Mary Daly: Radical Elemental Feminist and Sinner By Gina Messina-Dysert

While some argue that Mary Daly was too radical, I have been greatly influenced by her contributions to the field of feminism and religion.  I can still remember the first time I read a piece of her work.  It was during my undergraduate career at Cleveland State University in a course entitled “Women and Religion.”  I was immediately impacted and wanted to know more about this bold, strong and courageous woman, and although I had already considered myself a feminist, it was in that moment I recognized the existence of patriarchy in religion.  Shortly thereafter I applied to a graduate program in religious studies and became better acquainted with Daly’s work and the intersection of feminism and religion.

While I must admit that I am troubled by some of Daly’s claims and disagree with some of her contentions, I have also been significantly influenced by her foundational work in feminist theology, her demand for women’s liberation and Spinning of new tales and new ideas.  Daly called for women to have the courage to be, to experience a new fall out of patriarchal systems and into a new being that allows women to discover their capabilities, the dynamic power women possess within themselves.

According to Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), “Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy, and theory were many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. She created intellectual space; she set the bar high. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered…She always advised women to throw our lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”[1]

While I never had the opportunity to meet Mary Daly, I have no doubt been inspired by her brilliance, courage, wit, and spirit.  My feminist and theological views have been shaped through her influence. I have been able to spiral into freedom and rename and reclaim my own experiences; I have found my own creative power.  Thank you for having the courage to sin big Mary Daly.

“There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imagination, and that I will continue to do so.” – Mary Daly

Categories: Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Theology, General, Mary Daly, Resistance

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3 replies

  1. After I received tenure at Harvard Divinity School (in 1985, the first tenured woman) I thought I’d have some fun. So I nominated Mary Daly for a Harvard honorary degree. My letter of nomination argued that she was a “founder of a discursivity” (Michel Foucault) the originator of a discussion that could not have happened until she wrote. I said that because of her, every responsible academic in the Study of Religion had to specify a position in relation to her proposals (along a continuum from total disagreement to total agreement). I managed to get six supporting letters, four of them from tenured faculty members who should be given credit: Gordon Kaufman, Richard Niebuhr, Harvey Cox – alas, I cannot remember the 4th. I submitted these materials to the Governing Board of the University – and never heard a word in response. I doubt that many nominations for honorary doctorates were so well supported by senior faculty. In short, the matter died there, but I had my fun!


  2. Good for you, Margaret. I have suggested that Boston College might want to endow a chair in her name! We need to keep these outrageous ideas flowing even if they fall flat just to tweak those who might have missed the signal importance of Mary Daly.


  3. Gina~

    I took Women in Religion at CSU as well :) Although, at the time I was not ready to really explore it, I was only 19 and had barely taken a step on the journey of defining my own theology. Just a few years ago in grad school, while going through some of my late grandmother’s books, I found she owned Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is and other books that surprised me – I think I burst into a giddy laughter, before lamenting the fact that she and I would never have conversations about the content of her books… I think our feminist foremothers’ radicalness resonated deeply with some of our own mothers (and grandmothers) in a way that makes it possible for us to speak openly and plainly about things unheard of in previous years.


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