We did not foresee publishing this issue amid a global health pandemic or renewed global movement for anti-Black racism. One could argue, as some have, that both are health crises and that the future of a just society depends on our responses. This issue contains two articles that were penned during this seismic shift. As Yohana Junker writes, “The invisible viral particle has divulged so many of our collective illusions, insecurities, and errors, and suppressed fears, somber impulses, and supremacist ideations. The virus has illuminated our narcissism, arrogance, lethal and convenient apathy, addiction to accumulation, and reliance on segregation, and the fallacy that the Earth revolves around the human animal” (120). And yet, in prime feminist form, the other authors in this issue wrestle with similar concepts, marking the relevance of their contributions. Their work takes on additional meaning in this new social, economic, familial, political, and academic context. Each centralizes questions of human relationships and power, demonstrating how past, normative interpretations often cover up gendered and religious dimensions of social practices, textual readings, and ritual responses.
In a year where many other annual traditions, such as graduations, have been reimagined or put aside due to health regulations, we celebrate the four winners of the Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholars Award. Additionally, as our traditions continue, they also evolve as we seek racial justice. The leadership of Feminist Studies in Religion (FSR) commits to actionable and material commitments to anti-Black racism organizationally and in our publications. One step, among others, is to monetarily support the scholarship of Black feminists and womanists through an award process. Thus, JFSR will take submissions for the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon Award for Black feminist/womanist scholarly publications beginning in 2021. We will update information on our website and in the next journal issue in the same location as the New Scholars Award.
As for this year’s New Scholar Awards, the 2020 first-place winner, Pearl Maria Barros, offers readers new ways of imagining fragmentation in a time when everything seems broken. In “Rethinking Women’s Suffering and Holiness: Gloria Anzaldúa’s ‘Holy Relics,’” Barros argues against false notions of wholeness that reject fragmentation. Instead, she traces Anzaldúa’s use of Teresa of Ávila’s body as holy relic to demonstrate that “fragmentation can lead us to holiness” (24) without tearing apart nos/otras or the we. Ryan S. Higgins, the second-place winner, joins Barros in reading a text anew, paying distinct attention to the craft of writing. Higgins attends to the function of speech and silence in “He Would Not Hear Her Voice: From Skilled Speech to Silence in 2 Samuel 13:1–22.” Higgins shows how Tamar’s quality of speech and ability to speak decrease in direct relationship to her experience of sexual violence and systemic enforcement of patriarchy. He claims the writer “uses speech to focus our attention on Tamar’s degradation, to connect silence and violence, and to lay the blame for fractured families and nations on those who would not hear her voice” (42). The third-place co-winners deepen conversations about the underexposed gendered dimensions of religious understandings and practices. In “Voting, Votive, Devotion,” Jordan Conley illuminates the way everyday secular, political objects transform into a ritual votive demonstrating the material and spatial aspects of memory. Her recognition of how gender and religion operate on an implicit level contrasts with the overt ways Catholic clergy enforce gendered, religious authority as they respond to the child sexual abuse crisis analyzed by Katia Moles, in “A Culture of Flourishing.” The close attention each of these new scholars pay to gendered religious constructions of power related to ritual objects, speech, and social practices provide methods we can follow as we resist the death-dealing consequences of COVID-19 and racial prejudice.
In “Mary, Mothers, Lament, and Feminist Theology: The Dead Non-War Heroes of Nagasaki,” author Gwyn McClelland argues an all too familiar truth that catastrophic events exacerbate current social disparities. Using a feminist approach to trauma studies and theology, he invites the reader into survivors’ narratives highlighting the impact of mothering and the syncretic image of Mary in Maria kannon. After the Living It Out pieces, which follow McClelland’s article, Cristina Legarda attends to the story of another mother in her poem, “The Syrophoenician Woman.” Legarda creatively voices the ways this mother speaks to Jesus about injustice from an intersectional perspective. He at first does not understand. Legarda writes,
To escape our prejudices is hard, but not impossible
even when our laws like second mothers
raise us to believe in them. (132)
This verse echoes in the chants of protestors, national news coverage, and conversations among strangers as those in the United States wrestle with the truths of police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy. These pieces, like the video of George Floyd calling for his “Momma” with his last breaths before being killed force us to see the mothers and children caught in the snares of systemic violence.
As mentioned earlier, the two contributions in the Living It Out section were written during the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the case of Junker’s piece, after protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to end police brutality had spread across the world. In “Full Catastrophe Mentoring: A Conversation,” four cis women scholars, Kecia Ali, Julia Watts Belser, Grace Y. Kao, and Shively T. J. Smith, share their definition and practices of feminist mentoring, which is attentive to systemic structures of oppression while leveraging power and relationship for thriving and wholeness in academia. Their awareness of care as an ethical approach is not an essentialized feminine practice; rather, it is deeply rooted in countering the gender, racial, and ableist trauma experienced in graduate education. They note the ways the pandemic suddenly made long-fought-for accommodations by the disability rights community immediately available, like online access to resources, working from home, and recognition of childcare needs. Belser admits she is “sitting with anger and with fear that these possibilities will only remain for as long as they are crucial for the survival of those without disabilities” (112). Indeed, this is the challenge posed by Yohana Junker in her piece, “On COVID-19, U.S. Uprisings, and Black Lives: A Mandate to Regenerate All Our Relations.” How do we learn from the systemic failures that COVID-19 and the anti-Black racism movements evidence so explicitly?
Whether it is religious doctrine, institutional practices, or political and legal systems that “raise us to believe” in prejudices, the authors in this issue contribute to the sustained work of dismantling systemic oppressions. We, as coeditors of the JFSR with the leadership of FSR, add our commitments to fully embody the work of intersectional feminism and act for anti-Black racism. Some readers will notice the stylistic change to capitalize Black. Perhaps a small grammatical shift, but also a collective signification and ongoing recognition of the political history and legacy of Black scholars, activists, and movements. As the pandemic hit, data shows that academic publishing by women and scholars of color plummeted (107) and the disproportionate emotional and physical burden of care labor born by women and people of color is further exacerbated. We will not be complicit or silent in these times. As you will read in the Feminist Studies in Religion Action Items to Combat Anti-Black Racism statement on the next page, we hold ourselves accountable to institutional changes that respond to the perniciousness of racism.