We open this issue of JFSR by celebrating and remembering three feminist scholars of religion. The first comes in the letter of Karen Mccarthy Brown's friends asking to support the French edition of her classic work, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Karen, who suffers from an uncommon form of dementia, was a long-standing member of the editorial board of JFSR and has shaped its perspective from the beginning. In this way, we want to thank Karen publicly for her work and leadership in feminist studies in religion and encourage our readers to honor this eminent feminist scholar by making a financial contribution to the French translation of her book which will help to restore the ancestral religion of Haiti in such times of great challenges facing the country and its people.
The editorial of another longtime board member, Mary Hunt, remembers the extraordinary feminist thinker Mary Daly, who died on January 3, 2010, in Massachusetts after she had been in poor health for the last two years. Her intellectual contributions to feminist philosophy, theory, and studies in religion were unique, numerous, and self-transforming. JFSR salutes her spirit and seeks to continue her feminist work in different ways.
Also in this issue, the roundtable celebrates the work of Nancy Eiesland, who died in spring 2009. Nancy was a feminist disability theologian. She contributed to the first conversation of feminist disability theologians in JFSR, initiated by Elly Elshout. This roundtable appeared in the fall issue of 1994 and castigated feminism's valorization of ableness and body thereby adopting the Platonic ideal of the "wholeness" of body and neglecting the vulnerability of the unrehabilitated "flesh": pain, disease, aging, and other bodily limits. Hence Sharon Betcher, who initiates this new roundtable in honor of Eiesland, argues that feminist theory should focus on flesh because it admits our vulnerability and exposure. "Flesh, the dynamic and fluid physics of embodiment, cannot as easily as the body submit to transcendentalist metaphysics, to the logic of the one. Flesh suggests that the capaciousness of a life resembles a teacup crackled with ten thousand veins. Spirit, lived in relation to flesh, might then not be so interested in wholeness as in passion" (108). We hear the echoes of this capacious and multifaceted passion in the psalms and blessings of the poems by Rebecca Gayle Howell and Lillian Baker Kennedy, which speak "in a different voice."
The articles of this volume map new feminist epistemological and hermeneutical pathways in different religions. The Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza 2010 New Scholar Award winners Shannon Dunn and Rosemary Kellison explore intersections of scripture and law in their discussion of Qur'an 4:34, which interpreted literally suggests that some form of beating is an appropriate punishment for a husband to administer to a disobedient wife. They demonstrate that from the moment of its revelation, many Muslim scholars, including (according to tradition) the Prophet Muhammad himself, have struggled to reconcile this verse with their consciences. They also identify a debate within the legal tradition that parallels that of the Qur'anic interpreters, as legal scholars argue for and against the use of individual reason or conscience, in a method known asijtihad, in their rulings dealing with the role and status of women. Finally, they identify promising directions for future research on this issue, particularly in regard to contemporary Western democracies where Muslims are a minority. We congratulate the authors on their award and we look forward to their future work. We also congratulate Michelle Voss Roberts, whose article "Religious Belonging and the Multiple" (JFSR 26.1, Spring 2010) earned second place in the 2010 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholars Award.
Ronit Irshai's article also addresses interpretations of religious law through her discussion of a gender critical approach to the philosophy of Jewish law (halakhah). Irshai seeks to create a framework for using feminist insights within Orthodox halakhic discourse, by suggesting, among other things, a conversation between feminist scholarship in halakhah and theology, on the one hand, and contemporary critical legal theory, on the other. In so doing, she challenges some of the ways certain basic assumptions about gender inequities and, more important, asymmetries of power are produced and reproduced in contemporary halakhic practice. Her goal is to suggest a detailed account of how halakhah can be revised and renewed (while keeping halakhic tools, mechanisms, and procedures) in light of feminist values, without which the feminist revolution within Judaism cannot be completed.
The next two contributions explore new psychological and historical terrain. Katherine Low reads Gen 19:30–38 parallel to her unique perspective as a daughter of a sexually abused mother and her personal experience as a new mother. Her personal account mingles with academic insights on the text, while she not only critically explores feminist psychoanalytical scholarship, the complexity of remembering sexual abuse, and biblical and societal kinship structures, she also offers alternative kinship theories different from those of psychoanalysis.
Ilaria Ramelli in turn discusses Theosebia, who was Gregory of Nyssa's sister, and argues that as a presbyter probably substituted for Gregory during his exile as well as supported him against "Arianism." Her thesis rests both on a scrutiny of the sources and a comparison with contemporary women's ministries in Cappadocia. This constitutes an advancement in research, with remarkable theoretical implications, both because women presbyters are scarcely attested in the "orthodox" church (but existed, contrary to widespread claims) and in the light of Gregory's and Origen's theology of ministry. A parallel emerges between Gregory of Nyssa's opposition to slavery and his ideas and praxis on women. Their theological perspectives informed social realities.
Finally, the two articles in the Living It Out section continue the discussion of social location but move from the fourth to the twenty-first century. Sarojini Nadar and Cheryl Potgieter's article builds on research conducted by Nadar—a member of the JFSR international editorial board—on the Mighty Men's Conference, a Christian "conference" exclusively for men and structured along similar lines as the exclusively male Promise Keepers movement in the United States. While her study shows how men promote and sustain these forms of male power, the parallel movement, called the Worthy Women's Conference, promotes and sustains what they call formenism. Formenism, like masculinism, also subscribes to a belief in the inherent superiority of men over women, but unlike masculinism, it is not an ideology developed and sustained by men, but an ideology designed, constructed, and sustained by women. Their analysis shows that in choosing the position of formenism a potential cognitive dissonance between liberation and submission is created, and this dissonance is resolved through a reliance on theological and psychological discourses, which are best interpreted as liberation through submission.
We end the issue on a positive note to reflect on the fruits of our theories and struggles: During the women's liberation movement of the sixties, Gaye Bammert points out, evangelical Christian feminists began to explore what "liberation" meant within their faith traditions and she situates the voices of women pastors within these explorations of American evangelical feminism. Her interviews of twenty women pastors from diverse Christian communities discover rhetorically nuanced ways for understanding and living a complex faith tradition. Women pastors occupying spaces, places, and roles that were traditionally gendered male, she argues, have developed new ways of thinking about the female subject-in-relation. Additionally, women pastors counter contemporary desires to sediment Christian theology and practices in warmly remembered pasts or in deferring life to idealized futures through the creative crafting of the present. The results of all feminist theories and struggles in all religions, we would venture to generalize her findings, are rhetorical practices and resources for integrating transcendence and immanence within the lived moment and new ways of thinking about feminist rhetoric, cultural-religious practices, and social change.
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