Recently, I saw the following line in a promotion for a book to which I contributed: “This volume includes voices from Christianity, Judaism, goddess religion, the Black church, and indigenous religions.” The editors of this book are to be strongly commended for expanding the dialogue in feminism and religion beyond the confines of the Christian hegemony in which it is still all too often framed. Nonetheless, I felt hurt and offended. I immediately wrote to the editors asking how they would feel if a book were promoted using the words: “This volume includes voices from Goddess religion and god traditions such as judaism and christianity.”
I am well aware that the conventions of English grammar dictate that the word “God” is to be capitalized when referring to the deity of the Bible and the Koran and in some other cases where a monotheistic deity is intended. I have been fighting this battle with editors of my work for years. Usually they automatically change “Goddess” to “goddess.” When I gained the courage to question this, an exception would usually be made for me, but the grammatical convention remained in force for other works by the publisher.
Feminists are well aware that the conventions of grammar are socially constructed. This is why we said forty some years ago that “man” did not “include woman” and that “he” did not “include she.” This is also the reason that many of us have argued that male language and imagery for God needs to be changed. We must also insist that “Goddess” always be capitalized in our own work and in works under our editorial control. Not to do so is to capitulate to conventions based in patriarchal, hegemonic, and colonial ideologies.
This brings me to the question of what to do about “Gods” and “Goddesses.” Here the issue is not simply the privileging of the Abrahamic traditions, but also a metaphysical preference for universalistic monotheism. Recently, I have been reading a number of feminist books on Hinduism. The authors often do capitalize “Goddess” when referring to a deity that conforms to monotheistic expectations, but use lower case when referring to localized or plural female divinities. Here is an example: “…there is one supreme Goddess who has many forms or who is the unity underlying all discrete goddesses.” In other lines from the same book we find: “a particular goddess like Parvati’”; and “scholarly interest in Hindu goddesses and goddess traditions.” As can be seen from these examples, lower case is used to refer to female divinities with particular names and to groups of female divinities. In books following these conventions, lower case would also be used to refer to groups of male divinities, especially in the phrase “gods and goddesses,” but (inconsistently) not necessarily to named male divinities, such as the “God “ Krishna.
After the author of an essay I encouraged her to submit to the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion complained to me that the copy editor had lower cased both “Goddess” and “Goddesses” in her work, I spoke with the editors. I proposed that the standard convention of the journal should be to capitalize “God,” “Goddess,” “Gods,” and “Goddesses” in all cases. My argument was that to choose any other convention privileges male divinities and universalistic monotheism, following conventions that were established when grammarians believed that the Christian God was the only true God and extended grammatical privilege to the God of Judaism and the God of Islam. The editors accepted my suggestion.
It could be argued that all references to deities, including those to the “god” of Abrahamic traditions, should be lower case so as not to privilege hierarchical and transcendent understandings of deity. I do not disagree with this proposal in the abstract; the problem is that we cannot expect Christians, Jews, and Muslims to accept it. Moreover, if “God is the name for God” as Tillich once said, then the “G” words should be capitalized when used as proper names. But then do we say: “Goddess is the name for goddess”? And: “Goddess” in translations of invocations of Parvati, but “goddess Parvati” when the name is included and “goddess” in scholarly discussions of Parvati? Then do we also say “the god of the Hebrews” or “the Hebrew god Yahweh”? I think the simpler and more inclusive solution is to capitalize all of the “G” words whenever they occur. This seems to me to be the only practical way to put all Gods and Goddesses on the same grammatical, metaphysical, and postcolonial plane.
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She teaches in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS and through Ariadne Institute offers Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.