Women in religion recognized at empowerment panel


Tony Hernandez II

From left to right, Professor of Religious Studies Katy Hanson, CSUB student Nakiai Kiai, Common Grounds Club president Sumaiya Oila, Esther Schlanger, Sudha Bhatt, and Fauzia Shah during the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel discussion hosted by Dr. John Young with Common Ground Club on Thursday November 21 in the Stockdale room at CSUB.

Lauren Hill, Features Editor

  When women come together in their differences to build one another up, that is where positive change occurs. This kind of reality came to light at the Women, Religion, and Empowerment Panel, an interfaith conversation and celebration held by the Common Grounds Club. 

  The Women, Religion, and Empowerment Panel took place in the Stockdale Room on Nov. 18, 2019 from 5 to 7 p.m.  

Tony Hernandez II
Guest speaker Esther Schlanger from the Director of Chabad talks to some CSUB students during the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel on Monday November 18.

  Sumaiya Olia, CSU Bakersfield student and president of the Common Grounds Club, opened the event and acknowledged Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Jonathan Young as the coordinator of the event. 

  Five different religions were highlighted during this panel: Orthodox Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Eclectic Witchcraft, and Baha’i. 

  The five women introduced themselves and shared what their religion means to them, and how it empowers them. 

  Director of Chabad Bakersfield Esther Schlanger explained her identity as an Orthodox Jewish feminist. 

  Schlanger said, “The two terms are not mutually exclusive, but they do not come without tension. […] In Judaism, women are central to the tradition. My religion empowers me and provides both context and affirmation.” 

  According to Schlanger, the only things out of reach for her gender were certain synagogue roles, and for her whole life she’s seen that as more of a relief than missing out. 

CSUB student Sumaiya Oila and guest speaker Sudha Bhatt have a lively discussion directly after the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel on Monday, Nov. 18.

  Member of Chinmaya Mission in Bakersfield Sudha Bhatt spoke about how her religion, Hinduism, empowers her as a woman. 

Bhatt continued on to say that she believes it is just the soul that has come to Earth that matters, and gender is just a construct. 

  “Women are the rulers of the world. Mother is the one who cares and watches. Mother is the one who inspires us,” Bhatt said. 

  Nakisa Kiai, fourth year CSUB medical student, spoke about the Baha’i religion and how being part of a religion that sees men and women as equal in the sight of God has helped her to pursue a career in a predominately male profession. 

  Fauzia Shah of the Islamic faith said, “My faith empowers me by starting with gratitude […] my Creator loves me and everything He has created for us is out of love. That empowers me tremendously.”

CSUB medical student Nakisa Kiai before the start of the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel hosted by Dr. Jonathan Young with Common Grounds Club on Monday, Nov. 18.


  After the introductions, the panelists were given the chance to sit among the attendees to answer more questions. 

  Katie Hanson, CSUB professor of religious studies and philosophy, explained her identity as an Eclectic Witch in the panel, but in further conversation with Hanson, she began to dive into how she got there. 

  Hanson attended CSU Long Beach as a religious studies major while having a secular identity. 

  “I always envied religious people. I loved to

Tony Hernandez II
Guest speaker Fauzia Shah hugs CSUB student Nakiai Kiai after the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel discussion on Monday Nov. 18.

go to mass with friends. It’s not that I didn’t like institutional religion, I just didn’t relate to it.”

  According to Hanson, she began to find spirituality in witchcraft after the birth of her son, a political upheaval, and a feeling of helplessness that left her searching for something four years ago. 

  “I’m a religious pluralist. I believe all paths to the divine are valid. For me, it is just as much a spiritual identity as it is a political identity.” 

  Hanson has since been practicing her spirituality as an Eclectic Witch, and she explains social media as a factor in the growing movement of witchcraft, which she refers to as “The Witch Wave.” 

  “More and more women are identifying with witchcraft […] and even things like (the Netflix series) AHS Coven are destigmatizing it.”  

  According to Hanson, she often uses lunar practices, spell casting, and crystals in her craft. One of her favorite sources of lunar practices is Ezzie Spencer’s book, “Lunar Abundance. 

  This interfaith panel was a night of joy, inspiration, and cohesiveness that allowed for new ideas and conversations to take place. 

Professor of Religious studies Katy Hanson listens to a student voice an opinion during the Women, Religion, and Empowerment panel on Monday, Nov. 18.