On Second Thought: Learned Women Reflect on Profession, Community, and Purpose
(University of Utah Press
, 2017) is a collection of thirteen essays by women, all in the second half of their lives, in which they contemplate the ways in which the different facets of their identities---personal, professional and spiritual---have hitherto unfolded and intertwined. Among their number is the folklorist, ethnographer, oral historian, and prolific independent scholar Luisa Del Giudice,
who is also the editor of the volume and the driving force behind it.
The seed for the book began some years ago, when a career crisis led Del Giudice to question many aspects of her life. In the process, she developed an acute awareness of its often fragmented nature, a fragmentation exacerbated, if not caused, by an academic establishment that tends to looks askance on its members bringing any aspect of their personal lives, still less their spiritual beliefs, into their work. Del Giudice decided to push back against the resulting dichotomous state, which effectively pits the pursuit of knowledge (academia) against the pursuit of wisdom (spirituality). She contacted a number of women, most of whom she knew personally, and asked if they would be willing to provide written reflections on their lives to date often complex and multifaceted lives that encompassed a range of personal and professional identities. She encouraged each to describe how their existence has accrued meaning and purpose, as well as any spiritual leanings underpinning that process.
The result is a kind of textual "Wise Women's Circle." It includes four folklorists (aside from Del Giudice herself, there is Mary Ellen Brown, Sabina Magliocco, and Christine Zinni) along with contributors whose professional backgrounds embrace a range of other scholarly disciplines, as well as practitioners of law, medicine, public health, and art. The spiritual and cultural leanings expressed are similarly diverse and include Catholicism, Paganism, Episcopalianism, Jungian Psychology, Judaism and Zen Buddhism.
The paths of the women have often been shaped by societal and cultural expectations and institutional constraints. Despite the singular nature of each essay, a number of recurring themes emerge, not least the importance of cultural heritage, the challenges of combining a professional role with that of a domestic caregiver, workplace side-lining, the power of story-telling, and, perhaps most notably, an ongoing experience of existing within a creative, albeit uncomfortable, state of betwixt and betweeness. Del Giudice describes the contributors as "masters of bricolage and diverse resources who find meaning in lonely marginalized places, who struggle to weave together disparate aspects of life to make them meaningful" (23). All can speak to lessons learned, rewards gained, and the critical need for women's voices to be heard.
Overall, this collection is designed to inspire its readers to examine their own lives, to help them clarify their own sense of purpose, and then commit to fulfilling it, despite the obstacles which will surely arise.
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.