I Was Brainwashed to Believe I Wasn’t Human. Now I’m on a Mission Against that Cult-Part 3

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual content

In Part 1 of this story, I introduced a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:

Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”

Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.

Continue reading “I Was Brainwashed to Believe I Wasn’t Human. Now I’m on a Mission Against that Cult-Part 3”

I Am a High School Drop-Out by Karen Leslie Hernandez

karen hernandezIn 1985, four months before I was supposed to graduate from high school, I awoke one morning, made a hasty decision to escape my harsh reality, and by the end of the day, I was a high school drop-out.

Even now, with a BA from Wellesley College and two theological master’s degrees, I have a difficult time admitting I dropped out of high school. It’s not necessarily because I am embarrassed, but more, it is because it reminds me of that very painful time in my life.

My journey is, I am aware, different, to say the least. However, as I rummage through my past, I am always reminded that I didn’t get here alone. No, indeed, there were many beautiful souls that helped me get to where I am today.

In all the work and conversations I have had with women around the world – women in the Slums of Mumbai, domestic violence survivors, rape victims, women that have experienced war and trauma, incest survivors – I am always reminded of one thing – women are all born with strength, beauty, hope, and a future. Somewhere along the way, for many of us, things change, and the sad reality is that things change because of where we are born, or our educational opportunities, or our social class, or our race, or our religion, or our place in the family, or mental illness, or abuse, and so on. I think a lot of times things change for women, simply because we are women. Continue reading “I Am a High School Drop-Out by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Friendships That Save Lives: For Rita M. Gross 1943-2015, by Carol P. Christ

Carol Eftalou - Michael HonnegerWhen Rita Gross visited me in Lesbos two summers ago, we spent many long hours discussing our lives and work. Rita and I met at the Conference of Women Theologians at Alverno College in June, 1971 when we were young women. We did not know it then, but our lives would continue to be intertwined through our common interests, first in the Women and Religion section of the American Academy of Religion, and then through our work on Goddesses and feminist theology.

When we met, Rita was a convert to Judaism working on her dissertation on Australian Aboriginal women’s religious lives, and I was a Christian about to begin a dissertation on Elie Wiesel’s stories that would lead me to express my own anger at God. Continue reading “Friendships That Save Lives: For Rita M. Gross 1943-2015, by Carol P. Christ”

Feminism, Friends, and Faith by Michele Buscher

Michele BuscherAlmost a year ago, I contributed my first post to this blog.  I wrote about the struggles I had encountered mostly during my time pursuing my PhD in Religious Studies.  Reflecting on my experiences helped me realize the impact women have had on my successes and how their support during my failures meant everything.

Now, I’m reflecting on a similar theme but with particular attention to my friendships with women.  Certain events that have taken place over the past few days have helped shed light on these friendships and how the dynamic I have with two women, in particular, has shaped my personhood, helped my continued pursuit to define what feminism means to me, resulting in a spiritual, faithful experience.   Continue reading “Feminism, Friends, and Faith by Michele Buscher”

Gender, Friendship, Collaboration, and Unacknowledged Authorship by Carol P. Christ

Carol in Crete croppedIn recent weeks Judith Plaskow and I have been revising the manuscript of our new book Goddess and God in the World in preparation for sending it to the publisher. Yes, we have a publisher. We signed a contract with Fortress Press a short time ago. The book should be out in 2016.

We have been hard—and I mean very hard—at work revising the four chapters in the book that are jointly written. The versions have been going back and forth and forth and back as we revision what we want to say and revise each other’s revisions of the drafts we have. We both want the final manuscript to say things just right and it is very hard not to make one more set of (alleged) improvements.

In the process we have realized that while we often disagree on words and wording, we have come to think alike on a wide variety of issues to the point that it becomes hard to say who had the ideas first. In addition we have both become so familiar with each other’s positions that we can each easily articulate both sides of our dialogue on the issues on which we disagree.

All of this has gotten me to thinking again about authorship and co-authorship and original and shared ideas. This train of thought led me back to the subject of Judith’s and my first essay together originally titled “Against My Wife” but published as “For the Advancement of My Career: A Form Critical Study in the Art of Acknowledgement.”  We discussed 5 formulaic tropes used in acknowledgements to wives in academic books, ending with “the wife as unacknowledged co-author.” Continue reading “Gender, Friendship, Collaboration, and Unacknowledged Authorship by Carol P. Christ”

The Power of Female Friendship: Remembering Karen McCarthy Brown by Carol P. Christ

Karen Brown 1985

News of Karen Brown’s recent death came via email from a mutual friend of ours, Christine Downing.

There are many things that can be said about Karen’s life and career, including that she won prizes for her life’s work Mama Lola in scholarly associations in the fields of religion and anthropology, that her work has been influential in bringing the study of Vodou into the scholarly mainstream, and that it has been inspiring to women of color.

Here I will focus on the years when our friendship provided crucial support for our audacious scholarly work. I first met Karen through the New York Feminist Scholars in Religion, a group Anne Barstow and I organized in 1974 that nurtured work on women and religion for many of us, including besides me and Karen, Judith Plaskow, Naomi Goldenberg, Ellen Umansky, Lynn Gottlieb, Beverly Harrison, Nelle Morton, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.

