I had the great honor to be a part of the Feminist Theologies: Past, Present, and Future panel on February 7, 2012 to celebrate The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology. I presented with some feminist foremothers who have had a tremendous impact on me and my feminist ideals. To say it was a wonderful experience would be a complete understatement.
Below is the talk I shared at the conference. It focuses on my personal experience with feminist theology, the Feminism and Religion project, and how digital print will shape the future of feminist theology. A very special thanks to John Erickson for organizing this important event.
It is truly a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology. Certainly a foundational text that will be instrumental in moving the field of feminist theology forward by connecting feminists from different cultural and geographical backgrounds to discuss women and religion in a globalized world.
In the spirit of Carol Christ, I would like to begin by thanking my foremothers in the field. Women like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza paved the way so that Karen Torjesen could explore crucial questions about women in the priesthood and found the women’s studies in religion program, so that Tammi Schneider could analyze Hebrew Scripture from a feminist perspective, so that Zayne Kassam could offer foundational ideas about gender and Islam, so that Grace Kao could examine feminist ethics from a pluralistic perspective, and so that Sheila Briggs could develop this crucial feminist text that offered new frontiers in feminism in the early twenty first century.
It is because of the foundational work by all of these women that I have found passion for the field and am able to discuss the future of feminist theology.
My first encounter with feminist theology was during my undergraduate program when I took a course on women and religion. But it was not until I was enrolled in a master’s level graduate program that I began to truly grasp the concepts of the field. I read Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Gaia and God. At the time, I was driving an SUV – which I now know was highly problematic (Thank you Rosemary!). After reading her book, I sold the SUV, applied to the Women’s Studies in Religion program and came to Claremont with the goal of learning about feminist theology from these amazing foremothers, and what I can tell you is that my experience was life transforming.
Upon entering the classroom as a teacher, I have found that while much work has been done, there is still much work to do. I have repeatedly encountered students who think God is a man or who are angered at the idea of calling God anything other than “He” or “Him.” While the academy has made huge strides in the field, it hasn’t fully translated to the greater community.
This being said, it was not too long ago that a male colleague asked me why I was wasting my time with feminist theology. He said, “it’s been done.” And he claimed “There are no Rosemary Radford Ruethers or Mary Dalys today!”
It was with this comment from my colleague that I felt like jumping up and shouting – “Challenge accepted!” From that moment on I have been on a mission to find out what work is continuing on in the field and how that work is impacting the greater community.
I turned to my friend and colleague Caroline Kline, who should be acknowledged as a digital feminist foremother; she recognized blogging as a new way to do feminist theology and founded The Exponent, a Mormon feminist blogging community during a time when many hadn’t realized its potential. After a few discussions, Caroline and I decided that founding a blogging community focused on feminism and religion could offer a way to continue important dialogue among scholars, while including activists and the greater community. We contacted fellow feminist theologians, Cynthia Garrity Bond and Xochitl Alvizo who joined us in founding the Feminism and Religion project which has offered a significant platform to explore feminist issues related to religion and theology in a global context.
Our foremothers who offered us crucial texts in print have paved the way for the next generation of feminists to continue explorations through print, but also through various digital and social media outlets which offer incredible opportunities for the field of feminist theology.
While the word “blog” sometimes has a negative connotation, the art of blogging must be recognized as a feminist endeavor. First, blogs eliminate hierarchies; the format of blogging communities has created a democratic participation process where
women can choose to comment on particular posts and respond from the perspective of their own personal experiences. By responding to a post, commenters become the writer and bloggers become the reader – hierarchies are eliminated and women are able to communicate in an egalitarian way.
Blogs are largely based on personal experience; women are sharing their stories and documenting their herstories. In doing so, women are empowered and empower the other women to claim their voices and speak their own truth.
Blogs allow women to have conversations that would otherwise not take place because they offer women the ability to connect with other women regardless of geographical and situational boundaries.
Thus, blogs embody feminist values and offer incredible opportunities to expand borders and create new frontiers within the fields of feminist theology and women’s studies in religion. Within these forums, women and men from around the world are coming together to dialogue about their religious and theological experiences from a feminist standpoint. Silence is being broken, experiences are being named, and participation within transformative discourse occurs.
Whereas in the past conversations about feminist theology and feminist issues in religion have occurred on small levels from coffee shops to classrooms to conferences, blogs allow these conversations to take place on a much larger scale. What we see is that global conversations are occurring where individuals of different faiths, ethnicities, generations, geographies, etc. are exploring these topics in depth and in relation to many other elements. And it is these conversations that are expanding the borders of the field.
What I find particularly exciting about the Feminism and Religion project is that we have foremothers like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Carol Christ, Kwok Pui Lan, and Karen Torjesen signing on to share their thoughts on the future of feminist theology and dialogue with the next generation of feminist scholars. It also offers a space where scholarship, activism, and community are intersecting. Subsequently, it is very much a global, intergenerational project that celebrates the contributions of every person in multiple contexts. And as a result, we see that new frontiers in the field are being formed daily.
So when talking about the future of feminist theology, we must acknowledge not only how the conversations are changing, but also how the modes of conversations are changing. We must realize that blogging communities and other forms of social media are making important strides that impact not only the academy, but the greater community and thus, continued feminist transformation is encouraged on a much larger level.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is a feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist, and received her Ph.D. in religion at Claremont Graduate University focused in the areas of women’s studies in religion and theology, ethics, and culture. She is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University and co-founder and co-director of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles, the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence, and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. Gina can be followed on Twitter@FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.