Women’s activism in conservative religious-political movements poses a challenge to liberal feminism. Why do women participate in great numbers in political organizations that seem to limit women’s freedom and equality? My work with women activists in the Islamic Movement and the Jewish ultra-Orthodox Shas Movement in Israel, both explicitly patriarchal religious revivalist groups similar to other movements across the Middle East, finds that these movements offer women powerful liberatory narratives. This paper takes issue with recent arguments that suggest that pious women experience agency in acts of submission rather than in resistance and that the association of agency with emancipatory desire and action is an expression of a patently Western tradition that celebrates the fiction of the autonomous individual. I find that women activists’ interpretations of agency in piety practices are highly invested in the idea of the autonomous individual. The validity of practices, according to activists, rests on the choice and consciousness of the individual and on the rejection of submission to social norms. Furthermore, when we take into account the various class and cultural contexts of Middle Eastern women’s piety practices and activism, we find that for many women religious movements offer real liberation from oppressive socio-economic realities and limiting cultural norms.

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