My friendship with Karen was sparked by the explosion that occurred in the New York feminist scholars group when Anne Barstow and I spoke in the fall of 1976 about our attractions to the Goddess. Our presentations evoked a great conflagration, which I remember as coalescing around Beverly Harrison’s authoritative and authoritarian statement that there can be no ethics in Goddess religion because ethics comes from a transcendent source—not from nature. Karen was among those who responded tentatively that she was not so sure Beverly was right.

In the discussions that continued over the academic year, Karen and I exchanged meaningful glances, supported each others’ comments, and finally met for a few longer conversations shortly before I left New York to take up a new teaching position in California. Karen was then in the process of leaving her husband and moving into the magnificently quirky loft apartment that she would decorate with Haitian art in Tribeca on the lower west side of New York City.

I offered to do a house blessing for Karen’s new apartment, and she agreed. We blessed the thresholds and the corners of each room with salt and water and incense, and Karen spoke of the new life she hoped to begin in her new home. Later Karen told me that Alourdres (Mama Lola) insisted on blessing the house again and that the rituals were nearly the same.

During the years Karen lived in the Lower West Side from 1977 to 2001 or 2002, I stayed with her several times a year when conferences and lectures brought me to and through New York and on my way back and forth from teaching in Greece in the summers. During that time we had many long and intimate conversations in which the details of our lives were interwoven with the details of our work.

Carol Christ & Karen Brown 1985
Carol Christ & Karen Brown 1985

Our friendship was important to both of us, not only because we were pioneers in the study of women and religion, but also because within it we were becoming a minority within a minority as our work took us outside an  increasingly Christian-dominated field. Our conversations ranged fluidly around many subjects including: leaving Christianity; the importance of female symbolism for divinity; whether we need male Gods of war or not; religions that focus on the divine and human connection to nature; similarities and differences between Goddess and Vodou rituals and altars; healing; female leadership styles; the experience of living between cultures; and our common struggles to find a voice in which to write about what we were discovering.

Karen and I were in the process of rejecting the dispassionate voice of scholarly objectivity and searching for a way to write that combined scholarly research with the passion to know the world more deeply and to think about it clearly that inspired our work. Our conversations with each other were a lifeline, as we had no role models for the personal paths we were exploring or for the new ways of writing our scholarship with which we were experimenting. We quite literally “heard each other into speech” to quote the phrase Nelle Morton used to name the importance of our female conversations.

I happened to visit Karen shortly after she underwent her initiation into Vodou, which was at about the same time that I experienced what felt to me like revelation at the temple of Aphrodite in Lesbos. We both felt that we must incorporate these moments into our writings, but we also were afraid to do so because we feared that others would call us heretics and dismiss our writing as unscholarly. Karen and I spoke publicly of these experiences on a panel organized by Rita Gross at the American Academy of Religion in 1985 that was published in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 3/1 (1987).

Karen received more scholarly recognition for her transgressions than I have. This is in part due to a greater interest in difference among anthropologists than among theologians. However, Karen often told me that scholarly recognition is not the only way to judge the importance of feminist contributions and reminded me that my work has had a major impact within and outside the academy.

One day Karen and I were discussing whether she could fully embrace Haitian culture and whether I would become Greek. Invoking the Vodou concept of living “between the worlds” of the spirit and ordinary reality, she said that this was how she understood herself: she could never be nor would she want to be Haitian, but neither would she ever be fully American or Christian again. She added that one of the reasons she felt comfortable living between worlds was that she had never felt comfortable in her own culture.

In the intervening years, I have thought about this conversation many times. While there was once a time when I wanted to become Greek and leave my American culture behind, I have come to realize that this is not possible. Like Karen, I live between worlds and find my greatest comfort in belonging to two worlds and to neither. This insight is only one of the many gifts I gained though my friendship with Karen McCarthy Brown.

Remembering Karen, let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter)–space available on the spring and fall 2015 tours.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions; and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Photos by Martha Ackelsberg.

Remembering Audre Lorde and “The Uses Of The Erotic” by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ 2002 colorI was  given a copy of Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of the Erotic” in my first year of teaching at San Jose State by a young white lesbian M.A. student named Terry.  It was 1978.  I was in my early 30s.  This essay came into my life and the lives of my students, friends, and colleagues at “the right time.”  It became a kind of “sacred text” that authorized us to continue to explore the feelings of our bodies and to take them seriously.

The second wave of the women’s movement was about to enter its second decade. We had already been through years of consciousness raising groups.  There we learned to “hear each other to speech” about feelings we had learned to suppress because we had been told they were not acceptable for us as women to have or to express.  Those early days of the women’s movement were one big “coming out” movement.  We were bringing our feelings and ourselves out of the closet.

Many of us had been exploring various forms of body and feeling based therapies broadly called “humanistic” that encouraged the open acknowledgment and expression of feelings.  It was also the time when large numbers of women were beginning to “come out” as lesbian.  Some of these were women who had theretofore not “known” or even had any idea that they were lesbian. The song by Lavender Jane Loves Women with the refrain “any woman can be a lesbian” was well-known in feminist circles.  Women who did not stay lesbian explored their sexuality with other women. Women who did not do that were naming and recognizing the importance of female friendship and its life-saving and life-transforming part in their lives—an act that was in itself transgressive.

Audre Lorde told us that all of this was not only good–it was sacred. “The erotic is a resource exists in each of us on a deeply female and spiritual plane.”  Continue reading “Remembering Audre Lorde and “The Uses Of The Erotic” by Carol P. Christ”

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