is the President of Asian Indian Women in America (AIWA) and a Trustee of <a href="http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/" target="_hplink">Council for a Parliament of World Religions</a>.

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Filed by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush  |