Last month in Boston during the American Academy of Religion (AAR) Annual Meeting I presented on Women Religion Revolution, a volume of collaborative work with fifteen other women that Gina Messina and I co-edited. The book is the third one published with FRS Books, the new book series of Feminist Studies in Religion, Inc. (FSR, Inc.) – a project with which we are very proud to partner.
FSR Books organized a panel featuring these first books. Serving as a backdrop of the whole panel was Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s own book, Congress of Wo/men: Religion, Gender, and Kyriarchal Power, which was FSR Books’ first publication. In this book, Schüssler Fiorenza introduces the concept and vision of the ekklēsia of wo/men as kosmopolis. Defining the ekklēsia of wo/men as “the decision-making assembly of the kosmopolis,” she explains the kosmopolis as the polis/city-state “governed by the egalitarian values and visions of justice and well-bring for everyone without exception” (106). She calls feminists in religion to “build a global, transcultural, cosmopolitan organizations for articulating a wisdom spirituality of cosmic world citizenship and for securing the welfare of everyone in the kosmos/world and of the kosmos itself” (111-112). In other words, Schüssler Fiorenza’s volume is a renewed call for feminists to think big and think together beyond the binary of secular/religious so as to more effectively counter the neoliberal domination of our current global context.
With this as the backdrop of the panel, I was tasked with introducing the aim and method of Women Religion Revolution and presenting its political theological orientation, according to the vision Gina and I brought to the project. I enjoyed reflecting on the two-part question posed to Gina and me by the panel organizers. Having completed our part of the book more than a year before, and finally having it to hold in physical form, I was glad for the opportunity to visit it anew. I thought about the possible differences existing between the political theological orientation we began the project with and the one we actually may have accomplished – something that will surely vary based on who is doing the assessment. Reflecting on this, I experienced moments of doubt and insecurity; I wondered whether Gina and I successfully accomplished the political theological vision with which we began. At the same time, I reminded myself that every published work is but just one snapshot. It captures the visions and energies of a particular time and place coming together for a shared goal – it is not everything and it is not final – a single contribution to the ongoing work of feminist critical reflection on theory, practice, and activism. The volume now is in the hands of the readers who each bring their own perspective and contribution to the ongoing work. So of course, I look forward to your engagement with it.
This, then, is a first of two blog posts. First, I will share a little bit the volume itself and the process of bringing it into being. Then in the second post, I will follow-up by sharing the political theological orientation Gina and I brought to the project. Maybe after that, if one of you is interested in reviewing the book, you can bring your own analysis and reflections as well.
Women Religion Revolution is a collection of essays produced in response to a prompt Gina and I extended to women who are activists and change-makers and who also claim a feminist religious identity. The contributors are women who actively participate in the justice-seeking revolutions of today. As such, we invited them to write about their passion for and participation in movements for justice and how their religious traditions motivates or grounds their work for change. One of the aims of the book was to acknowledge the ways that religions can play a positive role in women’s lives; we know about religions’ negative impact on women all too well, but we also know women have been creating positive social change based on the values and resources they draw from their traditions.
The essays capture critical moments in women’s lives in which they identify that the way things are are not the way things have to be, and in turn are moved into action. Sometimes it is not always about a critical moment, per se, sometimes it is a larger ongoing reality – injustices around women’s reproductive rights and their rights over their own bodies; violent uses of power; human exploitation; the church’s failure to affirm the sacredness of all people in its language, symbols, and structures – just to offer a few examples. These ongoing realities of injustice lead the authors to draw from both feminist and religious resources to fuel their work to change these systems/structures. They see their death-dealing character and know that that passivity is not an option.
In bringing the volume together Gina and I kept a couple things in mind. We knew that the book needed to be interreligious in scope; we were intentional in wanting to recognize the diversity of religious traditions that inspire women’s work. We also wanted to draw from an intersection of women’s voices. Not just from those that share the exact same theological and/or political orientation as one of us, but from a broad intersection so as to create more points of entry or connection to a broad readership.
Once we began sending out emails inviting women to contribute to the volume, the response was immediate. We sent out invitations beginning in May 2015 for a September 1st deadline, and essays began coming in as early as August. People were enthusiastic about the project. In their already full and (for many) overextended lives, women were willing to take the time to write and share about the justice work they do. I think the invitation to contribute was a welcomed affirmation of the importance and value of the good work each women does; a statement that women’s activism matters. The volume recognizes the revolutions taking place in different contexts and the change-making women who make a new reality possible.
As co-editors, Gina and I were intentional in not directing the authors’ voice in any particular way beyond the original prompt we gave in the invitation. And even while we made reference to the particular work they each do with which we were already familiar, we also let each contributor know that they could write on any topic of their choosing related to their activism, beyond the one we referenced. We did not guide them in terms of method either; each chose the stylistic voice through which they would speak/write. We wanted an organic mix in order to provide the reader with multiple and varied entry points to learning about the many ways revolution, feminism, and religion intersect in women’s lives and their work for justice.
Next, in part two of the post, I will speak to the political theological orientation with which Gina and I began the project of this volume. This is a harder thing to capture, though, because I see our political theological orientation as a work in progress. Every vision must always be re-forming, must be living, changing in response to our growing wisdom, collaborations, and the given socio-political reality at hand. Nonetheless, I will capture that vision in the post to follow.
 “an aggregate of the Greek words kosmos (world/universe) and polis (city-state)” meant to indicate one’s political engagement that “stresses the responsibility that humans have as part of the cosmic web of life for the care of the planet and its well-being,” (106-107).
Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.