21 December 2012

November 2012 Notes on Teleconference with Margaret R. Miles, Ph.D.

WATER thanks Margaret R. Miles for her time and expertise. We are excited to read her forthcoming book on which this conversation was based. Beyond the Centaur: Imagining the Intelligent Body promises to be a significant contribution to the field.

 Margaret spoke of the Centaur, the myth of a man with a human head joined to the body of a horse. It is a common symbol of the struggle between two natures, the wild untamed horse and the civilized human being, in this depiction as in most, male. Body and soul, the lower and higher appetites, are joined but one is always valued more than the other. In this worldview the rational soul rules. But there are other ways to look at human experience, namely, to see intelligent bodies that feel our thoughts and think our feelings. The person then is undivided. We are intelligent bodies rather than rational minds.

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone is a philosopher, evolutionary biologist, and dancer who has worked on the concept of the intelligent body. is a certain feminist dimension in that the rational mind is so clearly gendered as male that women are rarely seen as full human beings. Women are identified stereotypically with the body, but not typically with its intelligence.

Rational thought is difficult, learned activity, not a naturally occurring experience. To represent this, Margaret gave the image of Rodin’s “The Thinker” whose body she interpreted as tense and strained as he sought to produce the first thought. Many scholars long to bring life experience into closer conversation with objects of their study. We are not taught responsible methods for doing so. Many scholars have no tools for identifying experiences that drive our interests.

Margaret’s own development toward this approach emerged out of her work as a hospice volunteer for five years. She wondered why human beings get thought of as components instead of as a whole, why the disjunction of rational thought and body is so prominent. Her husband’s dementia with hearing/memory loss at age 90 was another experience that prompted her to see the whole instead of parts. And, a personal experience of stress-induced fainting that resulted in injury gave Margaret a visceral sense of the intelligent body. All of this led her to ask how we could change the way we conceptualize ourselves so as to enable us to experience ourselves as intelligent bodies.
Questions and discussion ensued:

1. One woman wondered how all of this works with people with atypical bodies.

Margaret replied that thought is a feature of the intelligent body. Disability, like all perspectives, is a uniquely privileged perspective. All perspectives are simultaneously privileged and limited.

2. Another speaker talked about Greek/Roman dualisms, citing Edith Hamilton’s work on myths and how poets have used myths to help us connect with nature. She asked if once one is a tenured professor that is the time to bring in one’s own story to one’s academic work, something that younger scholars are not advised to do.

Margaret acknowledged that she wrote differently after her retirement from academia though this thought about the intelligent body developed through her career. The intelligent body joins the rational mind with a real body. She said that it took her a long time to see this, but considers it the apex of her intellectual career. (Editor’s note—I think so too!) It is not surprising that women are working on this given the common female experience of work in the home especially with children. Margaret observed that perhaps a generation of young male scholars will see the importance of intelligent bodies too as they take on more family responsibilities.

3. Margaret was asked if there is an image, sculpture, or painting that represents this idea.

Margaret cited Rodin’s “The Thinker” as rational thought coming out of body, and also mentioned his sculpture “She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife.”

4. Another caller asked about personhood, wondering how asceticism in late antiquity as an intelligent body practice might fit into the model.

Margaret replied that the idea was not to harm the body, but to engage the body in overcoming habituation. Asceticism in late antiquity was mostly gentler forms—people learned to address inhibitions in their prayer life, to fast, to engage in watchfulness. The idea was to change bodily practices to de-habituate. For example, three-day fasts can be useful. Tertullian called fasting a “vacatione” for the body from the perpetual need to assimilate food.

5. A participant asked about how the ideal of the intelligent body could be found in ancient goddess religions.

Margaret suggested that from the perspective of the intelligent body it is a shame that many people cannot embrace religion. They think religion involves believing as a rational mind, i.e. accepting certain doctrines and creeds, without understanding how an intelligent body operates. For example, the concept of the resurrection of the body is often misunderstood because it is an affirmation of the body now, a commitment to living the resurrection body now, not of contrasting an imagined immortal body with the present vulnerable and moribund body.

6. One caller described her own experience of chemotherapy, foot surgery, and the like with the body knowing what happens, each tendon teaching the next how to act. The vulnerability of the intelligent body, integrated with the rational mind is a common experience.

