Last weekend was a special one for me. After many years of study and dedication I graduated with my Ph.D. and am now, officially, Dr. Katie Deaver. The weekend was filled with celebrations to mark the completion of a milestone that I have spent years working toward. The amazing outpourings of love, support, and care that I have experienced throughout the last few days is quite humbling. The happiness and pure joy of my family, friends, professors, mentors, and multiple church communities have left me in awe. As I reflect on this love and support it helps to heal the wounds and scars that have accumulated throughout the process of earning this degree.
The undertaking of a Ph.D. program is significantly more difficult than anyone tells you. This difficultly lies not necessarily in the course work or the dedication to constant reading, writing, and learning but rather in the personal growth and vocational affirmation that takes place within the process. My dissertation explored the primary understandings of the doctrine of atonement and addressed how this doctrine can, and has, been used in ways that perpetuate, and in some cases even encourage, domestic violence.
My own fascination with the topic of atonement and its links to domestic violence was brought about at the suggestion of one of my undergraduate professors at Luther College, Dr. Jim Martin-Schramm. From the moment that Dr. Martin-Schramm explained the links between theologies of the cross and domestic violence I knew that I had found my new passion. Writing a dissertation on the topics of domestic violence, theology and women of faith was an extremely personal, and intimate experience for me. This topic forced me to accept my own lived experience. To claim myself… out loud… as a survivor of domestic violence. As a result the writing of my dissertation was particularly personal, and painful, as well as extremely life giving.
Memories that I had not let myself acknowledge, spans of time that I had fought to keep buried or ignore completely came back to me through the writing of this dissertation. As would likely be expected, not all of these memories or experiences were positive, but not all were negative. The process of writing continued to affirm my personal vocation to continue writing and to teach feminist theology in both academic settings and within faith communities. As a woman of faith the process has further inspired me to continue the work of ending domestic violence, and to work within faith communities to meet the needs and desires of those communities.
This process of researching, writing, and fully becoming myself led to changes in my relationships with family and friends. Because of my new understandings of myself and my experiences I could not continue to remain within unhealthy relationships, even if those relationships were with family members or long term friends. As a feminist theologian who writes about domestic violence and specifically how to support survivors of violence I absolutely cannot participate in relationships that are abusive or violent. Trusting myself enough to know what I need in order to be emotionally and physically safe and healthy has been a welcome, though unexpected, blessing of the Ph.D. process.
Having spent so much time researching and writing on the topics of atonement and domestic violence I expected to be eager to begin scholarship in other areas, but my focus continues to be called back to the problem of domestic violence. Each time that I have presented on this topic I am once again reminded of the fact that this area of study is absolutely necessary for people of faith. In rooms full of academics, pastors, lay leaders, and interested feminists many have never even considered this topic. Each time I begin to explore the connections between the cross event and domestic violence there are audible gasps, looks of deep sadness, and an overwhelming weariness that seems to accompany these heavy theological and personal topics.
I believe that one of the problems with the available resources related to this topic come from approaching domestic violence as a theory or detached concept rather than as a fully embodied and experienced reality for many human beings throughout the world. If we strive to understand domestic violence theories as well as how Christians understand the cross even we are better able to take the abstract concept of domestic violence and turn it into a tangible problem that we can work toward ending.
As a feminist theologian I affirm Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s assertion that a truly feminist theology must be both deconstructive and reconstructive at the same time. I also believe that these deconstructions and reconstructions must be rooted in lived experience in order to be applicable to people of faith. We cannot continue treating domestic violence as an abstract concept that is secondary to other forms of oppression and violence.
As a woman of faith I believe that domestic violence is unacceptable and that faith communities have a responsibility to speak out against violence in all its forms, even when it is not easy or convenient to do so. We as people of faith can do better, we can affirm the lived experience of survivors, we can create spaces that are supportive and life giving, and we can focus our ministries on not only denouncing the violence in our communities but ultimately working toward ending that violence in all its forms.
Dr. Katie M. Deaver, earned her Ph.D. in Feminist Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her dissertation explored the connections between the Christian understanding of atonement theology and the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. Her other areas of interest include the connection between power and violence, sexual ethics, and working toward the elimination of the oppression and exploitation of women and girls around the world.
Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Academics, Academy, Belief, Christianity, Christology, Church Doctrine, Domestic Violence, Faith, power, Redemptive Suffering, Sexual Violence, survival, trauma, Violence, Violence Against Women, Women's Suffering