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Book Club: The Handmaid's Tale

Handmaids Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood


From the preface by the author:

"Back in 1984, the main premise seemed—even to me—fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States of America had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship? In the book, the Constitution and Congress are no longer: the Republic of Gilead is built on a foundation of the seventeenth-century Puritan roots that have always lain beneath the modern-day America we thought we knew.

The immediate location of the book is Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University, now a leading liberal educational institution but once a Puritan theological seminary. The Secret Service of Gilead is located in the Widener Library, where I had spent many hours in the stacks, researching my New England ancestors as well as the Salem witchcraft trials. Would some people be affronted by the use of the Harvard wall as a display area for the bodies of the executed? (They were.)

In the novel, the population is shrinking due to a toxic environment, and the ability to have viable babies is at a premium... Under totalitarianisms—or indeed in any sharply hierarchical society—the ruling class monopolizes valuable things, so the elite of the regime arrange to have fertile females assigned to them as Handmaids. The biblical precedent is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and their two handmaids. One man, four women, twelve sons—but the handmaids could not claim the sons. They belonged to the respective wives.

And so the tale unfolds."

Listen to a Recording of the Book Discussion (recorded 9/25/17)


  • Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and speaker who works with nonprofits and faith communities on organizing for gender justice. A highly sought thought leader and speaker Katey has presented on faith and activism at conferences and universities across the United States. She was named one of “14 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2014” by the Center for American Progress. She has written for many outlets including the Huffington Post, Sojourners, and Religion Dispatches, and her work has been featured in the Washington Post, The Nation, Colorlines, and Feministing. Currently she serves as Chair of the Board for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Katey is the author of the forthcoming book Women Rise Up which will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018. She is also the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. You can connect with Katey at her website: or email:
  • Elena Giacci (Diné) is a Diné woman and an antisexual and domestic violence training specialist and advocate for American Indian and Alaska Native people. She has more than twenty-eight years of experience in the violence against women field and has a BA in criminal justice. Elena trains throughout North America on sexual and domestic violence. Elena is Chair of the Albuquerque Mayors Anti Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force and was Faculty Leader on the completed Native Project 2.0 in cooperation with the national organization, Futures Without Violence. She was a Team Leader for the National Indian Health Services Domestic Violence Clinic Demonstration Project, which worked with more than 100 Indian, tribal, and urban health care facilities as well as domestic violence advocacy programs across the United States to improve the health system response to domestic violence. Ms. Giacci was co-investigator with Dr. Elizabeth Miller in a research study funded by the National Institutes of Health, a qualitative study to examine partner violence, sexual violence, and reproductive coercion on reproductive decision making. Elena has served as the Executive Director of the State Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, co-chair of the Albuquerque Mayors Sexual Assault Task force, member of the New Mexico Governors Victim Rights Alliance, and chair of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women and Children. She has served as President of the Board of Directors for Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, Chair of American Indian Death Review Team, and member of the New Mexico Attorney General FVPA Task Force.
  • Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune is a pastor, educator, author and theologian, and the founder and senior analyst at FaithTrust Institute. She is author of numerous books, including Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited; Is Nothing Sacred? When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship; and Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse. She received her seminary training at Yale Divinity School and was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ in 1976. She was Editor of The Journal of Religion and Abuse from 2000–2008 and served on the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women for the U.S. Department of Justice (1995–2000) and the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence for the U.S. Department of Defense (2000–2003).


Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump (New York Times, 3/10/17):

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ re-spins Genesis. And that’s scary. by Jeffrey Salkin (Religion News Service, 5/4/17):

Why HULU’S “Handmaid's Tale” May Be the Wrong Adaptation for the Trump Era by Christopher Douglas (Religion Dispatches, 4/25/17):

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