Rethinking Church Communally and Creatively by Xochitl Alvizo

I spend a curious amount of time discussing, studying, and writing about polity – the structures and procedures of congregational/denominational governance (my previous post about communion reflects one kind of polity). Amid theological and sociological research about the decline, revival, or re-emergence of Christianity and the church, my research specifically focused on how emerging congregations organized and structured their decision-making processes. As a “body” – ecclesial, social, political – what are the new and creative ways that congregations structure and organize their collective living and relating?

Continue reading “Rethinking Church Communally and Creatively by Xochitl Alvizo”

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.    

Continue reading “Toward an Alternative Ecclesiology by Xochitl Alvizo “

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Goddess as Love: From Experience To Thealogy

This was originally posted on September 24, 2012

If theology is rooted in experience, how do we move from experience to theology? In my life there have been a number of key moments of “revelation” that have shaped my thealogy. One of these was the moment of my mother’s death.

In 1991 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While she was being treated, I realized that I had never loved anyone as much as I loved her. When I wrote that to her, she responded that “this was the nicest letter” she “had ever received” in her life and she invited me to come home to be with her and my Dad.

My mother died only a few weeks after I arrived, in her own bed as she wished. She was on an oxygen machine, and I heard her call out in the dark of early morning. When my Dad got to the room, he tried to turn up the oxygen, but it didn’t help. Then he called the doctor who reminded him that my mother did not want to go to the hospital under any circumstances.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Goddess as Love: From Experience To Thealogy”

Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Why Don’t Feminists Express Anger At God? by Carol P. Christ

Moderator’s Note: We here at FAR have been so fortunate to work along side Carol Christ for many years. She died from cancer in July, 2021. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. To honor her legacy, as well as allow as many people as possible to read her thought-provoking and important blogs, we are pleased to offer this new column to highlight her work. We will be picking out special blogs for reposting. This blog was originally posted July 9, 2012. You can read it long with its original comments here.

My relationship to God changed when I accused “Him” of everything I thought “He” had done or let be done to women—from allowing us to be beaten and raped and sold into slavery, to not sending us female prophets and saviors, to allowing “Himself” to be portrayed as a “man of war.”

In the silence that followed my outpouring of anger, I heard a still small voice within me say: In God is a woman like yourself. She too has been silenced and had her history stolen from her. Until that moment God had been an “Other” to me. “He” sometimes appeared as a dominating and judgmental Other, and at other times as a loving and supportive Other, but “He” was always an “Other.” I as a woman in my female mind-body definitely was not in “His” image. 

Continue reading “Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Why Don’t Feminists Express Anger At God? by Carol P. Christ”

What’s Changed? by Elise M. Edwards

An image of Elise Edwards smiling outdoorsFriends, it has been a few months since I’ve posted in this community.  I’m amazed at how much our world has changed since then.  Here in the northern hemisphere, spring came and went.  It felt like a tide of turmoil rolled in, leaving debris all along the shore and now we are trying to clean it up while keeping our eyes on the sea for more dangerous waves that are coming.

The issues we now face began before March, but for many of us, that was when the COVID-19 pandemic began to alter our patterns of daily existence. In-person instruction at my university and most schools was suspended and spring semester courses shifted online.  In March and April, we quarantined, self-isolated, and sheltered in place.  While a gradual re-opening of businesses and services has occurred in the months since then, I don’t know anyone who has resumed daily life as it was before. The virus continues to spread and the death toll rises.

Continue reading “What’s Changed? by Elise M. Edwards”

Not My Story Anymore by Esther Nelson

The meaning we derive from stories—especially religious stories we’ve heard and become familiar with since infancy—shape how we perceive and understand the world.  Our beliefs are an amalgam of “my story” (my individual life experience in a specific context) shaped by another story.  Who I am is heavily informed by particular narratives and their (often) codified interpretation.

I was raised on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  Doctrine is an interpretation of story, the substance of which is thought of as “truth” by believers.  The story informing substitutionary atonement is a familiar one, especially to those in Christian circles.  Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew living during the Roman occupation of much of the Mediterranean region, was crucified circa 30 C.E.  Jesus was a teacher who attracted many followers and often spoke (according to the writers of the gospels) of a coming Kingdom of God.  This threatened Roman rule so the Romans killed him.

Is the story factually true?  Perhaps.  As with so many narratives that are passed down through generations, there are many versions.  We find meaning (or not) in the story we have at hand.  On one level, Jesus’ crucifixion demonstrates the lengths governments will go to in order to keep themselves in power, showing the oppression, fear, and suffering people endure under despotic rulers.  On another level, substitutionary atonement (Jesus died to pay for humanity’s sins) is an interpretation of that story.  So often the stories we carry with us, along with a specific interpretation (doctrine), become conflated.  Rarely do we stop and unravel the story from the meaning we’ve been given and sometimes appropriated. Continue reading “Not My Story Anymore by Esther Nelson”

When Life Hands You Lemons… by John Erickson

“When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about something my grandmother would always tell me: “When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.” I know, it sounds crazy, but life right now appears to be more on the crazy than the sane side.

