Unconventional Sisterhood is an ethnographic exploration
of the ways in which Filipina Missionary Benedictine Sisters are renegotiating
traditional understandings of gender, religious responsibility, and national
identity in the context of a rapidly globalizing nation. And, unlike the
popular stereotypes of staid sisters cloaked in rigid religious dogmatism,
they are doing so by telling jokes, engaging in eclectic religious rituals,
maintaining connections with a local nationalist cult, and committing themselves
to a radical--and feminist--politics.
For many of the sisters, the vocation itself represents a
radical choice given strong cultural (and often specifically paternal) pressures
to instead embrace wifehood, motherhood, and domestic/familial responsibility.
The congregation not only affords an alternative vocational option for activist
Filipinas, but also evidences a strong (and constitutionally mandated) concern
with national women's issues. While--significantly--the sisters do not all
identify themselves as "feminists," all are committed to the revision of
mainstream Philippine gender norms.
Claussen's work not only represent an important addition
to scholarship on Philippine feminism, it also speaks to a lack of specifically
ethnographic work focused on consciously 'feminist' collectives. Unconventional
Sisterhood is one of only a few ethnographies focused on female monasticism--of
particular cultural importance in the Christian Philippines, wherein nuns
enjoy both relatively high social status and freedom from many of the traditional
constraints delineating Filipina lives. It is noteworthy as well for its
focus on Metropolitan Manila--a socially complex, dynamic, diverse, and under-studied