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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Conference Leads Some to Spiritual Journey

University's 33rd annual Women and Spirituality Conference includes more than 100 workshops.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 10-6-2014

MANKATO —For almost 33 years, men and women alike have converged at Minnesota State University’s annual Women and Spirituality Conference, searching for enlightenment, empowerment or just new perspective.

Sometimes they find it, said Sammie Hedwall, one of the event’s coordinators. At the very least they walk away with a better understanding of their own spiritual journey.

“Many people during their lifetime might feel they want to find a new path or want to start living with new purpose or need a new direction,” Hedwall said. “Some have been to the conference and just want to come again, but a lot of times they’re looking for a way to find themselves.”

Helping women better understand themselves and the world around them is one of the conference’s goals. It is organized in part by the university’s gender and women’s studies department and the MSU Women’s Center, of which Hedwall is the assistant director. The two offices work closely to support women and encourage both their personal and educational pursuits, she said.

The two-day conference is an extension of their work.

Keynote speaker at this year’s conference is Layli Maparyan, author of “The Womanist Reader” and “The Womanist Idea.” A scholar-activist, she is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ‘67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women in Massachusetts.

Her past civic engagements include the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, where she led the Women’s Initiative, the University Consortium for Liberia and Foreverfamily, for whom she served as a national board member and chair of the research committee. She is best known for her scholarship in the area of womanism, defined as a “social change perspective based on the cultural wisdom and practical knowledge of everyday women from around the world, applied more broadly to world-scale problems.”

“She is really groundbreaking in the field of women’s studies and has written a lot of articles about spirituality, being a woman, being a woman of color,” Hedwall said.

The title of Maparyan’s keynote address, as well as the theme of this year’s conference, is “The Luminous Architecture of Change: Spiritual Activism, Personal Spiritual Journeys and Spiritualizing Social Movement.”

Hedwall said it will focus on how faith and spirituality can play into almost all aspects of a woman’s life.

“It will bring in the academic side too, your mind in society,” Hedwall said.

Maparyan’s lecture kicks off the conference, which will be Oct. 11-12. Open to students, faculty, staff and the public, it includes more than 100 workshops, including “Let’s Get Witchy,” taught by a Wiccan priestess and mother of three, and “Songtaneous,” which discusses the merits of spontaneous singing.

Attendees also will get to shop more than 90 vendors, selling anything from jewelry and candles to books. The vendor fair is free and open to the public. Amy Anderson, the event’s co-coordinator, said that between the workshops and vendor fair, there are multiple ways people can participate. Though called the Women and Spirituality Conference, it is open to people of all genders.

The event typically draws between 600-1,000 people from all over the country and region.

Some of the presenters and attendees have been attending it for more than a decade, Anderson said, drawn back by the warm, welcoming environment.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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