We’re all in a state of uncertainty right now. The news is scary. Twitter is scary. Heck, even TikTok is losing parts of its humor. Everywhere we seem to turn, it’s more information about COVID-19, new cases, new lockdowns, and new things that we shouldn’t do for the foreseeable future. Continue reading “When Life Hands You Lemons… by John Erickson”

A Theological Conversation by Natalie Weaver and Valentine

My son asked me to discuss with him the theological problem of the dual natures, i.e., the divine and human natures, coexisting in the person of Jesus.  He asked me to begin by assuming the premises that 1) Jesus was a real, historical person and 2) that Jesus was both human and divine.  The question then became, “Did Jesus know he was God?”

Of course, as a theologian, I was delighted to have this conversation with my son.  It was fascinating to see how his mind worked, to hear him evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of high and low Christologies, to hear how he resolved the question himself, and to have an opportunity to share my own thoughts with a genuinely engaged, truly curious, and attentively listening dialogue partner in the person of my teenage son.  Not too shabby a victory for any parent!

As we talked, he continued to provide context for the question, which began as a classroom debate in his high school theology seminar.  Apparently, the students were tasked with taking some element from their in-class discussion, evaluating it, and then applying it practically by a twofold retrospective reflection in which the students were 1) to identify a specific situation in their life that could have gone better and 2) to share how their insight drawn from class would have made all the difference.  Now, my son expressed a bit of frustration with this assignment because he would have preferred to discuss how today’s insights might help him in the future, rather than to dwell in the past.  As his wheels turned, I left him alone to puzzle out his assignment, with the promise that I eagerly would return in an hour to see what he produced, accompanied by my own essay on the same task.

Continue reading “A Theological Conversation by Natalie Weaver and Valentine”

What If Jesus Is Dead (And It’s A Good Thing)? by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee

Bear with me.

I know that most Christians accept some version of the idea that Jesus, the person, died, and then ‘rose from the dead’ in a supernatural, miraculous way – probably the most common definition of what Christians celebrate at Easter. I grew up in progressive Christian churches, where I, too, was taught this idea, which I found fascinating and inspiring. Many people (both Christians and others) still find it healing and inspirational; and I want to state clearly that I think that’s well and good.


What I would like to suggest, however, is that this approach may miss the main point of Easter, of resurrection, and of these narratives. Here goes.

Continue reading “What If Jesus Is Dead (And It’s A Good Thing)? by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee”

Musings on the Triune God by Natalie Weaver

This past term I had the opportunity to teach courses on the Christian doctrines of Christology and Trinity.  My first inclination was to approach these doctrines from the perspective of their historical development. For, I find the historical study of doctrinal development to be a fascinating and liberating approach to theology because it delivers the searcher from the illusions of ubiquity and universality, even in matters of the most central tenets of faith.  When people can see doctrine in its political, polemical, and posited guises, we can be free from absolutization of belief in past expressions as well as in present permutations.

Yet, as much as I enjoy tours through the historical development of faith formulations, I found myself unable to really commit to this approach this year.  I was more concerned with allowing students space to think about Christ and to think about God.  I wanted to introduce the problems and tensions that have dogged Christian logic and practice for millennia, but I wasn’t interested in arriving at conclusions or teaching modern experts’ answers.  I wanted to create occasion for my students to answer for themselves questions of justice and mercy; theodicy; particularity; scandal; and more. Continue reading “Musings on the Triune God by Natalie Weaver”

Listen more. Talk Less. Tread Lightly. By Karen Leslie Hernandez

Illegal. Nazi. Migrant. Refugee. N****r. Terrorist.

Heard of read any of these descriptions recently? I have. A lot.

It seems that now more than ever, communication is breaking down. Name calling and labeling – which many times incites violence – seems to be a norm, especially here in the United States. As a peacebuilder, I’m consistently perplexed about this and I wonder how, or if, this lack of civil communication will shift to a more positive vibe. The air is frenetic with intolerance. The question is, What can we do about it – as individuals and collectively? Continue reading “Listen more. Talk Less. Tread Lightly. By Karen Leslie Hernandez”

LeBron James and Loads of Baskets by Natalie Weaver

On June 8, Cleveland watched the Cavaliers lose the NBA championship.  Outside of Cleveland, according to the commentators I heard, no one really expected our guys to pull it off.  But, here in Cleveland, we felt otherwise. Up until the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, when the Herculean LeBron took the bench, we were still thinking something magical could happen.  When he stopped, the game ended.  We lost. And, the city, once again, had to recast its disappointment, redirect its energies, and rediscover the eschatological hope that is the core of Cleveland’s athletic grit: “there’s always next year!”

Over the past few years, I have noticed t-shirts popping up around the city that say things such as, “I liked Cleveland before it was cool;” “216;” and even one that details the geometric shape and geographic coordinates of a Bernie Kosar winning touchdown pass.   Ohio love is blooming in the rust; things are green in our urban gardens, and progressive real estate is making of bombed out warehouses cool art studios, breweries, and theater houses for budding local talent. Continue reading “LeBron James and Loads of Baskets by Natalie Weaver”

In Light of Women by Mary Jane Miller

Why are so few women mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, the Last Supper, the Baptism of Christ, etc.? God made no commandment that they not be included.
Inquisitive women like myself have always been around Christ listening to His message. There they were, cooking and cleaning at the Last Supper, at the wedding at Canon and when He fed the five thousand. When Christ invited the children to come to him, you can be sure the mothers were there, too.
Beginning as early as the fourth century the dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to thwart the ascendant positions for women within the religious hierarchy and in christian societies in general. Yet, the underlying teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, – all call for the proper and equitable treatment of God’s children. Without a doubt, God and Christ love all of humankind with no gender bias. When women listen to scripture we naturally fill in the gap, or adjust the gap knowing in our hearts and souls, we are not inferior to men.

