WWFD: What Would a Feminist Do?
I have long agonized over how to live out my feminist values with respect to my vocation. Imagine those cartoons with the angel on shoulder and the devil on the other . . . the two arguing sides are not archetypal opposites in my story, though at times they feel that way. On one shoulder sits a call to engaged activist work and on the other, a desire to teach and write in an academic institution. I am not the only feminist activist scholar to feel this dilemma. Thankfully, when a group of colleagues and I came together at a gathering designed by the late Letty Russell, Women Scholar Activists in the Academy, I realized I was not the only person thinking up new models of responding to the activist/scholar divide.
At that conference and then through on-going conversations, some in public forums like American Academy of Religion panel presentations, the idea for the book Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship: The Next Generation became a reality. The project was two years in the making, but allowed the scholars involved to be in conversation, read and re-read each others essays, and discuss new ideas. When I started co-editing the book with Melanie L. Harris, I was working in a non-profit doing workshops in congregations and representing progressive faith voices in Washington. I saw this as “activist” and my scholarship was done in the evenings (or early hours of the morning). By the time the book was published this December, I had moved full-time to Drew Theological School switching the hours I spent on activism to academic teaching and writing.
Editing this volume and shifting my job location have reinforced for me many of the points made in the essays and shared experiences of feminist scholars today. Feminism is a way of acting and being in the world; it is an ethical praxis. We could say: our desire to be engaged is our activism and our commitment to doing so critically is our scholarship. This is not something I turn off when class ends or leave behind when a rally closes down. Being a feminist activist scholar is a vocation that I bring to activities like coaching 4th grade girls basketball or having discussions with friends about presidential campaigns. Through this project, I also remembered how we challenge and grow our commitments when we work through them with others.
As we began our writing process, the group reflected on the volume Inheriting Our Mother’s Gardens, in which many of our academic foremothers discuss how their mothers shaped their location, commitments, and theo-ethical thinking. There was a deep, collective awareness and appreciation for where our work sits in a history of feminist scholarship and activism in Christian communities in particular. In that light, we asked similar questions for a new time and with new scholars. The volume includes essays on what we inherited from our academic and familial foremothers, shifts and waves in feminist theory, and how feminist activist commitments shape pedagogy. We found it difficult to come to concensus on the use of the term feminist, what activism entails, and where the next steps will be in feminist activism and scholarship. That was precisely the beauty of the project: there was no one way or one answer.
The better question might be: What would feministS do?
The contributors to Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship are:
Malinda Elizabeth Berry
Deborah J. Buchanan
María Teresa Dávila
Rachel Elizabeth Harding
Melanie L. Harris
W. Anne Joh
Davina C. Lopez
Kate M. Ott
Keun-Joo Christine Pae