Bethel professor brings women’s speeches through the years to modern-day ears

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Recently, Bethel students have heard a lot about the work their faculty does in the publishing industry. The recent “Cliff’s Notes” chapel series highlighted Dr. Chad Meister, Dr. Terry Linhart and Marilynn Ham, as well as some of their recently published works. But what about books that aren’t published quite yet?

Dr. Elizabeth McLaughlin, associate professor of communication, has been on sabbatical this fall. But despite appearances, sabbaticals are no vacation. They instead serve to give faculty time to work on other academic pursuits, namely, research, studies and, of course, writing. 

McLaughlin is currently finishing up a draft of a book entitled “Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny: Religious Speeches Transcending Gender.” It’s the first in a series of books published by Peter Lang.

The book is a collection of speech transcripts from various speeches on a variety of themes through the 19th century until today, all delivered by women. McLaughlin’s audience is primarily undergraduate students, and she hopes that the book can be used as a side-text in a classroom setting. “It’s not really a textbook,” said McLaughlin, “but it’s looking at women as speakers, women speaking to their different contexts….there’s a lot of religion and religious teaching limits the role of women in life, and women have spoken out about that.” The book, while entitled “Religious Speeches,” isn’t necessarily comprised of speeches by religious individuals or on religious topics, at least not in the traditional sense. “Each speech does have a thread of religious faith and values,” said McLaughlin. “It’s not just Christian, I had to do kind of an inter-faith perspective.” While a thread of religion can be found in each of the speeches, it doesn’t necessarily take its traditional form. “Every time I get myself involved in one of their lives…I see how religious faith can both be used to limit and keep women in their designated place, but (also) really the transcendent belief in (the Divine,)” said McLaughlin. McLaughlin defines “the Divine” as the idea that there are various expressions of faith, even in ways that aren’t traditionally considered religious. “The push of genuine religion is the push towards dignity,” McLaughlin continued, “whether it’s an abolitionist or a world leader now who’s speaking from her faith.” McLaughlin did mention that one major unifying thread throughout the book is how each of these women through the decades all bear the image of God. The project began at a conference at Spring Arbor College this past June. There, McLaughlin met Dr. Daniel S. Brown, an anthologist for whom McLaughlin had written a few pieces. McLaughlin said that since Brown was already familiar with her style and way of thinking, he mentioned the opportunity to her. “It was something that sort of emerged,” said McLaughlin. “I changed directions in the summer and kind of went with it. Sometimes you’re pushing one way, and the doors open another way, and you walk.” “You struggle with these things, with publishing and such,” McLaughlin continued. “This was just a door that opened. I think the Lord gave me a gift to be able to write about something I care about. It’s been a really fun project.” McLaughlin said that her main goal for the book was to try to bring up some topics that aren’t often brought up in day-to-day classroom discussion. “I’ve tried to find speeches even by the more famous speakers, just trying to bring together a collection of speeches that are not often emphasized in a classroom,” she said. “Their lives are complicated, the issues that they’re speaking to are complicated, the skill with which they chose their words (and) the whole aspect of speechmaking.” Overall, McLaughlin said that she just felt that the entire process had a lot of serendipity to it. “There’s just a lot of things coming together for this, and I feel grateful to be able to do this,” she said. “This has been some unfinished business in my life, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to give it to the world. I’ve wanted to write something for a very long time, but…there’s been a lot going on in my life, and with a sabbatical I’ve finally had the chance to (do it.)” McLaughlin hopes to be able to release the book by November of 2018.        
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