Continue reading “In Light of Women by Mary Jane Miller”

Another Season of Reflection and Review by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI turn inward and become reflective at this time of year.  It’s the Advent season in the Christian liturgical year, which encourages practices of piety focused on preparation, examination, and hopeful longing.  It’s the end of a semester and a calendar year, which provokes review of the months before.  In the northern hemisphere, it’s a time of darker days and longer nights, which suggest a retreat indoors, in silence or in stillness.

During this time of year, I’m typically exhausted, and so I seem to enact annual rituals with a recurring sense of ambivalence.   I really love the celebration of Christmas, but preparing for it takes a lot of energy.  So I do some decorating, but not as much as I planned.  I attend some parties and celebrations, but end up missing or cancelling others.  I start a new devotional book, only to set it aside within a week or so.  I want this time of year to be both reflective and celebratory.  I want it to be spiritual and religious.  I want to be sociable with friends and family and also find time to rest and recover in solitude.  At some point, those goals seem too contradictory to be realizable and then I start practical negotiations:  How much decorating will I do? What kind of time will I set aside for solitude and self-care?  Will I have enough energy to be joyful and present with my family and friends?

“Some, but not enough” is the answer I seem to come to every year.

Some decorating, but not enough.  Some time for solitude and self-care, but not enough.  Some energy for social occasions, but not enough.  This year, I want to let go of that voice that says it’s not enough.  That voice that says I am not enough.

To help myself let go of the guilt and self-deprecation, while retaining the reflective focus of the season that may be life-affirming, I reviewed my previous years’ December writings on this blog.  What might I discern from this pattern of yearly reflection?

In 2012, I wrote about why women might be tempted to cancel Christmas.  I was in my final year of the Ph.D. program when I wrote that, and was prompted to do so when I heard that friends and colleagues were planning to skip Christmas preparations or scale them back dramatically.  That year, I sought to maintain “religious and social rituals associated with Christmas” so that I could be “spiritually grounded, emotionally provoked, mentally rested, and physically fed.” I don’t have a vivid memory of that year’s holidays, but as I read it again, I wonder if I was carrying a sense of religious obligation rather than release.  Did I feel free or beholden to social custom? I’ve learned that I will only be able to let that “not enough” voice go when I let go of the expectation that Advent and Christmas should look a certain way or I should be present to it in a certain way.  I’m more willing this year to let peace and joy ebb and flow  in celebrations and moments of sadness and mourning that accompany the season, too.

In 2014 and 2016, my Advent reflections were more focused on justice and peace at the societal level than in the household.  They were mournful.  In December 2014, I was trying to stave off despair after Michael Brown’s killer was not indicted by a grand jury.  The police officer would not stand trial for killing the black teen.  That year, I was mourning Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and the loss of my own naivete as I became more conscientized about racial violence. I had a similar wake-up call last year when Hillary Rodham Clinton lost the US presidential election and I working through the anger and dread I felt at 45’s approaching presidency.  This year, the struggle continues as we anticipate changes to the tax code and DACA.  But at least Roy Moore lost.  We do continue to work for progress and systemic change, and sometimes, it works.

Feminists have long asserted that the personal is political and that the political is personal.  I’m acknowledging this holiday season that my perpetual weariness during Advent and Christmas is legitimate, as it emerges from personal and political struggle.  I am frustrated with the injustices and hardships I encounter at home, work, and the broader community.  I would not be weary if I was not awakened to the suffering.  This year, I accept that the exhaustion is part of the cost of my work and my calling.  The weariness will ebb and flow, as will joy and peace. Being able to teach and write is a blessing that allows me to help others become more aware of injustice and more involved in addressing it.  This year, I’m acknowledging that I’ve done what I can do.  I’m resisting the impulse to assess whether it was enough.  In previous years, I’ve been trying to hold on to hope; this year I’m resting in God’s grace.

As Christmas approaches, I’m embracing the Christian teaching that the divine meets humanity where we are.  The beauty of the Incarnation is that the eternal meets the temporal and that God unites with human to bring light to a suffering world.  That’s a gift for me this year, a comfort to be able to shift the focus from my own action and being to divine action and being.

I can see the sacred work and presence in this online community and other communities of faith.  Holiday blessings to you all.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or

The Spirit and Jarena Lee: Inspiration to Break Boundaries by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI am so frustrated that we are still fighting to affirm women’s place in leadership.  I’ve been thinking about this struggle in the context of church ministries (especially preaching) and social activism, seeing a stark contrast between the way institutional churches and universities promote and subvert women’s authority and the ways movements like Black Lives Matter do.

