Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America (2005)

Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America is a documentary film that offers an intimate look at the lives and work of three American women – one Buddhist, one Hindu, and one Muslim – for whom faith, activism, and identity are deeply intertwined.

In Acting on Faith, we see these women at work, with their families, and at play. We hear them reflect on their experiences, and tell us in their own voices what kinds of identities they seek to build – for themselves and for their communities.

Their stories help us to consider the compatibility of feminism and religion, and the tension of being a voice of critique without alienating one’s community or inviting outside prejudice. Their strategies are simple yet surprising:

  • Shamita Das Dasgupta uses strong female figures in Hindu mythMyths are stories human beings tell about the nature of reality: how the order of things we know came to be and by what deep truths the this order operates. Myths may concern the events of creation, the divine dramas of God or the gods, or the discoveries... to provide encouragement to battered women to leave abusive husbands
  • Laila Al-Marayati illustrates how the Muslim principle of ‘zakat’ served as the inspiration for the first free clinic in South Central Los Angeles
  • Mushim Ikeda-Nash integrates the uniquely relational experiences of women into the American Buddhist practice

This film offers insight into, and encourages dialogue on, the powerful streams of thought and action that are being created by women activists of different religious and cultural traditions here in the United States. It is a face-to-face encounter with the women who are pioneering this new religious activism. (Run time: 42 minutes)


Purchasing Information

DVDs of Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America may be purchased for $40 USD each, including shipping and handling. VHS copies are available by special request.

Please use the order form at the bottom of our brochure [.pdf] to place your order. Checks should be made payable to “Harvard University.”

If you have any questions, please contact the Pluralism Project at or at 617-496-2481.

Click here to read more about the filmmaker, Rachel Antell.

Featured Women

Laila Al-Marayati is the spokesperson and past president of the Muslim Women’s League (MWL), a Los Angeles based organization dedicated to strengthening the role of Muslim women in society. Laila has written articles and participated in numerous conferences addressing issues such as basic women’s rights in IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to..., reproductive health and sexuality, stereotypingStereotyping is the ascription of generalized characteristics to a whole group of people, thus describing individuals by the characterization, usually a caricature, of the whole., violence against women, the rights of Palestinians, and international religious freedom. She spearheaded the MWL’s efforts on behalf of rape survivors from the recent war in Bosnia, was a member of the US delegation to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, was a Presidential appointee to the Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001, and was a member of the State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. Laila is a Board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist working as the Director of Women’s Health at the Northeast Valley Health Corporation in Southern California and volunteering at the UMMAUmmah means “community,” refering to the worldwide community of believers bound by their faith in Islam which, ideally, is seen as transcending ethnic, racial, and national differences. Community Clinic, the first Muslim free health clinic in the country. She is currently developing a middle school curriculum that approaches human development and sexuality from within an Islamic framework. She and her husband, Salam Al-Marayati, have three children: Malek, Zayd and Jinan.

Shamita Das Dasgupta is a cofounder of Manavi, Inc., the pioneer organization in the US to focus on violence against South Asian immigrant women. Manavi (meaning “primal woman” in Sanskrit) is a non-profit organization for women who trace their cultural heritage to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Founded in 1985, Manavi’s goal is to increase awareness of women’s rights in society, to encourage social change to end all violence against women, and to empower South Asian women. Manavi provides critical supportive services to women who are especially vulnerable to abuse due to their cultural socialization and recent immigration. Its approach is nonjudgmental, non-religious, and nonsectarian. Currently, Shamita is a Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor of Law at the NYU Law School. She has published over 20 articles in her areas of specialization: ethnicity, gender, and immigration. She is the author of two books, The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (1995, Interlink Books) and A Patchwork Shawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America (1998, Rutgers University Press). Her next book on domestic violence in the South Asian American context is scheduled to be published in 2006 (Rutgers University Press).

Mushim Ikeda-Nash is a community peace activist, writer, diversity facilitator, and mother of a teenage son. She has done both monasticA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... and lay Zen practice over the past twenty years in the US, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. As consulting editor to Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther..., she also contributes a quarterly column on family life and Buddhist practice, and her poetry and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies such as ShambhalaFormed in 1973 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala Vajradhatu is a worldwide organization with its headquarters in Halifax, Nova Scotia, two other main centers in Boulder, Colorado and Marburg, Germany, and more than 100 meditation centers around the w... Sun; Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream; and DharmaDharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings ..., Color, and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism. Mushim was coeditor of Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in Our Buddhist Communities, and she has served as chairperson of the San Francisco Zen Center Board Committee on Diversity and Multiculturalism. She was included in the documentary film, Between the Lines: Asian American Women Poets. Mushim lives in Oakland, California with her family, and volunteers as a literature teacher in the Oakland public high school where her son attends.

