Toward an Alternative Ecclesiology by Xochitl Alvizo 

I mentioned in a recent post that I would share a little more about my current research, as one of the aspects of my life I gained more clarity in during my recent process of regrounding was in the area of my research.

Two things stood out to me as I reflected on my work and scholarship: my concern for individual human dignity drives my work—it is an underlying thread in how I think and theologize. The second is that I want to make a major contribution to the theology of the church—I know I want to write a feminist ecclesiology. These two things are obviously related. I have witnessed enough of the ways that not only Christianity harms people, but how the church specifically is a conduit for the damages Christianity causes. At the same time, Christianity remains a living tradition, a shared story and language, and a community to which many are committed. So just as people are harmed by church, some are also nurtured and held by it. While it is true, then, that church indeed harms people and violates their dignity, often also justifying that violation on theological grounds, it need not do so and has other possibilities before it.

Thus, I want to contribute to a theology of church that is a grounded and liberating alternative to the problematic one to which people most often default or inherit. A queer, feminist, anti-racist, and decolonial ecclesiology.    

It’ll be a long slow road to the completion of this project – it’s already been a long one. This ecclesiology has been in the works since the end of my Master’s program in 2007, when in my application to the Ph.D. program I centered my research interest around two questions–what does it mean to be Christian? What does it mean to be church? I think that what I have most cared about is keeping these as live questions, knowing that when people, especially religious people, get too certain about their theologies, therein lurks the potential harm against those who fall outside these certainties and it eventually erupts…often with the weight of the institution behind it. 

My work then contributes to a theological alternative of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be church. I want Christian-identified people to always think critically about these theological questions and believe that bringing queer, feminist, anti-racist, and decolonial frameworks to our reflection will contribute to this. And right now, Mary Daly is helping me advance in this work.  

I’ve had two main writing projects this past year, the chapter for the second edition of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Latinoax Theology, edited by Orlando O. Espín, my particular chapter speaking to the intersection of gender, feminisms, and Latinx theologies; and, more recently, a chapter for a volume that includes and engages with an unfinished and unpublished manuscript of Mary Daly’s!

Edited by Meg Stapleton Smith, the forthcoming volume is titled, “Catholicism: End or Beginning?” The Unpublished Manuscript of Mary Daly, will be published with Cambridge University Press later this year. It includes the previously unpublished manuscript that Meg discovered while working in the archives of Daly’s papers and six chapters by various authors (me included) engaging with the newly discovered work.

We will have to wait until the book’s publication to get the full picture, but reading this work of Daly’s, written at the very end of her identification as a Christian, brings forth her diagnosis (at the time) of the problematic way people have come to understand faith, something absolutely relevant even today. What I do with my chapter is pull out three interrelated threads of Daly’s thought from within this manuscript and use them to think about the difference these would make when reflecting on the nature and practice of “church.” Beside the nature of faith, which is the central distortion about which she is most concerned, and which runs as an undercurrent in her entire manuscript, the other two interrelated threads are the mystery of being (existence and ultimate reality itself) and consciousness-raising

What I find key to Daly’s entire thought is her unfailing belief in the human. She was a staunch believer in the right and capacity for human self-actualization and eschewed the institution that would stifle or thwart that process. I think it was during the writing of this manuscript when she reasoned herself out of Christianity because of the ways it was structurally detrimental to human flourishing and actualization. In her analysis of what the church needed in order to open itself up to the “radically new” that comes with the good news of Christianity, she found the institutional church to be too entrenched in its certainty and unwilling to change.

But here is part of why I haven’t reasoned myself out of Christianity thus far…the institution with which Daly primarily engaged was the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the hierarchy who sees itself as the arbiter of the “sacraments, creeds, liturgical ceremonies, and dogmas” of the tradition – I am not similarly focused. I focus my reflections on church as the congregation, the local communities of faith that within their particular contexts wrestle with life’s daily struggles and existential crisis together. I think it is here where there is still potential for the radically new – where the good news of Christianity can be practiced. This is the same potential I see in coming together in circle, for example. It is in these smaller community gatherings where we more easily connect with our depth of awareness and a new divine reality.

Like Daly, I do think the potential for connecting with Ultimate/Intimate Reality is always within our reach, propelling us upward and forward toward self-actualization as both a self and a part (of a larger whole), and I think it can happen in Church just as it can happen in Sacred Circle. Bringing Daly’s lenses of faith, mystery of being, and consciousness-raising is helping me delve deeper into this process and continue to move toward the larger project of my research – an alternative ecclesiology.


Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and decolonial. 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. She lives in Los Angeles, CA where she was also born and raised.

Categories: Academics, Catholic Church, Feminist Theology, General, Mary Daly, Theology

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4 replies

  1. Xochitl – you always touch me with your writing. Today what stands out is the reality that the church can be destructive but also NURTURING. As a former Christian – if a person can really be free of one’s religious upbringing (i think not) – I do have a tendency to be critical of Christianity because of my own abuse and bias. I need to be reminded of this truth – so thank you for that.

    Your love for human beings will serve you and others well.

    And I personally am very excited to hear of daly’s unpublished writings!


  2. I’m so excited to hear about your research! I have found so much that is resonant with my life experience in what you write. I’ve been in both sacred circles and church communities and find that the matrix of connection and community is essential to both – it has its own deep power and healing however it is expressed. I’ve seen this at work in local church communities that I’ve observed as an outsider or worked with as part of my human services career. Our neighborhood Catholic Church was closed many years ago when the local archdiocese was facing mounting legal bills due to the sex abuse scandal. While the people were deeply aware and critical of what was happening in the upper hierarchy, they loved the community of their local parish and mourned its loss profoundly. Some left and some were able to successfully found another community in a merged parish under the leadership of a very progressive priest who was honest and outspoken about the parish closing but dedicated to making a new community work for those who stayed. In many of the towns I have worked with, it is the church communities that provide the most generous social safety net for the people in their towns, especially during the pandemic. I hope you will continue to update us on your research as it continues!


  3. Looking forward to ready your MDaly chapter. Warmest wishes, Mary


  4. Dear Xochitl
    I am always pleased to see your name on a post and this was no exception.
    Delighted to hear about your work which will be liberating and nurturing – as is your nature.
    When I explored the implications of my research in my PhD thesis (How do the words we use to and for the divine influence our behaviour to each other? Can these words be changed for the flourishing of all humankind?) I inevitably touched on ecclesiology but my work also proposed a methodology that a community could use in examining the words that will resource that community towards flourishing. While my focus on words may not be where you are headed, if you would like to read my summary article or the relevant section of my thesis to see if my research has any value for your wonderful work, you would be very welcome to e-mail me
    But I quite understand that you are likely to have more than enough to consider already :-)
    warm regards


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