Particularly, I’ve been struck by the ways that more radical movements employ language and practices that are based in spirit more than hierarchical authority.  I have found a theme emphasizing equality in humanity’s access to spirit in both historical and contemporary movements and writings about religious experience.  I’m certainly not the first one to notice or discuss how appeals to Spirit have empowered those excluded from dominant systems of power to challenge constrictive social structures, but I would like to share how this dynamic has become more visible to me so that, together, we might find encouragement, inspiration, and food for thought.

Continue reading “The Spirit and Jarena Lee: Inspiration to Break Boundaries by Elise M. Edwards”

Moving Toward an End: The Role of the Faith Community in the Struggle to End Domestic Violence by Katie M. Deaver

I have used my last few posts here on Feminism and Religion to begin unpacking the three primary understandings of atonement theology, the feminist critiques of these understandings, and how the relationship between power and violence influences how Christian women view the atonement.  This post will consider the role that faith communities are called to play in situations of domestic violence.

Personal faith often has a huge impact on the lives of survivors of violence.  This impact, unfortunately, as can be seen in the other posts as well as in the comments on those posts, is not always a positive one.  In her book, Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, Flora A. Keshgegian envisions communities of faith as communities of remembrance.  A community of remembrance does not ignore or suppress the negative experiences of its members but strives to  enable us to embrace personal identity, form our faith, and to nurture hope in order to heal and transform after such experiences.

One question that my dissertation set out to answer was how we might begin the difficult work of moving our communities of faith in this direction.  Sadly, the biggest difficulty seems to be the lack of awareness, or the downright denial, that domestic violence is an issue for the average faith community.  So many congregation members assume that if their pastor is not talking about an issue then it must not be a problem in their particular community.

Continue reading “Moving Toward an End: The Role of the Faith Community in the Struggle to End Domestic Violence by Katie M. Deaver”

A Beginning: Atonement Theology and the Feminist Critique by Katie M. Deaver

Since many of the comments on my last post expressed interest in my dissertation topic I will use my next couple of posts to talk a little bit more about my work and research in that area.  When we talk about theories of the atonement we are trying to describe a narrative structure of what took place within the Christian cross event.  Generally speaking, Christians believe that atonement serves at the reconciliation between God and humanity and that this reconciliation is realized through the person of Jesus Christ.  The three primary theories that try to explain this event are Substitutionary/Satisfaction, Moral Influence, and Christus Victor.

The Substitutionary/Satisfaction theory of atonement suggests that Christ takes on the guilt and punishment that humanity deserves because of our sinfulness and so becomes our substitute, paying the debt we owe for our sins.  Because of humanity’s sinfulness we deserve death, but instead of giving us what we deserve God instead offers God’s son as a sacrifice to pay our debt, to atone for our sinfulness, and to save us from the eternal punishment of death.

The Moral Influence theory of the atonement focuses primarily on the life and ministry of Christ rather than on his suffering and death.  This theory is centered on the belief that God loves God’s creation so much that God would hold back nothing from us, God would even give God’s own Son in order to save us and remain in relationship with us.  As a result this theory encourages Christians to live as Christ lived and focuses on imitating his life and ministry in order to bring about justice in our own world.

Continue reading “A Beginning: Atonement Theology and the Feminist Critique by Katie M. Deaver”

Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson

I will never forget the day Nasr Abu Zaid (1943-2010), an Islamic Studies scholar and teacher extraordinaire, told me, “Shariah is not a law.”  In spite of his assertion, many people—both Muslims and non-Muslims—are convinced that Shariah is synonymous with archaic legal rulings that are at odds with democracy and modernity.


What is Shariah, then, if not a law?  When we see or hear the word Shariah, the word “Law” almost always follows.  Shariah literally means a path—a well-trodden path such as animals use on their way to a watering hole.  Shariah, then, can be understood as something that when embraced has potential to give life and sustenance.


Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel circa 600 C.E.  That revelation—Muslims believe it to be God’s actual speech—took place over a period of approximately twenty-one years. The Qur’an contains Shariah (path) in the form of information, narrative, and poetry.  Since Shariah is essentially a path that leads to life, the critical question centers on how Shariah can be appropriated, leading us to the water that sustains.

Continue reading “Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson”

Redeeming Gender, Softening Extremes by Chris Ash

Christy CroftLast month, I attended a lecture by Anglican theologian Adrian Thatcher on his recent book, Redeeming Gender. In this book, Thatcher draws upon the one sex and two sex theories described by Thomas Laqueur in his book, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Laqueur posits that until the eighteenth century, it was believed that women and men were two expressions of the same basic sex – that women were men whose reproductive organs were similar but found in the “wrong” places. Ovaries were internal testes, the vagina an inverted penis, and the labia a parallel for the scrotum – all making women flawed expressions of man.

This sets up a continuum in which there is one sex rather than two, with men as more perfect expressions of man, and women as inferior expressions. Thatcher argues that if the language, liturgy, and doctrines of the church arose in the context of the one sex theory, then Christianity’s foundational beliefs and practices are already compatible with acceptance of a spectrum of gender identity within a one-sex model, opening up new interpretations that allow for full participation of women and LGBTQ+ people within the church. While the old one sex theory as described by Laqueur is a spectrum from more to less perfection, from more to less like God, the spectrum Thatcher proposes is clearly progressive – one in which all places along the spectrum share in the same equality.