7. The moderator raised the question of how this works with children.

Margaret described teaching her granddaughter to identify and communicate physical pain. Often when we cannot talk about pain, we act badly because of it. Carol Gilligan’s work is relevant here. She looked at how small girls are happy and self-assured but by 15 years of age they are often anxious and uncertain emotionally. Apparently the culture had taught them that their bodies are untrustworthy. The onset of menstruation can produce the shocking sense that one’s body can act in surprising ways and challenge one’s emotional ability to accept and integrate bodily change. The culture interprets physical experiences for us so we experience what we are told to experience.

8. Another caller suggested that ecofeminism is a useful umbrella for conversation about the body. Beauty, the aesthetics of especially young bodies, invites analysis.

Margaret suggested that we try to think with an intelligent body rather than a rational mind with components. It is hard to do and requires practice.

9. One caller underscored the masculine body in sports with injuries, the glorification of those who go to war, and how people are beginning to realize that this is not necessarily the best model.

Margaret replied that our dominant images support the valorization of the male body. She contrasted crucifixion images with their underlying theology that love is best demonstrated by sacrifice with a host of medieval images of the nursing Madonna with their theology that love is best demonstrated by life-giving, and nourishment. A recent article by David Gibson in Religion News Service, “Christmas’s Missing Icon: Mary Breastfeeding Jesus,” used Margaret’s 2008 book: The Secularization of the Breast (University of California Press) to raise the question of the images we use (Dec. 10, 2012) [] His blog ( drew dozens of heated replies.
Margaret affirmed that the masculine ideal is so pervasive that it is hard to actually see it in the culture. She spelled out her ideas of one web doing all we can for the good of earth, rather than many rational minds that stride in to make everything ok. Her vision is to get more people into a movement in which each one thinks of an intelligent body in terms of her/his interest or field. This is a big idea with lots of ramifications.

Thank you again to Margaret Miles for this stimulating conversation. We look forward to the book.

15 October 2012

October 2012: Melissa Browning Teleconference Notes

Melissa Browning Notes October 10, 2012  Mary E. Hunt and Wendy Mallette

1. Slides to accompany Melissa’s presentation may be found at:

2. Melissa tries to de-center herself as a researcher and allow the women in the research speak. She encourages all teleconference participants to watch the video of Veronica’s interview, which can be found at: If anyone is interested in teaching on this material, email Melissa at for more audio and video clips of interview that may be shared in classroom settings.

3. Melissa’s began her work in East Africa in 1998 as an undergraduate student. Her most recent research takes place in Mwanza, Tanzania around issues of HIV and AIDS and Christian marriage (Slide 2). In interviewing women she discovered that marriage is a risk factor for HIV and AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV is primarily spread through heterosexual sex in relationships. Many of her research participants explained that it easier to be a girlfriend than to be a wife because a woman’s economic viability is tied to her husband, making it harder to demand that the husband be faithful or use condom. Mwanza has a particularly high rate of HIV and AIDS, especially among women, due to its male-controlled fishing and trade industries.

4. Her primary research partners included Diocese of Victoria Nyanza Anglican Church and other groups with HIV and AIDS support groups where she gathered participants for her research (Slide 3). She utilized the participatory action research methodology, which gives research participants epistemological priority. Over four months she met with a group of 12 HIV+ women, 8 of whom had contracted HIV in marriage (Slide 4). It was a diverse group of women whose contributions on questions and issues surrounding HIV and AIDS and Christian marriage varied widely (Slide 5). She also had a research advocate who assisted with cultural barriers in the research.

5. Participatory action research model is based on the work of Paulo Freire. It seeks to evoke hidden themes in women’s lives (Slide 6). It follows the cycle of plan, act, observe, and reflect. One example of this methodology is as follows: During one session, the women were talking about women’s roles in society. As an activity, they made a plan to use digital cameras to take pictures of women doing work. The pictures were then used to lead the group into a discussion about women’s roles in marriage the following week. Other creative means including art, photography, and drama were used by women to access themes in their lives.

