This issue marks the start of Elizabeth Pritchard’s tenure as coeditor of JFSR. It also marks her return after twenty-three years to direct involvement with the journal’s review and production process. She is thrilled to be back at work helping assemble the longest-running and dependably stimulating conversation as to how gender gets done (and undone) in religious histories, texts, and institutions. Much has changed for JFSR in the ensuing decades. It has gone from being a stand-alone journal to being one hub amid a multimedia platform. Such tremendous growth is certainly cause for celebration.
Nonetheless, this same period of time has seen either the persistence or worsening of the injustices that spur our outrage and collective effort. For instance, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly produced the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, describing violence against women as a worldwide “pandemic.” More than twenty years later, the UN reports that as many as one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence, usually at the hands of their intimate partners.1 A 2015 UN report reveals that women the world over continue to bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men and two to ten times the amount of time a day to care for children, elderly, and the sick.2 In 1992, the average wealth of African American households was 22 percent of white households and that of Hispanic households was 24 percent of white households; in 2013, these figures had fallen to 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.3The average net [End Page 1] worth of an unmarried middle-aged African American woman is $5 as compared to $42,600 for an unmarried middle-aged white woman.4 The Human Rights Campaign, in partnership with the Trans People of Color Coalition, reports that in 2015, twenty-one transgender persons were murdered in the United States, almost all of them trans women of color.5This is the highest number of reported homicides since 2009 when such data was first collected. Clearly, the work of challenging explicit and implicit religious authorizations for sexism, racism, classism, homo and trans phobias, nationalism, and ethnocentrism is as crucial as ever.
In the face of such daunting challenges, we derive inspiration and determination from pioneering feminist scholars and activists. We start with Julie Regan’s gracious tribute to the feminist Buddhist scholarship of Rita Gross. We appreciate, in particular, Regan’s noting that Rita was refreshingly open to challenges and disagreements. Rita may have forged a path for subsequent scholars of Buddhism and feminism, but as is the case with Regan’s insistence on contesting the category of gender in Buddhism, they will undoubtedly find their own way. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that this lesson needs to be learned over and over again.
This issue’s roundtable “Feminism and Islam: Exploring the Boundaries of Critique” is a brilliant instantiation of this lesson. In light of the facts that feminist or, as some prefer, gender-equality scholars are few in number in their respective areas of expertise and that the challenges to building a tradition of inquiry and activism so numerous, dissent can be a fraught undertaking. A central issue in this debate is the status of the Qur’an. What is its relation to the divine? Is it revelatory? Is it a discourse? Is it sacred? And if so, how so? There are moments of despair and flashes of anger in this roundtable. Nonetheless, the intelligence, fortitude, and keen sense of stakes evidenced by the participants make for a gripping read. We know this was not an easy assignment for any of the interlocutors and we are deeply grateful to them for their willingness to take up these matters in this forum.
In our articles section, we are delighted to recognize the winners of the Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholar Awards. The first-place award goes to Brooke Nelson. Nelson revisits the texts describing the Martyrdom of Domnina—a lesser-studied work of late antiquity that nonetheless appears to reflect a lively cult in her name—in order to examine how Christianity reframed [End Page 2] Roman expectations of the virtue and disposition of upper-class mothers and, thus, to flesh out the comprehensiveness of early Christian constructions of gender. The second place award winner, Rachel Joyce Marie O. Sanchez, uncovers the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s theological double cross, which works to curtail women’s leadership in the Church. The “Sense of Faith” deployed by the hierarchy retains a distinction between those who are “theologically competent” (the hierarchy) and those who are not (laypersons) and, moreover, insists that laypersons’ involvement in Church life is necessary for participation in this Sense of Faith, even as they ensure that this involvement extends only to consultation not decision making.
Sallie M. Cuffee highlights how the spiritual autobiographies of nineteenth-century African American women entail these women’s self-fashioning not simply as survivors but as moral agents and political actors audaciously making a case for their community’s possession of fully human souls and bodies. Margaret Susan Thompson’s detailed account of the Vatican’s Apostolic Visitation of US Catholic Women Religious (2009–14) also reveals the religious and political agency nuns (and their allies) exercise to forge a spiritual discipline of solidarity and resistance to the hierarchy’s continued investment in practices of policing and subordination. Fulata Lusungu Moyo rereads the biblical text of Ruth and Naomi in the light of the experiences of sexually traumatized and trafficked girls. As Moyo points out, such a reading is designed to afford healing to individuals, to mobilize communal advocacy against the trafficking of women and girls, and to repudiate the theology of Christian rescue centers, which instruct sexually violated girls to offer forgiveness to their offenders and gratitude for the “gift” of their resultant pregnancies. Moyo draws on her own experience of sexual violation and her activism on behalf of women’s rights. The resulting essay crosses the boundaries sometimes too tidily maintained between articles and “Living It Out” pieces in JFSR and we welcome more genre-bending pieces that speak simultaneously to the overlapping communities of the journal: the academy and the feminist movement.
In the poetry section of this issue, poetry editor Veronica Golos has collected poems by various authors that speak to her advertised theme of “doubt.” Doubt would seem to be a fitting posture for those of us who have learned to distrust authority, whether familial, textual, traditional, religious, or political. Nonetheless, as the persistence of this journal exemplifies, doubt need not lead to isolation. As one of the characters in John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 play entitled Doubt: A Parableremarks, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”6 [End Page 3]
We conclude this issue with an Across Generations conversation between Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Oluwatomisin Oredein. Oduyoye’s remarkable career spans forty-six years and counting. Over twenty years ago, she took up the issue of global violence against women. If we find ourselves in despair about the numbers of women who continue to experience violence, we must nonetheless join her in taking the pledge: “We vow to you and to ourselves before this great cloud of global witnesses, seen and unseen. Never again shall we walk on tiptoe around the globe.”7 [End Page 4]
1. UN Women, “Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women,” November 6, 2015, http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures.
2. UN Women, “Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment,” updated April 2015, http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures#notes.
3. Urban Institute, “Nine Charts about Wealth Inequality in America,” February 2015, http://apps.urban.org/features/wealth-inequality-charts/. Median figures for wealth, or that of a typical household for each group, are lower, but still reflect stunning disparities. Although Asian Americans constitute the highest income bracket in the United States, gender disparity in pay is highest among whites and Asian Americans; see AAUW, “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap,” Spring 2016, http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/.
4. Julianne Malveaux, “Still Slipping: African American Women in the Economy and in Society,” Review of Black Political Economy 40, no. 1 (March 2013): 13–21, esp. 16.
5. Human Rights Campaign and Trans People of Color Coalition, “Addressing Anti-Transgender Violence: Exploring Realities, Challenges, and Solutions for Policymakers and Community Advocates,” accessed July 4, 2016, http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/HRC-AntiTransgenderViolence-0519.pdf. Following the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, the FBI began tracking bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity.
6. John Patrick Shanley, Doubt: A Parable (New York: Theatre Communication Group, 2005), 6.
7. Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “A Letter to My Ancestors,” in Journey of Hope: Toward a New Ecumenical Africa, ed. Nicholas Otieno and Hugh McCullum (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2005), xxii.
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