And yet it is still a linear spectrum, with extremes envisioned as opposites, as distant from each other. Continue reading “Redeeming Gender, Softening Extremes by Chris Ash”

Religion, Dissent and Decolonial Approach in Latin America by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente and Juan F. Caraballo Resto


Talking of decoloniality in religion and theology is today a fashionable stance that has been adopted even by the academic and political mainstream. As Latin Americans, decolonial perspectives affect us firsthandedly. For the last 500 years, our continent has nurtured resistance struggles against the racial, sexual, economic, ethnic and religious violences that emerge from the numerous process of colonization we have endured. With this in mind, in this article we contribute to the debate on decolonization of our religious phenomena.

Decolonizing is to Assume that all Religion can Operate as a Colonizing Agent

The expansion of European colonialism in Latin America transpired through all aspects of social existence and gave rise to new social and geocultural identifications (e.g. “European”, “American”, “Indian”, “African”, etc). The consequences of this domination reverberate to this day.

In this regard, we should not loose track of the fact that all abrahamic religions had their genesis within Latin America in the form of colonial presence. In other words, most of our religious expressions are the product of colonial forms of governance, which benefited from an exclusionary instrumentalization of the religious narratives as a tool to ‘dignify’ and ‘enhance’ the population as ‘colonial subjects’.

This was the case of Christianity. The mission carried out by the first European conquistadores in the Americas was characterized by the drawing of exclusionary theological lines that legitimized some, questioned others, and condemned many. Colonization thus manifested itself in part through spiritual violence on native populations. Evangelization, in this regard, was biopolitical in nature; it entailed the pushing of non-European bodies (and souls) into ‘Otherness’.

This illuminates unto why, for example, nowadays interfaith relations have become a problem, rather than a resource for many Latin American Christian congregations. It is often assumed that to establish lasting links of solidarity with religious ‘Others’ puts at risk the core elements which have been taught to enhance our population by the different metropoles that have governed and preached in our midst.

It is well established that for too long the bases of Christianity in the Americas were built upon imposed and/or conditioned conversions which constantly demanded and reminded people that in order to have ‘goodness’ reside in them, they had to be someone essentially different to who they were; they had to be Christian (Rivera Pagán 2013, 2014; Silva Gotay 1998, 2005). In this regard, long established religions such as Judaism, Islam, Spiritism, and Afro-Atlantic religions such as Santería or Palo have been relegated to inferior statuses in some still colonial contexts, such as Puerto Rico (Caraballo-Resto 2016; Román 2007).

A similar case, can be found within Islam. As mentioned in a previous article, many Muslim congregations in the Americas have done well in mirroring the colonial practices of Christianity. Despite common assumptions, some contemporary Muslim groups have come to our lands with the clear aim of Arabization and, again, through spiritual violence they categorize locals as “others” and, thus “subordinate” them as perpetual ‘underage believers’, who seem to need the Arab tutorial aid relentlessly. At times, their theologies are reminiscent of those expressed by Catholicism 500 years ago: A call to abandon local trajectories and spiritualities, in favor of adopting Middle Eastern names, language, arts and aesthetics, social manners, political causes and even diet. Only then, are us Latin American to be considered by some of these communities as “Noble Savages”.

Although some scholars linked to decolonial studies within Islam have difficulty accepting this, Islam has historically been instrumentalized as a colonizing agent in the Middle East, West Africa, Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

If we talk about Islam and decoloniality in the same sentence, there should be honesty on these facts.

Colonization occurs not only through the sword and war, also through trade, culture and social discourses that become hegemonic and religion. In this regard, the ‘jihad of the soul’ is seldom devoid of politics. The absence of blood is not tantamount to a lessening of colonial violence. There are many and different ways to curtail, cancel and oppress a people without resorting to their physical extermination.

Religion and the Heterosexual Regime

Colonial religions in Latin America have been characterized by an hegemonic discourse based on heterosexuality as a compulsory scheme, androcentrism, ableism and speciesism. Historically, this has entailed the exercise of a new religious taxonomy (eg. ‘Moro’, ‘Marranos’, ‘noble souls’, etc.). Yet, this also corresponded to an encompassing system of power that intersected all control of collective authority, labor, racial relations, the production of knowledge, as well as sexual access and meaning.

It is well known that many indigenous peoples of the Americas were matriarchal, recognized more than two genders, recognized homosexuality and “third” gendering positively and understood gender in much more problematized terms rather than in the binary terms of subordination monotheistic system imposed.

Such dichotomy not only found its way in Latin America. It also transpired in parts of Africa, which were later linked to our Latin-American contexts by way of slavery. This has been dealt at lengths by Nigerian feminist scholar Oyéronké Oyewùmí, in her work The Invention of Women (1997). In it she states that gender was not an organizing principle in Yoruba society prior to European colonization (idem: 31). Instead, she argues that gender has “become important in Yoruba studies not as an artifact of Yoruba life but because Yoruba life, past and present, has been translated into English to fit the Western pattern of body-reasoning” (idem: 30).

So, it becomes all the more important to consider the changes that religious colonizers have brought, as well as the lip service we’ve paid to it, in order to understand the scope of our Latin American organizations of sex and gender under colonialism.

