Faculty Spotlight: Rachel Kranson

          Rachel Kranson got interested in reproduction while encountering some feminists of the 1960s and 1970s who didn’t fit the familiar story pitting pro-choice secular feminists against pro-life conservative Christians.  These were Jewish feminists, mainly part of a generation whose parents came of age just after the Holocaust—the generation that Kranson wrote about in her first book, Ambivalent Embrace:  Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America (2017).  In particular, these were Jewish feminists who used Jewish theology and law to ground their arguments for abortion access. 

Profile photo Rachel Kranson          “Religious Americans from a variety of traditions made lasting contributions to the reproductive rights movement,” she explained.  And the standard script of pro-choice vs. pro-life “erases the views of all religious people, and particularly non-Christians, who understand the origin of life and the nature of life in very different ways than conservative Christians.
Prof. Rachel Kranson
        As a scholar of Religious Studies, Kranson is broadly interested in the intersections of religion, policy, law, and the state, especially in relation to gender and sexuality.  Her current book project, “Religious Misconceptions,” tracks the suppression of religious views on reproductive rights and reproductive justice that don’t conform to conservative Christian views.  She’s interested in activists, organizations, and legal professionals in the US —including ones based in Jewish, Muslim, and a range of Christian spiritual traditions—whose religious-based thinking about reproductive justice has been marginalized in US public life.

          Crucial to that project and to the graduate seminar on Reproduction that Kranson will teach this fall is the paradigm shift from reproductive rights to reproductive justice.  In the US, the shift emerged from activist communities of the 1990s critical of the Clinton health plan’s single-minded emphasis on abortion as an individual right.  Kranson noted that the emphasis on reproductive justice instead highlighted “ways in which structural racism, poverty, immigration status and so many factors restricted people’s reproductive autonomy.”

            Activist-scholars of color such as Loretta Ross (in Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena Gutiérrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice [2004]) played a key role in developing the framework of reproductive justice as an alternative to reproductive rights.

            “The whole framework of choice doesn’t exist when you’re curtailed by poverty and lack of access to healthcare.  It really is a larger question of justice,” Kranson argued. 

            The graduate seminar Kranson will teach this fall will take an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach to the politics and cultural history of reproduction, drawing on critical medical studies (especially studies informed by the history of white hegemony and anti-Black racism), childhood studies, and queer and trans studies. 

           “I’m also really interested in the conceptualization of the fetus, which has had a crucial impact on policy,” Kranson added, citing Sara Dubow’s research on the legal history of the fetus and Jennifer Holland’s work on the circulation of fetus dolls, fetus pins, and other objects promoting emotional attachment to fetuses in the anti-abortion movement. 

Kranson will not select course readings until this summer, but here are some studies she has in view while she’s planning the course:

  • Dorothy E. Roberts, Killing the Black Body:  Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (1988) 
  • Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena Gutiérrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (2004)
  • Laura Mamo, Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Techno-Science (2007)
  • Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (2009)
  • Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (2010)
  • Carla A. Pfeffer, Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men (2016)
  • Deirdre Cooper Owens, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology (2017)
  • Tey Meadow, Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the Twenty-First Century (2018)
  • Jennifer Holland, Tiny You:  A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement (2020)
  • Lucy B. Hall, Anna L. Weissman, and Laura J. Shepherd, Troubling Motherhood:  Maternality in Global Politics (2020)