Feminist Theologies: Past, Present, and Future by Gina Messina-Dysert

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.

Categories: Feminism, Feminist Theology, Foremothers

Tags: , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Hi Gina, How did the Oxford Handbook do on the religion-inclusiveness question? Is it organized around Christian categories? Does it have more than one essay on or by Jews? On or by post-Christians? On or by someone in the Goddess movement? On or by HIndus, Buddhists, Muslims, or anyone else not Christian? I suspect from its co-authors that it does pretty well on the race inclusiveness question. But would you mind adding that up too? And finally do any of the essays address the God-She question? Just wonderlng. Carol


    • Carol: Your “spirit” was there, especially with Gina’s remarks. Please see below for the TOC:

      Introduction , Sheila Briggs & Mary McClintock Fulkerson
      I: Feminist Theology at the Crossroads
      1. Feminist theology and the global imagination , Serene Jones
      2. Feminist theology and the Jewish tradition , Melissa Raphael
      3. What is Feminist Theology? , Sheila Briggs
      II: Changing Contexts
      4. Transethnic feminist theology of Asia: Globalization, identities, and solidarities , Namsoon Kang
      5. Gynocentric thealogy of Tantric Hinduism: A meditation upon the Devi , Neela Bhattacharya Saxena
      6. Globalization and religion: analysis from an Afro-Columbian feminist perspective , Maricel Mena Lopez
      7. ‘The world palpitates’: Globalization and the religious faith and practices of Latin American women , Nancy E. Bedford
      8. Globalization, women, and religion in the Middle East , Azza M. Karam
      9. Interrupting ‘global-speak’: a feminist theological response from southern Africa to globalization , Denise M. Ackermann
      10. 1. Theological perspective on mutual solidarity in the context of globalization: the Circle’s experience , Elizabeth Amoah
      11. Woman lost in the global maze: women and religion in East Africa under globalization , Philomena Njeri Mwaura
      12. Feminist theologies and the European context , Lisa Isherwood
      13. Globalization the second wave of colonization: impacts on wahine Maori. , Tui Cadigan
      14. First nation, empire and globalization , Andrea Smith
      15. 1. Feminism, Inc.: Globalization and North American feminist theologies , Thandeka
      III: Changing Contents
      16. Beyond theology of religions: the epistemological and ethical challenges of inter-religious engagement , Sharon D. Welch
      17. Beyond the god/man duo: globalization, feminist theology, and religious subjectivity , Ellen T. Armour
      18. Feminist theologies of a world scripture/s in the globalization era , Musa W. Dube
      19. The challenges of globalization for Muslim women , Zayn Kassam
      20. Theology and identity in the context of globalization , Maria Pilar Aquino
      21. Doing a theology from disappeared bodies: theology, sexuality, and the excluded bodies of the discourses of Latin American Liberation Theology , Marcella Althaus-Reid
      22. Globalization and women’s bodies in Latin America , Maria Christina Ventura
      23. Globalization and narrative , Cheryl Kirk-Duggan
      24. La Morenita on skis: Women’s popular Marian piety and feminist research on religion , Elena Vuola
      25. Feminist ritual practice , Theresa Berger
      26. Globalization, women’s transnational migration, and religious de-traditioning , Kathryn Tanner


    • Hi Carol! Thanks so much for your questions – and thanks to John and Grace for responding. I think it is a very important text that makes a true effort to be diverse on multiple levels. We had some wonderful conversation. And I echo John – how great if you could have been there. You were certainly on my mind. :)


  2. Gina – a job well done! You represented both yourself and this blogsite very well!


  3. I attended last night’s talk and I thank everyone who was there. Some of you I have cited in my own work. Many of you were new to me. To know that a new generation of feminism is upon us and that as the categories broaden we are all vigilant in continuing to make our voices heard around the world is the only way to continue to empower ourselves and our sisters who are less fortunate than us who at this time lack a voice.
    What I heard last night was that we are striving for the equal conversation of equal voices no matter where they come from. We are inching toward the authenticity and healthy stance held by the likes David Tracy and Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt.
    Karen, I think you are on to something when you spoke about women in context –with others — because in that context we are touching all others we connect with, not just Feminism and other Feminists. We, therefore, have a circle of influence that is broader and deeper than we think. That is our strength — to embrace and hold as our own. If we do that then the world can and does change and it already has. I cannot wait to read the book — Bravissime to all of you!!


  4. Carol,
    Zayn and Rosemary both talked about the God-She questions briefly and it was an overarching theme in a couple of the questions that were asked.

    It was a wonderful event that addressed a range of topics. It was quite amazing to see how Rosemary, Karen, Gina, Zayn, and Shield could talk about so much information about so many topics in a 10-11 minutes presentation!

    It was inspirational! Wish you could have been there!


  5. Wish I could have been there too.


  6. I really enjoyed reading this article because it gave me a better understanding of what the blog site is intending to accomplish. I think it is great how you expressed that there is no hierarchy because the reader becomes the writer and the writer becomes the reader. We all have something to share, which makes the learning experience all the more interesting. Along the lines of technology and being able to readily inform yourself about certain topics has become a major achievement. Having blog sites that teach us not only about the topics presented but being able to express ourselves in an instructional manner should be highlighted. I think people focus too much on superficiality and don’t take the time to learn about others and about themselves when dealing with real life questions that may or may not have clear answers. It causes us to reflect and analyze which is something that should be of utmost importance.


  7. I never thought of blogging as an act of feminism until I took my GWS360 course, and now again while reading this post. Reading this has made me look at both feminism and blogging in a new way. It is often hard for me to identify with certain aspects of feminism that my professor discusses, because I never experienced or witness severe oppression as a woman. While both my professor and I identify as feminists, our experiences and values are very different, because we were born during different generations.

    Now with a new perspective on blogging, and also learning more about feminism, I see how the two are related; through blogging, women have a voice. It is great that blogging has been discovered, and is a way for woman to have a voice and become empowered, but if only this social change happened through dialogue in person. Have you witnessed any changes in person-to-person dialogue because of blogging?



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