Theology of Dissent in Response to Religious Heteropatriarchy

A decolonial theology must be one of dissidence if it is to have any liberating character. ‘Dissidence’, here, is not used as a mere label of disagreement, but rather as a situational stance from which the very bases of our legitimization as colonial subjects are constantly contested. And just as the expansion of religious colonialism in Latin America transpired through all aspects of social existence and gave rise to new social and geocultural identifications, a decolonial theology of dissidence must do the same—starting from our own gendered bodies.

In sexual terms, Latin American women and non-heterosexual people have been historically defined in relation to heterosexual men as the norm. In other words, women are those who do not have a penis, and non-heterosexual men are those who do not use their penis according to the norm (Lugones 2003). From a decolonial theology of dissidence this must be contested—placed in a situation of uncomfortable political transactions perennially.

From this point of view, a decolonial theology of dissent is much more than a body of intellectual writings. It is a daily practice—a quotidian mode of resistance—that involves people at the grassroots where the challenges of exclusion are negotiated. Yet, something is to be said for the epistemological zones of privilege where colonialism is also instantiated. There is no decoloniality without resistance, and there can be no resistance against the traditional hegemonic enclaves where colonialism is legitimized, as long as the centers where knowledge is produced conceive people in resistance as “objects of study”, rather than “fellows in knowledge-building”.

Up to this day, ‘Otherness’ is one of the most deeply rooted archaeological legacies left by our colonial religiosities. Upon its finding, some people of faith in Latin America are now left to determine how best to deal with religion(s) in an inclusive, liberating and welcoming way, so that our social contexts become ones where religious, gendered, ethnic, linguistic, racial, and able diversities are not thought of as problems, but a resources to strengthen ties. Only then can we help truly shift this time of instability for our region.

Decolonizing religion in Latin America entails understanding that the religious question is always political, and as such must be contested. If there is any liberating potential in the religious phenomena, this is due to a lucid dissidence that eludes colonial privilege and embraces an ethical compromise beyond religious labels.


Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional latin muslim feminist in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work addresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.

Juan F. Caraballo Resto is professor of Sociology and Anthropology of University of Puerto Rico Reinto Cayey. PhD in Social Anthropology from University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Featured Image: Indigenous woman in Chiapas, Mexico, part of the Islamic mission of Dawa in the area, wearing a hiyab and showing a Qur’an in Spanish,

Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ by Michael Bakas high resoultionTheology is often viewed as abstract and removed from the problems of the real world. Yet many of the problems of the real world are caused by bad theologies. If bad theologies shape the world, might the same not be true of good theologies?

Opposition to a woman’s right to choose birth control and abortion is fueled by appeals to the command of God to protect life. Opposition to lgbtqi rights is couched in divine authorization of normative heterosexuality. Opposition to efforts to counter climate change are challenged by those who claim to believe in the Bible, not science.

All of these claims are rooted in a prior claim that God is and must be the only source of authority for human beliefs and moral decision-making. This view can and often does lead its adherents to distrust scientific and other humanly created forms of knowledge. In America, supporters of Donald Trump routinely dismiss not only the claims of modern science, but also every attempt to disprove the assertions of their candidate by citing facts. Continue reading “Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 1 by Carol P. Christ”

Today, I am 50. And I Know Jack-Diddly Squat by Karen Leslie Hernandez

karen hernandezYou’d think after all these years I would know, right? I would be sure. I could walk comfortably, touting that I am certain, as so many others my age do. The reality is however, I still don’t know. I am very unsure. I am incredibly uncertain.

At 50, I think I have more questions now than ever before. Many times I have moments of panic that challenge what I feel deeply and truly. Moments that challenge my faith and my very understanding of my own existence. Moments where I lose faith in humanity, in my friends, in my family, and in myself.

Yet, maybe that is where the wisdom is. Because if I pretended to never be afraid or uncertain, I would never challenge what I think I know. I would sit, uncomfortably, in unauthentic belief. What a pity that would be.

What am I really thinking…? Continue reading “Today, I am 50. And I Know Jack-Diddly Squat by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsDuring another week of killings, war, protests, and debates about whether Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, I’m concerned about the toll it takes on those who are witnessing the violence and fighting for justice.

I’m not on the front lines of these battles, but I can feel my energy draining, nonetheless. Over the past few days, while I’ve stayed informed about the latest tragedies and conflicts, I’ve intentionally limited my exposure to most news and social media outlets. I’ve begun preparing for a contemplative retreat with other women who also care about justice.  For me to continue to participate in any effort of transforming society, culture, or the church, I must nurture my mind, spirit, and body.

Audre Lorde put it like this:

“Caring for myself Is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care is a radical practice of self-love. It is absolutely necessary when engaged in conflict against those who do not show love to you, or worse, those who seek to destroy you.  Your survival and your flourishing are defiantly brave.  Self-care honors the God who created you, the One who loves you, and the Spirit who sustains you. Continue reading “What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards”

Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Trelawney bio picture

Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:

Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”

Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”

Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”

Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……

Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>
Continue reading “Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

What Traci West Taught Me about Dominant and Excluded Voices by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my previous post, I mentioned a book I am writing about how theological and ethical considerations in architectural design can define good architecture.  In that post and in ones to follow, I am acknowledging the feminists and womanists and mujeristas who have influenced me while also opening up the dialogue to the feminists in this community who continue to inspire and guide me to do my best work.

