This issue of JFSR marks the completion of a remarkable thirty years of feminist publishing. We celebrate this anniversary with a special section on comparative feminist hermeneutics, a roundtable reflecting on the history and future of the Journal, and a general focus on boundary crossing and innovative methods. Each section of this issue makes a unique contribution to broadening how feminist and womanist studies in religion intentionally constructs scholarly conversations that include diverse voices and theoretical perspectives and benefit a wide range of constituencies. In twenty-first century women’s and gender studies scholarship, one expects that to some degree multiple and/or intersecting understandings of sex, race, ethnicity, class, gender, and nation will be incorporated within most field-specific analyses. But too often in fields other than religious studies the category of religion is neglected as a primary, intersecting axis of women’s and gender studies, and of women’s lives, that deserve careful interrogation. JFSR has contributed to filling this lacuna.
This issue advances the discussion of a need for diverse voices and theoretical perspectives in feminist and womanist studies in religion with critical reflections on how to include them and what methodological difference it makes to do so. The Journal’s deep commitment to such discussions across differing faith traditions is manifest in this issue’s inclusion of articles on gender in the study of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic traditions. The critical perspectives from differing global locations found here, including Mexico, United Kingdom, and Japan, represent an important commitment and direction for the journal that we hope to develop and expand in the next decade.
The articles in the opening section of the issue explore new methods for theorizing gender and religion in historical studies, theology, and cultural studies. In her study of narratives about Saint Thecla, Susan Hylen challenges standard scholarly views, including feminist ones, in the field of Christian historical studies. Hylen’s argument counters the notion that the later Thecla is “domesticated” or watered down in order to be acceptable to the church. Hylen develops a more expansive understanding of Thecla as a radical female leader whose acceptance of Paul’s call to virginity frees her to live an active life of ministry. Susannah Cornwall interrogates the implications of boundary-crossing sexuality in her discussion of sex, intersex, and the maleness of Jesus in Christian theology and church life. Cornwall’s essay interweaves the views of theologians with testimonies by intersex persons about their faith from interviews Cornwall conducted. Cornwall daringly considers the difference it would make for Christian theology if Jesus had had an intersex condition and what it would mean for theological arguments that assume Jesus’s maleness is obvious and incontrovertible. Robert Patterson’s essay is concerned with a paradigm-shifting conceptualization of gender and religion in popular culture filmmaking. He works on a method for envisioning wellness within black communities in the United States that can transform oppressive stereotypes of black women yet also maintain the liberation of all black people as its aim. Utilizing womanist theology in an effort to interrupt traditional masculinist paradigms of popular discourse, Patterson focuses on Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
We are delighted to mark our thirtieth anniversary by publishing a ground-breaking set of essays on comparative feminist hermeneutics that bring to the fore the complexities involved in discussing hermeneutical methods across the boundaries of religious traditions. As Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza explains in the introduction, one of the goals for organizing the panel discussion out of which the essays emerged was to “explore the contours and trajectories of feminist comparative studies of sacred texts across the confessional, historical, cultural, and communal boundaries of diverse male-dominated religions." Karen Derris, a scholar of Buddhist traditions, examines the ethics and politics of knowledge production in her articulation of the liberating potential of feminist interpretation, specifically in the representations of motherhood and mothering. Rachel Adelman demonstrates methodological innovation when utilizing rabbinic midrash to construct a method of reading the story of Esther that extends an invitation to “dare to laugh at the role of gender in the garments of power.” Karen Pechilis provides a paradigm-shifting argument centered on a Hindu female poet-saint, Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār, and her medieval male biographer, insisting on the restoration of such remote literature to a history of feminism that refuses a dichotomy between the history of feminism and women’s history. Aysha Hidayatullah writes most explicitly about comparative feminist hermeneutics, though she offers a careful summary of major concerns in current feminist interpretations of the Qur’an. She maintains the importance of finding new ways of understanding the divinity of the text and the nature of its revelation. Hidayatullah boldly explores if, why, and how feminist scholars working on differing religious traditions might undertake collective, feminist, hermeneutical endeavors.
The poetry in the issue adds an artistic intellectual vantage point for transformative methods of conceiving gender and religion. Jennifer Bullis opens the reader’s imagination to envision Mary, the subject of Da Vinci’s painting, as his instructor on how to paint it. Andrea Watson surprises with an unexpected, haunting Mary and then with a vision of unrepentence. Dean Mayo Kostos’s poem summons Sojourner Truth and a New Jerusalem inviting the revocation of religious fires and singed peoples for a place where, instead, there is no need of escape. Beth Enson ‘s “Hymn to Her” acquaints the reader with a shaking, awakening, and welcoming presence. With startling images throughout, Sawnie Morris conjures an ensemble vision of trees and hints of the politics of human history and the creatureliness of animals and humankind.
In anticipation of this anniversary issue, the editors asked members of JFSR’s North American and international editorial boards and past and current student workers to reflect on the meaning of JFSR for their own work and their hopes for its future. The resulting essays help define the evolving tasks of feminist studies in religion to which the Journal has historically contributed. Several authors describe how the Journal has functioned in their respective, globally diverse settings, such as Mexico, Japan, and Hong Kong. The respondents repeatedly point to the generative quality of JFSR in creating space, theory/knowledge, and community as well as opportunities for respectful disagreement and the nurturing of mentoring relationships. Many of them comment on the Journal’s expanded reach through Internet technology, some with enthusiastic celebration and others with a more critical eye. There are also compelling critiques of the its content over past decades, including its overreliance on global North philosophical narratives and voices and its reproduction of the Christian hegemony that the field of religion has yet to overcome. This array of perspectives represents only a sampling of the board members, authors, reviewers, former student workers, and global perspectives that have made possible the publication of this Journal. Their responses, like the rest of the articles in the issue, point to the possibilities for growth, change, and further intellectual discovery by feminist and womanist scholars in religion.
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