Feminist Studies in Religion, Inc., the umbrella organization that publishes the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (JFSR), has recently invited feminist scholars and teachers in religion to connect students and younger scholars with pathmakers in the field. the idea is to create interview-based essays, audio pieces, and videos showcasing conversations across generations that explore feminist history and generate new insights that enliven and strengthen feminist work in religion. In this issue, we are happy to publish the first of these interviews between Jane Schaberg, author of The Illegitimacy of Jesus, The Resurrection of Mary Madgalene, and many articles in feminist studies in the Christian testament, and Christine Mitchell, a student at Harvard Divinity School. As we go to press, we note with great sadness that Jane passed away on April 17, 2012. Her work on Christian origins is fiercely feminist and powerfuly creative. On May 13, 2012, we also lost Ada Mariá Isasi-Díaz. A pioneer of mujerista theology and ethics, Ada Mariá challenged scholarship to be accountable to La Lucha. Both of these women will be greatly missed in the field and by the many people who loved and learned alongside them. With the launching of Across Generations, we honor their work.
We invite all of our readers to visit the new Feminist Studies in Religion, inc., website (www.fsrinc.org) to learn more about the Across Generations project. The website also offers new tools for exploring feminist studies in religion such as a searchable index of articles in JFSR and ongoing blogs and online conversations. Scholars wishing to submit articles for review can now use the electronic submission tools available there. It seems fitting that we inaugurate the Across Generations project with this issue. Many of the articles and roundtable essays explore the distances and proximities between generations, be they between older and more recent scholarship, between mothers and children, or between teachers and students. Despite its often forward-looking orientation, feminist work for change has always been a complex weaving of continuities, negations, revisions, and renewals. The articles and roundtables in this issue demonstrate the ways that past, present, and future collide and collaborate in feminist spaces of discourse and action.
The issue begins with Tudor Balinisteanu’s tracing of the Goddess in unexpected places, that is, in two cyborg-goddess figures in U.S. popular culture: Tank Girl from the popular comic book series by the same name and the Borg Queen from First Contact, a film set in the Star Trek universe. According to Balinisteanu, the Borg Queen is an Enlightenment expression of the terror of a union between women and nature that threatens to undermine the rule of male warriors and scientists over a hierarchical body politic. In this frame of reference, notions of social collectivity and human-technology integration must be repudiated in favor of hierarchy, individualism, and human dominance over nature and technology. By contrast, Tank Girl’s subjectivity is less collective than heteroglossic, carnivalesque, gender performative, and intersubjective with various nonhuman entities. In this sense, and according to Balinisteanu’s analysis, Tank Girl evokes “the Goddess tradition of balance and interdependence between society and nature, while also being compatible with contemporary needs of adaptation to technology” (6).
It is a long way from the sci-fi future to nineteenth-century India, but in her article, Parinitha Shetty also finds a creatively disruptive figure in Pandita Mary Ramabai. A Brahmin woman educated in Sanskrit and involved in organizing women’s associations, in many ways Ramabai embodied the Orientalist fantasy of the ancient learned Vedic woman and participated in reforming projects in line with the elite male reformers of the time. Her conversion to Christianity in 1883, however, did not result in an uncomplicated valorization of Christianity. Rather, Shetty’s analysis of Ramabai’s writings and activities find her speaking from her multiply liminal space of Indian, Brahmin, widow, and Protestant Christian. From there, according to Shetty, Ramabai critiqued dominant traditions and practices of both the colonizers and the colonized and opened new spaces within and between them.
Mary Dunn’s article on Marie de l’Incarnation explores the more confining space of seventeenth-century European conceptions of motherhood. in 1631, Marie de l’Incarnation entered the Ursuline monastery in Tours, leaving behind her eleven-year-old son Claude to pursue the religious life. Dunn examines Marie’s letters to identify the stated reasons for her decision as well as to trace her lifelong lingering doubts about it that are discernible in her communications with her grown son. Dunn sees Marie as accepting a longstanding pernicious Christian tradition that denigrates motherhood. Although such a proposal may “swim upstream against a current of feminist theology” (57) that rejects sacrificial love in favor of mutuality, Dunn argues that the Christian tradition also carries the resources to reclaim the sacrifices of motherhood as “not just compatible with but integral to Christian discipleship” (60).
Together, the two roundtables in this issue are retrospective and prospective. The first celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Valerie Saiving’s 1960 article, “The Human situation: A Feminine View,” and engages the recent renewed interest in Reinhold Niebuhr (one of the objects of Saiving’s critique) in academic and political discourse. The nine scholars asked to participate reflect on the following questions:
- What is the continued significance of Valerie Saiving’s article, “The Human situation: A Feminine View,” for theological ethics?
- What changes have occurred in the academy and in society that affect our understanding of the significance of Saiving’s work?
- What is the potential for Saiving’s work to challenge or to provide greater nuance to the resurging interest in Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought and especially his view of sin as pride in our current political debates?
The responses are wide-ranging and touch on topics in and beyond feminist scholarship in religion. the roundtable’s organizers have dedicated their work to Susan Nelson Dunfee, in memory of her contributions to feminist discussions of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought.
In a Different Voice, Karen An-hwei Lee’s “Dialogue of Soul and Female” resonates with the themes of the Saiving roundtable even as her “Prayer for Afghan Women,” dedicated to Freshta of the Afghan Women’s Writers’ Project, points forward to the women’s transformative learning communities explored in the Living it Out section. And as the second roundtable is dedicated to teaching, it seems apropos that Jane Seitel’s “Gestures” is dedicated to Jean Valentine, a mentor-teacher of poets and one whose poetry, as Adrienne rich said, “lets us into spaces and meaning we couldn’t approach in any other way.” (Jean Valentine, “Bio/Books,” http://www.jeanvalentine.com/bio10.html.)
The second roundtable turns our attention to the religions studies classroom as a counterpublic space or a site of struggle, to use Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s term, for fostering social-political transformation. The five participants discuss the teaching of religion at the intersections of race, class, gender, and nation, as well as the potential of such embodied practices as mindful breathing, performance, ritual, and community-based learning. the concluding response effectively reviews these contributions and identifies several challenging features of the larger context of feminist teaching: the continued (and/or renewed) privileging of observation and description over conscientization and action, the persistence of the interests of the powerful in shaping academic discourse (and hiring), and the power of the corporatized drive toward “positive thinking” that promotes free-market mindsets and denigrate the most critical voices as just so much individual negativity. We hope this roundtable will spur further reflections and discussion on the Feminism in Religion (FiR) blog page of the FSR website (www.fsrinc.org).
Building on the notion of education as a space of transformation, this issue closes with Lauren Ila Jones’s Living it Out article on women’s theologizing in the context of intergenerational community-based social movements in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Argentina. Based on thirty-six interviews with women in these movements, Jones reflects on the question: "How do women in Latin American social movements perceive the influence of theology on these movements’ pedagogies?" (189). She concludes that, “convergence between the different ways that women ‘live’ their own faith when they unite for the purpose of community conscientization leads toward education rooted within their deepest spiritual desires. When women bring their personal theologies to these movements, transformative educational experiences emerge both for them and for the people around them. The work of these women, as they unite theology and pedagogy, places them at the heart of the struggle for social justice” (206).
Of course, we invite readers to consider each contribution to this issue on its own terms. But we also invite remembrance of and critical reflection on the cross-, inter-, and trans- generational nature of feminist work on http://www.fsrinc.org and in the JFSR.
Back to Volume 28, Number 1