6. Book Outline (Slide 7)
  • 1.     “It’s Better To Be Single”: Thinking about marriage in the midst of an epidemic
  • 2.     “Let’s Talk About Trust, Baby”: HIV and AIDS vulnerabilities and intimate relationships
  • 3.     Love and Sacrifice: The boundaries of self and conceptions of love
  • 4.     Learning From Stigma: Living as an outcast in intimate relationships
  • 5.     Re-Imaging Christian Marriage in the Midst of an Epidemic

7. Statistics on HIV and AIDS (Slide 8)
  •  40 million people in our world are now living with HIV and AIDS and two-thirds are in Africa.
  • Of the HIV and AIDS related deaths in 2006, two-thirds were in Africa.
  • Of those living with HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, 59% are women and girls, and the population segment with the fastest growing rate of infection is girls aged 15-24. 
8. Her research concluded that Christian marriage in East Africa actually exacerbates the HIV and AIDS  pandemic (Slide 9). The pandemic made marriage more dangerous for women because of patriarchy present in marriage.

9. She turned to the abstinence-versus-condom debate present in the literature on HIV and AIDS globally, especially under George W. Bush’s PEPFAR aid policy: 33% - abstinence, 33% - be faithful, and 33% - condoms (Slide 10). Melissa argues that this is a false debate: neither abstinence nor condoms protect when women don't have complete agency to chose condoms or abstinence, especially when women’s bodies become commodities. She also argues that the global debate on HIV and AIDS often centers on behavior modification and on minimizing sexual partners, but the debate looks at sexual ethics without considering other social ethics of concerns such as access to healthcare, trading sex for food, the commodification of women’s bodies, etc. Therefore Melissa concludes that in such a patriarchal system, “abstinence, be faithful, and condoms” are not very helpful because they are not woman-controlled prevention methods.

Melissa also analyzed condom commercials from East Africa in her research condom. One example can be found here: (Slide 11). These ads (for the condom brand Trust, for example) spread various false notions such as: safe sex is for strangers (not those in committed relationships), only men carry condoms, and men control the use of condoms. Melissa also noted that this misinformation makes marriage look safe when really, it is not (Slide 12).

10. Another major focus of Melissa’s research was particular vulnerabilities within intimate relationships.

HIV and AIDS Vulnerabilities and Intimate Relationships (Slide 13)

·      Sex is Taboo
o   Taboo speech (blood, sex, bodily fluids, death); Negotiations for “safe” sex 
·      Modern Life (in Postcolonial Space)
o   Fragmented families (urban migration); movement of goods (trucking)
·      Traditional Practices
o   Bridewealth; Female circumcision; Male infidelity (hidden polygamy); Widow inheritance & cleansing; Child marriage; Ritual sex; Postpartum abstinence
·      Poor Health
o   Poor nutrition; concurrent infections; lack of access to medical care
·      Poverty
o   Fatalism; HIV causes poverty; Food security
·      Education
o   Education as luxury; Importance of general education (more than sex ed)

The Particular Vulnerabilities of Women and Girls (Slide 14)

·      Biological Vulnerabilities
o   Women are 2x more likely to contract HIV from men than men from women 
·      Economic Vulnerabilities
o   Land ownership; Land grabbing; Boys go to school before girls; Sex for food/fees; Inability to refuse sex with unfaithful partners
·      Legal Vulnerabilities 
o   Marital rape; Divorce laws; Marriage age; Legal Polygyny; Bridewealth; Domestic violence
·      Socio-cultural Vulnerabilities
o   Patriarchal vulnerabilities (girls are less valued, girls serve men/boys)
·      Global Vulnerabilities
o   Feminization of poverty; Global women’s health; Lack of female controlled prevention methods (underfunded research)
·      Relational Vulnerabilities
o   Lack of mutuality; Women’s roles confined to home; Unequal power

10. Melissa compares the feminist moves of women in sub-Saharan Africa to those of Valerie Saiving Goldstein in her early work that breaks out of a male-centered paradigm sin and self-sacrifice (Slide 15). Unlike Goldstein’s notion that women are self-sacrificing, Melissa argues that in sub-Sahara Africa, women are not sacrificing themselves, but rather are being scarified by society, church, and their families. Therefore, these women were seeking out flourishing in the midst of oppression. A concern and question that Melissa continues to struggle with is how to talk about these women not as victims but as agents who also face obstacles.