But today, instead of talking about creativity or architecture, I want to discuss how I arrived at the conviction that community decisions about how we ought to live—whether those are decisions about laws, institutional policies, religious practices or architectural buildings—need to include the voices of the diverse people they directly and indirectly influence. Continue reading “What Traci West Taught Me about Dominant and Excluded Voices by Elise M. Edwards”

What Dorothee Soelle Taught Me about Creativity by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsI’m currently developing a book that considers how theological and ethical considerations in architectural design can define good architecture.  My book discusses five virtues related to the architectural design process that promote human participation in bringing out God’s intention of flourishing for humanity and creation.  Those five virtues (or values) are: empathy, creativity, discernment, beauty, and sustainability.  In the book, I’ll explain how these virtues orient design tasks to the social and ethical aims of architecture.

In this virtual space, I want to have a discussion about what these virtues mean from a feminist standpoint.  In my writing, I draw from theological ethics, architectural theory, and feminist theory to emphasize community discernment and participation.  It’s fitting, then, to claim opportunities in my work to acknowledge the feminists who have influenced me while also opening up the dialogue to the feminists in this community who continue to inspire and guide me to do my best work. Continue reading “What Dorothee Soelle Taught Me about Creativity by Elise M. Edwards”

Caroline Schelling on Birth & Death by Stuart Dean

Caroline Schelling

Of the many letters Caroline wrote to her lifelong friend Luise, one of the most intense  (the 57th Letter) dates from seven years after the 4th Letter discussed in my last post.  By then both were married; only a few months earlier Caroline had given birth to her first child (Auguste); though Luise already had children, Caroline knew that one of them was terminally ill.  In the first paragraph Caroline describes how difficult Auguste’s birth was for her; in the second she consoles Luise over the impending death of her child.  She thus subtly parallels birth with death and hence the labor for one with mourning over the other.

Fifteen years later, only a few months after the death of Auguste–the last of her four children to die–Caroline’s generally positive disposition evidenced in the 4th Letter and her experience in grappling with birth and death evidenced in the 57th Letter were being put to the test.  Though she was holding up well, Friedrich Schelling (Friedrich), the man who was to be her third husband, seems to have been suicidal from feeling guilty (rightly or wrongly) for having failed to do enough to cure whatever illness killed Auguste.  Caroline wrote frequently and urgently to him, offering advice and comfort.  In one of those letters (274d) she characterizes the challenge of overcoming grief as a formula to be solved: “(death/pain) x (love/bliss) = (life/peace).”  She terms this one of her ‘primal axioms’ (the “Ursatz”), although she seems playfully to concede to Friedrich that he or perhaps someone else shares responsibility for it. Continue reading “Caroline Schelling on Birth & Death by Stuart Dean”

Updates on Listening by Xochitl Alvizo

X.Alvizo CSUN Profile 2-editedThe pieces of my dissertation are beginning to float to the surface, piece by piece, released into the world as smaller parts of the whole. At some point this all may become a book, but for now, I have enjoyed the opportunity to share some of the learning from my dissertation research in book chapters, articles, and blog posts, which I’d like to share with you all so that you can see some of what I’ve been up to these days.

The most recent piece that has come to be is an article on The Listening Guidethe particular method of narrative analysis I used to analyze the transcriptions of the interviews I conducted with participants of Emerging Church congregations. I’m particularly excited about this piece because I think it could be a useful tool to many of us in our respective fields of study and work. And although my particular context is theological and, even more specifically, Christian, as a tool and method, The Listening Guide can be used for reflection and be of great value in a variety of contexts.  Continue reading “Updates on Listening by Xochitl Alvizo”

Caroline Schelling’s 4th Letter by Stuart Dean

Caroline Schelling

Caroline Schelling (‘Caroline’) wrote the fourth letter of hers that survives (the ‘4th Letter’) on October 7, 1778, shortly after she had turned 15, to a girl she met at boarding school who was to become her lifelong friend (Luise).  The intensity of her friendship with Luise is evident already in the 4th Letter, for she tells Luise that in writing to her she “portrays her entire soul.”  What prompted such depth of feeling for this letter relates not just to a significant moment in Caroline’s life but in every person’s life.  In the second paragraph she refers to what was most likely her first sexual relationship.  Given that context, Caroline demonstrates remarkable emotional maturity and intellectual sophistication in how she expresses herself.

She begins by referring to the “sensations of my heart,” telling Luise how she struggles to find “adequate words” to express them.  She is not, she proudly insists, an “enthusiast” who simply gives into feelings, insisting instead on the importance of “going over” (Überlegung) them herself.  Though Caroline was not taught Latin, it seems as if she had been taught the relevance to German of a Latin treatise from the 4th century CE on the method for defining words.  Caroline’s ‘going over’ her feelings before writing Luise is consistent with its methodology: first, to confront the question of whether something even exists (an sit, Existenz) and then determining, to the extent possible, what it is (quid sit, Wesen) and what its qualities are (quale sit, Eigenschaften)–i.e., its relationship to other words (grammar) and hence how it can be communicated.  