Film Screenings

In addition to the Harvard premiere, we have offered screenings of Acting on Faith in various locations including:

  • Screening at World Religions After September 11: A Global Congress in Montreal, Canada, September 12, 2006
  • On September 12, 2006 Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre hosted a screening of Acting on Faith as a workshop session at World Religions After September 11: A Global Congress in Montreal, Canada. Women active in grassroots interfaith work actively participated in the discussion that followed about the relevance of the film to their own work.
  • Screening at the University of California, Berkeley
  • On August 4, 2006, Rachel Antell, the filmmaker, presented Acting on Faith at the University of California, Berkeley. The film was featured in a plenary session of the Asian Pacific Americans and Religion Research Initiative Conference, on “Democracy and Its Discontents: Religion and the Underside of Pacific and Asian North America.” The themes of the film resonated with the goals of the conference, which explored “the condition of democracy today for those Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at the margins of the American body politic and ask[ed] how religion intersects with these lives overlooked or adversely affected by current articulations of ‘democracy.’”
  • Screening at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
  • On April 11, 2006, Acting on Faith was screened at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Kathryn Lohre presented the film; this screening was co-sponsored by the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government.
  • Screening at United Nations ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... Center on International Women’s Day
  • On March 2, 2006, Acting on Faith was presented on March 2, 2006 at the United Nations Church Center in honor of International Women’s Day. A multi-religious panel responded to excerpts from the film, followed by a reception. The event was co-sponsored by the United MethodistThe Methodist church is a Protestant communion of churches which began in England with John Wesley (1703-91) and has become a worldwide movement. In the U.S., the United Methodist Church—one of the largest Protestant denominations—is known for its str... Office for the UN, Religions for Peace-USA., Women In Islam, Inc., the TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... of Understanding, the LutheranLutheranism is a Protestant tradition following the theology of Martin Luther (1483-1546), the reformer who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and launched the German reformation. He emphasized the sole authority of the Bible, the priesthoo... Office for the World Community, the Union for Reform JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol..., the AnglicanThe Church of England is a national church that broke with the Roman Catholic Church in the English Reformation of the 16th century; the Worldwide Anglican communion, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, consists of more than thirty-eight autonomous provi... Consultative Council, and the Office of the ChaplainA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. of the Church Center for the UN.
  • Screening at the University of Louisville’s “Season of Dissent Film Festival”
  • On February 15, 2006, Acting on Faith was featured at the University of Louisville’s “Season of Dissent Film Festival,” which explored the role of dissent in civic and cultural life. As part of “Transforming Tradition: Women, Faith, and Dissent,” the screening of the film was followed by a panel discussion with three women activists from the OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. Jewish, PresbyterianPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut... and Roman Catholic traditions. The event was held at the Kentucky Theatre, and was free and open to the public with sponsorship from a range of community partners.
  • Screening at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington DC, January 24, 2005
  • On January 24, 2005 the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Pluralism Project co-hosted a reception and screening of Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America at the IWPR office in Washington DC. Guests included IWPR members, local interfaith leaders, and members of our women’s networks. Kathryn Lohre introduced the film, provided commentary, and lead discussion on behalf of the Pluralism Project. The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for networking among people interested in IWPR’s research and outreach program: “Politics, Religion and Women’s Public Vision.” This event was critical in forging stronger connections between the Pluralism Project and secular women’s organizations.
  • Screening at Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, Massachusetts, January 19. 2005
  • On January 19, 2005 Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts hosted a screening of Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America as part of its interfaith lecture series, “Listening to Other Voices: Religion and the World We Live In.” The event drew over one hundred local residents and members of the Abbey. Kathryn Lohre was there to introduce the film, offer comments about the Pluralism Project and our women’s networks, and to lead discussion.
  • South Asian International Film Festival, New York City, December 10, 2005
  • Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America was featured in the 2005 South Asian International Film Festival held in New York City, December 7-11. Featured in a showcase of shorts and documentaries, the film was well received by the audience.

We encourage you to consider hosting a screening in your community, organization, school, or congregation, and the online study guide will assist you in your preparations. From time to time we are able to accommodate requests to present at these screenings. To make such a request, please contact Whittney Barth at or at 617-496-2481.

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