11. One of the major conclusions that Melissa draws from her research is that we need to talk about HIV and AIDS in East Africa in terms of social ethics, not personal behavior or exclusively in terms of sexual ethics. This means we need to talk about social systems, poverty, malnutrition, and general education, as well as women’s empowerment, generally, not only their sexual bodies (Slide 20).

Another space that needs discussion is marriage in Christian churches; where churches can make a difference through counseling, etc. (Slide 21). However, such work within the church is almost impossible within the current patriarchal structures of most churches. Thus, the fundamental nature of the church is going to have to change in order to respond effectively to HIV and AIDS. Finally, Melissa used Karen Lebacqz’s work on marriage as loving the enemy; this might produce a more realistic understanding of marriage, instead of a safe space, as a space that can be unsafe for women, particularly in light of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

Questions and Discussion

1. One participant asked how Melissa thinks the church structure in East Africa needs to change to effectively address HIV and AIDS

Regardless of the similarities between churches in sub-Saharan Africa, there is an importance of focusing on the particular, therefore Melissa will focus on churches in Mwanza.

In Mwanza there is little difference between/among various Protestant churches. In Mwanza churches, men sit on one side; women and children sit together. Women make up about two-thirds of the congregation, but the clergy are almost completely male, even in denominations that ordain women (ELCA Lutheran, Anglican, etc.).

Because Melissa is an ordained minister, a woman Anglican lay-leader wanted Melissa preaching in local churches. During her research in Mwanza, she would often team preach with this woman as a translator. This created a reminder for the women in the congregation that women could also preach.

Along with Mercy Oduyoye and other African feminist theologians, Melissa argues that having the voice of women in the church will help turn the tide on HIV and AIDS. Another result of the research is a commitment of the women in the study to be present in churches on World AIDS Day to give their testimonials. Melissa noted that this both reduces stigma and changes the perception of Christian marriage as a safe space.

2. Another participant asked: Is polygamy legal? And is abortion legal?
Melissa explained that there are three kinds of marriage in Tanzania: Islamic, Traditional, and Christian. While polygamy is legal for Islamic and Traditional marriages, it is not legal for Christian marriages. She also noted that in Tanzania “hidden polygamy” is widely practiced in Christian marriages. While polygamy is problematic, at least in traditional polygamy there was some accountability whereas in “hidden polygamy” there is no accountability for multiple partners. One reason for “hidden polygamy” in Tanzania is because for most ethnic groups, women don’t have sex during pregnancy or breast feeding which means 2-3 years without sex. This is the period during where a man often gets a girlfriend, and then the woman discovers she is HIV positive once she is pregnant with the second child. Therefore, “hidden polygamy” is often a problem.

Melissa said that abortion is usually not desirable for most women in Tanzania because children born outside of marriage are not considered illegitimate, and all children are welcome. The situation in Kenya, however, is different where abortion is highly restricted, and the problem with “back ally” abortions persists.

3. There was an inquiry about how churches and schools deal with sex education for young teens.
The government of Tanzania has done a reasonably good job by providing public awareness campaigns about HIV and AIDS that have brought it to the forefront. One major problem, more so in Uganda and Kenya is that you have groups like the True Love Waits Campaign (abstinence program funded by the Southern Baptist Church USA) sending millions of dollars for abstinence/faithfulness in marriage to East Africa. For example in Uganda, the First Lady led a parade of virgins and rallies for girls. The problem is that these programs do not recognize agency required for young girls to enforce abstinence or faithfulness. Abstinence programs do not recognize the prevalence of rape, that girls trade sex schooling, women trade sex for food, etc.

Sex education literature (primarily religious literature on the topic) is based on misunderstanding that women can always choose abstinence and faithfulness and that these are always safe. Melissa will be returning to Tanzania to work with women to develop a marriage prep curriculum for late teens to talk about how marriage can be a dangerous place.

4. The moderator asked Melissa to discuss some of the challenges that she faced as a white feminist from the United States doing work internationally in Africa, especially around issues of race and intercultural difference, and some of the ways that she navigated these challenges.

Melissa chose the participatory action research methodology for her research because the participants are involved in designing the research. For example, women participants explained to Melissa that bringing in mementos from wedding day did not apply to them because they were married informally first. It became a back-and-forth model of research.

