It has been the practice of the editors over the years to take turns drafting the introduction to each issue, for the nondrafter to then edit the first draft, and for the introduction to be published as the work of both. In this case, however, I, Judith, am very aware that this is the last introduction I will write. By the time this issue appears, I will have stepped down as coeditor of the JFSR to be replaced by Elizabeth Pritchard of Bowdoin College. This transition marks a very important moment for the journal in that it will be the first time in its thirty-plus years that neither Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza nor I, the two founding editors, will be a coeditor. One might say that the journal has come of age. With a long history now behind it, Indiana University Press as publisher, and an excellent production team in place, it is possible to move into a regular rotation of coeditors with the assurance of stability. It is no accident that the new coeditor with Traci West, Elizabeth Pritchard, was the second managing editor of the JFSR, serving in that role from 1992 through 1998 while a doctoral student at Harvard. After Elizabeth received her degree, she joined the editorial board and has been Religion and Politics editor for the last several years. The JFSR has been blessed with a succession of talented and deeply committed managing (now called submissions) editors who feel a stake in the journal’s future, and the position has been an important incubator for the next generation of leadership.
The JFSR experienced another transition this fall when Christy Cobb stepped down as submissions editor after three years. We bid Christy a sad farewell in the last issue, and in this one we welcome Susan Woolever, a doctoral student at Drew University, who took over the position at the end of summer 2015. In my last months as coeditor, it has been a pleasure working with yet another young scholar who understands and is committed to the mission of the journal.
I am gratified as I pass the editorship into other hands that this issue so well represents JFSR’s founding vision of having two communities of accountability: the academy and the feminist/womanist movement. Traci and I were very concerned that at this moment of continuing and seemingly uncontrollable police violence, ugly race-baiting by Republican presidential candidates, and heightened discussion of race in the United States that we give some serious attention to race and racism in this issue. We are delighted, therefore, to be able to publish a roundtable on “Women of Color in the Religious Studies Classroom: Silent Scripts and Contested Spaces,” which emerged out of a Wabash Center teaching consultation in 2008. The lead-in piece by Melanie Harris, Carolyn Medine, and Helen Rhee focuses on the classroom as a microcosm of power dynamics in the larger society. In a culture in which no one escapes indoctrination into white racist stereotypes, narratives, and practices, professors who are women of color find their authority questioned from the moment they walk into a room. They are subject to a host of conscious and unconscious, voiced and unvoiced assumptions about their competence, expertise, and bodily presence at the front of the classroom and must constantly respond to both overt and microaggressions. Scholars representing a range of different social locations and types of institutions respond to the lead piece, connecting contemporary classroom dynamics to the long historical trajectory of white supremacy, discussing the forms student antagonism takes with faculty members of different ethnic groups, providing a global dimension to the conversation, and raising critical questions about the responsibilities of faculty members teaching religious studies in the “imperial university.”
Several articles in the issue also locate themselves at the intersection between feminist theory and analysis and contemporary social struggles. L. Juliana Claassens’s article on “the Good Wife” in the book of Proverbs asks what circumstances might allow women in communities all around the world to both survive and thrive. Drawing on Martha Nussbaum’s list of capabilities necessary to a good life, she reflects critically on Proverbs 31, using the passage as a lens for exploring the preconditions that make for human flourishing. Mary Carlson makes use of a different ethical theorist—Miranda Fricker—to highlight the injustice done to women by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pamphlet Strengthening the Bonds of Peace. Examining successive drafts of what was originally meant to be a pastoral letter on the role of women in society and the church, Carlson documents how each iteration was further removed from the actual words and experiences of women. Monica Rey’s piece, which like Claassen’s focuses on the Hebrew Bible, examines Deuteronomy 21:10–14 as a case of genocidal rape. Looking at the intersection of gender and ethnicity in the treatment of foreign captives, she notes how the contemporary widespread use of rape as a weapon of war continues today.