This methodology, which is applicable to a wide range of disciplines (e.g., legal argumentation, psychiatric diagnosis), is also analogous to a language theory Charles Segal argued is implicit in what remains of the writings of the 5th century BCE Sicilian Gorgias, a theory Segal related to Sappho’s poetry.  That is relevant, because given the failed sexual relationship about which Caroline writes to Luise, the 4th Letter bears comparison to two poems by Sappho (S. 31 and S. 1) that Caroline surely then knew in translation.  Caroline’s “sensations of my heart” is directly comparable to the palpitations of the heart Sappho refers to in the second stanza of S. 31.  The immediate effects are comparable; Sappho cannot speak and Caroline cannot find “adequate words.”  Though S. 31 appears to break off, S. 1 can be read as a continuation of it.  There Sappho prays for divine intervention (Aphrodite) to deal with a failed sexual relationship; the closing prayer of its final stanza is analogous to the last sentence of the 4th Letter’s first paragraph: “Lord, you who know my heart . . . fulfill no wishes that are not pleasing to you, I am depending on you!” 

In each case it would seem the answer is anticipated to be one that is not heard or read but rather felt in the heart, intuitively understood as the center point of all bodily feelings.  That would be not an abstraction from the senses but an inward intensification of them.  Such intensification becomes the basis for its outward expression not just in words, but in all forms of art.  

Caroline grew up during a time of renewed interest in ancient Greek art and particularly nude sculpture, which rightly can be taken to symbolize the belief in the sacredness of the entire human body (a belief that correlates with heart centeredness).  It is notable that the floruit of such sculpture predates Plato by almost a century and quite literally embodies principles utterly antithetical to his philosophy.  It is also analogous to another art form that predates him and that he disparaged: reciting poetry (whether or not incorporated into a theatrical production).  Poetic recitation requires fully identifying with the poet and poem to such a degree that it can be thought of as internalized sculpting.

The principles underlying sculpture and recitation are thus similar and of general applicability.  Caroline, who enjoyed (and was appreciated for) reciting poetry, makes the point in a review she wrote of a book of essays on artistic appreciation (the “Review”).  To judge art, she says, it is necessary to penetrate “deeply into the meaning and sensibility of both it and its initiator . . . surrendering oneself in quiet reflection to a disposition of loving, receptive observation . . . [to be] transpose[d] . . . into the world of the poet or artist.”  She defends the book’s use of a fictional friar to voice religious reverence for art, effectively equating artistic appreciation with religious devotion, since it is only from feeling the divine within (i.e., internalizing god as the artist) that the divine outside is to be understood.   

This was not something new for Caroline, as is evident from the 4th Letter that was written nearly twenty years before the Review.  Not only does she seem to have internalized Sappho, but the opening line of S. 31 (a man, “equal to the gods”) and the closing line of S. 1 (“my comrade,” the goddess) arguably encouraged her transition in the 4th Letter’s first paragraph from describing her feelings to Luise (psychology) to praying to God (theology).  That transition anticipates the identification of psychology with theology Caroline articulates in the Review.  

The remote antiquity of this identification and its association with goddess worship to which Sappho attests, as well as the recognition of it by Caroline at such a young age deserve attention, for it has quite a history, especially in German culture.  Goethe quoted two lines of a 1st century CE Latin poem on astrology that essentially echo it in the guestbook atop Mount Brocken on September 4, 1784: who is able to know heaven except by a gift from heaven, who finds god unless a part of the gods is within them.  It is not known when Caroline met Goethe; it has been speculated that he was the father of her first daughter, Auguste, born April 28, 1785.  In August 1784 Caroline was living in a mining town not far from Brocken.

The opening paragraph of an essay published by Caroline’s third husband in 1809, only months before her death, contains a reference to the principle of knowing the god outside from the god within, correctly noting that its connection with Empedocles proves it predates Plato.  In 1936 Heidegger characterized that essay as “one of the most profound works” of Western philosophy.  In my next post(s) I hope to show that its profundity relates to a critique of Plato (and other philosophers) that derives from Caroline and her appreciation of ancient Greek female spirituality, and not to glorifying supermen.

Stuart WordPress photoStuart Dean has a B.A. (Tulane, 1976) and J.D. (Cornell, 1995) and is currently an independent researcher and writer living in New York City.  He has studied, practiced and taught Tai Chi, Yoga and related disciplines for over forty years.  Stuart has a blog on Sappho and the implications of her poetry for understanding the past, present and future:

A Theology of Indifference – What Have We Become? by Karen Hernandez

karen hernandezSay his name – Bashar al-Assad. From my research and understanding, as President, Assad is most responsible for Syria’s devastation. Yes, there are many other players, but, Assad holds a special place. Responsible for making sure the first shots were fired at peaceful Arab Spring protesters, to using chemical weapons on his own people, he is one bad dude.

Yet, what perplexes me is that people love him. In fact, they adore him. How do I know? I follow the Syrian Presidency on Instagram. Yes, the Syrian Presidency has an Instagram account. How can a man that is responsible for the deaths of millions have an Instagram account? Continue reading “A Theology of Indifference – What Have We Become? by Karen Hernandez”

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