The contributors to this volume draw our attention, again and again, to scenes of women working: making bread, caring for children, reconstructing language and building worlds, listening to students, mentoring colleagues, mobilizing citizens, writing that book. So much of this labor remains invisible, undercompensated, and exploited. Feminist and womanist scholarship is the work of correcting these injustices—it too can seem endless, thankless, and never-more-urgent. This is our work, in which, as Oluwatomisin Oredein reminds us in this issue, there is no true security. And, still we work. At this very moment, you are working. We work without certainty about where we are headed but with certainty that the path will be difficult and with the longing to see and hear and salute each other along the way.
This issue opens with our two Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholars Award–winning essays, both of which point to the ways in which patriarchy and antiblack racism are sustained through the repetition of key concepts and images. Darrius D’wayne Hills assembles a critique of the persistence of the “Mammy” trope as disciplinary regime for black women faculty in higher education. In this regime, black women faculty members are expected to continuously serve the interests of others at their own expense. They are to provide the invisible and unrewarded labor of mentoring high numbers of students of color while reassuring white students and faculty of their fundamental righteousness. Hills is careful to credit the womanist scholars upon whom his analysis relies and to challenge his fellow black male faculty members to acknowledge their complicity in this arrangement and to work for justice alongside and in conversation with black women faculty and administrators. Zachary Thomas Settle deploys Judith Butler’s theory of discursive performativity in order to illuminate Mary Daly’s “linguistic labors”—that is, her efforts to intervene and disrupt the logics and structures of patriarchal discourse. For Settle, Daly’s work not only anticipated later theorists of discursive materialization and subjection but also remains salient as a guide for learning to theologize beyond patriarchy.
The article section concludes with In-Hee Park’s sustained study of the role of metonymy in Q, the oral and textual source for what became the synoptic gospels of the “New Testament” of the Christian scriptures. For Park, Q is replete with images of women at work: making bread, nurturing and protecting children, feeding and celebrating local communities, and singing songs to alleviate the daily strain of making a living. Moreover, Park insists that these images not only indicate women’s role in producing Q but also represent a transformed and liberating vision of the basileia of God—a vision not of a masculinist warrior avenging his kingdom but of a parent’s tender care, a comfortable home, a communal meal.
Hills’s analysis in the articles section connects up with other sections in this issue that focus specifically on the work of feminist and womanist scholarship in relation to the classrooms and institutions of higher education in the contemporary U.S. context. Heather White’s Across Generations interview of Rebecca Alpert captures the latter’s continued risk-taking (coming out as a lesbian, studying for the rabbinate, critiquing Israel) and her sustained commitment to pedagogies that seek to confront and contextualize racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, patriarchy, and homophobia without rendering students defensive and hostile.
A number of Alpert’s themes are taken up and elaborated by the contributors to our Short Takes section entitled “Trumpism in the Classroom.” Like Alpert, Samuel Hayim Brody urges careful preparation and the help of campus experts in order to effectively guide students’ discussion of the broader historical and contemporary contexts, which get distilled into recurrent episodes of violent hatred such as the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. Tat-siong Benny Liew counsels readers to resist the urge to become as strident and dogmatic as Trumpists and insists that we forgo certainty even as we aver the necessity and specificity of facts in our classrooms. Jenna Reinbold acknowledges the temptation to simply dismiss the “bad religion” of Trump-supporting Christians but reasons that giving in to this temptation fails “to provide students with any helpful information for making sense of a key segment of the contemporary religious landscape in America.” Similarly, Andrea Smith reckons that it is impossible to build a mass movement of opposition if we alienate those we might eventually persuade—just as we were once persuaded to change our habits of thought and action.
Thelathia “Nikki” Young and Larisa Reznik open and close the Short Takes section by reminding readers of the longer trajectories and deeper reservoirs of Trumpism (Young looking backward and Reznik ahead) and by pointing toward the range of complicities that so unsettle our classrooms. They offer neither reassurances nor remedies. Rather, they underscore the imperative of providing tools for self-reflective ethical analysis (Young) and for creating “a matrix in which further actions are possible” (Reznik, 120).
Shifting from teaching in classrooms to negotiating the professional constraints of today’s neoliberal academy, the Living It Out section features counsel from several women working within and along the edges of the academy. Their reports are sobering. Turns out, academic dreams are as chimerical as American dreams. Indeed, can feminists and womanists dare to do more than survive what Mary Churchill calls the intensifying “adjunctification” of teaching in higher education? Churchill refers to herself as a “road warrior.” In doing so, she reminds us of the fact that in the context of neoliberalism, migrant labor is increasingly the norm in all sectors of employment. Neoliberalism hails us as “stakeholders” and “entrepreneurs” even as it insidiously renders us all contingent (to varying degrees). We denounce the Trump regime’s campaign of vilification of and violence toward individuals and families seeking to cross into the United States, but to what extent are we complicit in fortifying the borders (what Oredein, in this issue, refers to as the “scholastic fence”) of the elite spaces of higher education? In this issue, our fellow road warriors nudge our consciences, dare us to dream beyond the academy, remind us that success hitches a ride on luck (and drags along a shadow of failure and rejection), pique our curiosity, and enjoin self-care.
In order to survive, and maybe even thrive, in the neoliberal academy, one needs an array of role models. There is perhaps no better model of justice-seeking scholarship, teaching, mentoring, and institution-building than the Rev. Dr. Katie G. Cannon. Hence, we include another round of tributes to this immensely influential womanist intellectual and activist. As editors, we acknowledge our mistake in leaving out Rev. Dr. Traci C. West’s tribute to Dr. Cannon in the last issue. We are indebted to her graciousness. We share with the readers the bountiful reward of a rich second round of tributes.
A final point: scholars and teachers of religious studies are conventionally understood to illuminate the “sacred” times and places across a range of cultures and histories. In this issue, a number of our authors countenance the profanities that riddle the various spaces in which we work and live: “the bad and the ugly” (Churchill), the “morally hideous” (Hunt), the “fucking game” that is the academic job market (Emanuel), and the conjured and very real “shitholes” (Reznik) of the world plagued by scarcity and violence. Our poetry section reads as similarly intent in rousing us to mourning, anger, and activism. Elizabeth Poreba describes devastating scenes of “buffalo left to die” their “bones piled so high,” her point being, in part, that we do not just stand on indigenous land, we walk on the decimated bodies of indigenous peoples. Eden Wales Freedman’s poem describes the horror of a child’s rape in a forest by evoking the scenes of Jesus’s crucifixion. This is difficult reading. This is necessary work. Let us get on with it.
Back to: Volume 35, Number 2