The last two pieces in the articles section, Joyce Berkman’s essay on Edith Stein and Katie M. Grimes’s article on John Paul II’s theology of the body, speak to each other in interesting ways. Berkman focuses on a dramatic dialogue in which Stein imagined a conversation between the biblical Esther and the Virgin Mary. Arguing that the dialogue allowed Stein to integrate her Jewish, Christian, and feminist identities, Berkman highlights the duality of Mary in Stein’s text: the traditional, submissive, obedient wife and mother and the powerful, audacious woman who echoes Stein’s own Jewish mother. We might say that John Paul’s theology of the Annunciation, as Grimes describes it, propounds only the first of these Marys, the one whose womanly dignity lies in her loving receptivity. But Grimes argues that Mary does not fulfill John Paul’s criteria of femininity, that she instead acts “queerly” both during the Annunciation and after. Though the articles place consideration of Mary in very different, and differently rich, contexts, they are still usefully read in relation to each other.
JFSR instituted a new project several issues ago, encouraging students and young scholars to conduct interviews “Across Generations” to capture the stories and experiences of senior scholars in feminist studies in religion while they are still with us. We are deeply saddened by the fact that Rita Gross died in fall 2015, after an interview with her had been scheduled but before it could be completed. Rita was not only the author of many important works on Buddhism and feminism, but she was also chair of the Women and Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion for eight years in its early days, contributed to Jewish feminism before she became a Buddhist, and was for many years a member of the JFSR editorial board. The untimely passing of such a major scholar points to the urgency of collecting firsthand accounts of the beginnings and development of feminist studies in religion while it is still possible. We are pleased to be able to publish two such interviews in this issue, one with Inés Talamantez on Native American and Indigenous studies and one with me on Jewish feminism.
In signing off as coeditor, I want to thank the editorial board—both members who have been with us from the very beginning of JFSR and those who have come on at many points along the way—and our managing and submission editors who have done extraordinary work, often far beyond what was demanded for the paltry sums they were paid. Without them all, there is no way the JFSR could have thrived for over thirty years and arrived at this new moment in its history. It has been a special pleasure to me to serve as coeditor with Traci West, who has been a partner par excellence in all the tasks involved in putting out the journal. I cannot think of a lovelier way to have ended my stint as editor than being able to work with her.
I, Traci, have a coda to add to this introduction that Judith Plaskow has written. I take this opportunity to express deep appreciation for the enormity of Judith’s contributions as coeditor of JFSR and as an ideal partner for me in this work. The differences in our experience of feminism and religion that might have been a source of tension instead genuinely enriched our collaboration. Judith’s Judaism, whiteness, and over thirty years of JFSR leadership starting as its cofounder contrasts with my Christianity, blackness, and twelve years of JFSR editorial board membership, including the last few years as coeditor.
These dissimilarities fueled a bond of mutual respect and creativity in our work. Acknowledgment and exploration of such differences also represents a hallmark of feminist and womanist studies in religion to which JFSR remains committed. At the same time, our collaboration was firmly rooted in common values. In particular, Judith and I discovered a shared view of social justice and activism as an essential aspect of scholarly inquiries in feminist studies in religion.
As documented in the Across Generations interview by Donna Berman in this issue, Judith Plaskow is indeed a pioneering, major influence in feminist studies in religion. I feel honored to have had a chance to learn from her courageous approach to this work. Our partnership has been an absolute pleasure because she is so efficient, flexible, gracious, and open to new ideas. As a cofounder of JFSR, she has invited change and exploration related to organizational process and made space for burgeoning generations of feminist and womanist scholars to participate.
Judith has been a critic of Christian dominance in the religion academy including feminist and womanist studies in religion. I hope JFSR will heed her insistent objection to perpetuating this dominance and continue to work on making more central religious academic and activist inquiries beyond Christian concerns.
As Berman notes, “Judith’s decision to step down as editor of JFSR has given us all a wonderful opportunity to revisit and celebrate her life and work, as we ready ourselves for what she will teach us next” (170).
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