Melissa also emphasized the importance of being conscious of her privileges of being a white feminist from West. She gave examples of this privilege and named that she was in healthy marriage and that as an ordained minister, she was asked to preach in Tanzanian churches. However, these spaces of difference provided space for conversation and comparing social contexts of HIV and AIDS in the United States and HIV and AIDS in their context. Melissa explained that she was looking for true solidarity while acknowledging her own privilege.

5. A participant asked Melissa if there were there points in her work where being feminist came into conflict with the participatory research method, and how she negotiated that tension.

Melissa answered that one point of difference was hers and the women’s approaches to scripture where the women took a more conservative approach than Melissa to passages such as texts about women’s submission to men, almost as if they were submissive to their husbands, their husbands would love them as Christ loved the church. As a feminist, Melissa had a difficult time with that dynamic. When she writes about these instances, she uses a lot of quotations and differentiates her voice from the women’s in order to be faithful to her own interpretation as a theologian but not let authorial voice overpower the voices of the women themselves.

6. The final question was about Melissa’s future work as well as about the transfer value of what she learned in her research in Tanzania to the situation of HIV and AIDS in the United States.
Melissa responded that her new work at Loyola focuses on social justice and community development in Chicago. She is planning to work with organizations in Chicago that focus on HIV and AIDS in the Africa-American community.

She explains that her next project after the book is working with women to develop curricula to be published and used by them, which is something they requested. She is also bringing an African American student and HIV and AIDS activist to Tanzania with her who will be examining parallels between the US and Tanzanian situations in regard to HIV and AIDS.

WATER thanks Melissa Browning for her work.

Please join us on Wednesday, November 14, 2012, at 1pm (EST) to talk with Dr. Margaret Miles on the subject of “Life Experience and Academic Work.” Email the words "Register Me Teleconference" to by November 13th in order to receive dial-in information. 

26 September 2012

September 2012: Judith Plaskow Teleconference Notes

 WATER Teleconference with Judith Plaskow “God after Feminism” September 12, 2012

WATER is deeply grateful to Judith Plaskow for this teleconference. We wish her and her co-author Carol P. Christ well on the completion of what we are sure will be a “big book” in feminist studies in religion. We at WATER are privileged to have had this preview of an important work.

What follows are the introduction of Dr. Plaskow by Mary E. Hunt, a summary of Judith’s remarks, and notes from the discussion period that followed.

Introduction by Mary E. Hunt:

Dr. Judith Plaskow is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and also the Sally Priesand Visiting Professor of Jewish Women’s Studies at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is a Jewish feminist theologian who has been teaching, writing, and speaking about Jewish feminism and feminist studies in religion for over forty years. She is without question the leading voice of Jewish feminists in religion, a trusted and respected justice-seeker.

Judith was the co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. She retired from the editorship after serving for 10 years. Now, in her retirement, Judith is back on board as co-editor with Melanie DeBaufre-Johnson.

She was an early co-chair of the Women and Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion from 1972–1974. She was a co-founder of the Jewish feminist group B’not Esh (1981) of which she is a longtime member. She has served on the board of the American Academy of Religion and as its president in 1998. She models academic activism.

Dr. Plaskow is author or editor of several signal works in feminist theology including Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective and The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics 1972-2003 (2005). She and Carol P. Christ edited two early, now classic anthologies Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (1979) and Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) which were hugely important in the development of the field.

Judith is currently at work on a book with Carol P. Christ, tentatively entitled Goddess and God After Feminism. If one were to sum up her work in two words one would say that she is collaborative and courageous. Almost all of her publications are jointly authored or edited; virtually all of her writing exhibits an intellectual and moral courage that others of us seek to emulate.

Summary of Judith’s opening remarks:

1. Judith is working with her friend and collaborator, Carol P. Christ, to make public their longtime conversations about God. The working title, Goddess and God After Feminism, is not meant to suggest that feminism is over but that feminism represents a watershed event that has shaped both women’s self understandings and their respective understandings of the divine. Think of life “Before Feminism” and “After Feminism.” The book begins with both women offering their spiritual autobiographies as starting points for a feminist approach to narrative theology.

2. Judith describes her life as a Jew in America, part of a community in which it is more embarrassing to talk about God in polite company than to talk about sex or money. To say that one believes in God is awkward. The rabbinate is a profession, not “a calling” like the Christian ministry. Thus, having been born a theologian, she felt different from an early age. She recalled early experiences of relating to God when she was celebrating the High Holy Days, of imagining that God might be a woman, something that was incompatible with her religious training. She read The Diary of Anne Frank as a young person and struggled with the Holocaust; then in college she looked at the work of Elie Wiesel (Night, Dawn, The Accident, etc.) and Camus’ The Plague, all of which led to reflections on the divine, covenant, and the like. As a graduate student at Yale University, Judith focused on the problem of evil in her doctoral comprehensive exams. When she finished her graduate education in religious studies, she thought of God as someone with whom one could be angry, since God either could not or would not prevent evil.

3. In 1968, Yale was a relentlessly patriarchal place with the atmosphere of a male club. As the only women in contemporary theology in their doctoral program Judith and Carol were under constant surveillance. Their femaleness was an underlying issue all the time.  They were harassed sexually before there was such a concept. In 1969, they became involved in the newly emerging Yale Women’s Alliance, an organization of graduate women at Yale. They were living “the personal is political” as well as Mary Daly’s sense of women’s “experience of nothingness.” Eventually they realized that the misogynist comments of every theologian they were studying were not verbal asides or individual opinions but views interwoven with their fundamental understandings of God and humanity.

4. In 1972, Judith was part of the exciting “Women Exploring Theology” conference at Grailville in Ohio. Sixty women convened to express pain and anger but also to initiate new modes of thinking and acting as religious women. Formative friendships emerged from the event as women felt the power of working together. Judith was in the “Bible and Theology” sub-group that focused on consciousness-raising as a religious experience. It was there that she wrote her famed “Coming of Lilith” myth. Initially without her knowledge, her experiences in the Yale Women’s Alliance, at Grailville, and in other feminist groups were ultimately to transform her understanding of God. To use Nelle Morton’s words, “something was bubbling up from under.”

Questions and Discussion:

1. The first questioner asks what young women are asking about God now compared with what Judith and Carol were asking at Yale?

Judith replied that she has taught mostly undergraduates so she is not sure about graduate students. However, she affirmed that many students are advised not to ask feminist questions until they have gotten tenure. In a shrinking job market asking feminist questions can have negative consequences.

2. One colleague used Judith’s work with undergraduates who loved to rewrite prayers
that connect with their lives yet are resistant to looking critically at God-language or religiosity that reflects male privilege. She asked why female God-language has not taken hold.

Judith answered that in part it seems to be because female language does not go far enough. But also, as Carol Christ has observed, using female language means that God has less power since ultimate power has been thought of as male.

3. Another woman suggested that many women do not understand their own sexism and language is a tool that expresses sexism and reinforces existing power structures.

Judith recommended Katha Pollitt piece in The Nation (This article appeared in the September 17, 2012 edition)—how can women support a political party that hates them (“Women Who Love Republicans Who Hate Them”). The power of women is not just the power to give life, as is often argued, but also the power of intellect/imagination.

4. A theologian asked Judith if she had been able to find in this “God after feminism” the numinous experience Judith described as a little girl in temple.

Judith talked about the radical changes in her own views. Whereas she used to hold God personally responsible for evil, she now understands God as creative energy that animates and sustains the universe. She experiences God’s presence in community and in nature.

5. One participant thanked Judith for reminding us how significant it is to complete one’s spiritual autobiography, how it can be a source of freeing women.

Judith observed what an interesting process it was and how it functioned as an exciting way into the book. She said she had intended to end the exercise at the point at which she completed her doctorate at Yale, but she found the process so compelling that she kept going to the present. The writing resulted in a clarity that she had not had before. On issues where she had previously not understood Judith, Carol, though she does not necessarily agree, can see some things more clearly now. This is not memoir so much as it is narrative theology.

6. A colleague observed that because there are still so many male professors in religious studies many females look to the authority of the “Doktorvatar.” As a seminary professor she wondered about the phrase “feminine divine” rather than female language for God.

Judith pointed out that such feminine language, instead of breaking through stereotypes, ends up reifying them (e.g. masculine God as king, warrior, and powerful; feminine God as loving and nurturing).

7. A rabbi mentioned that she often hears people ask, “Why can’t God be feminine?” and “Why can’t we use female language?” which would never have been the case decades ago.

Judith distinguished between “feminine” and “female” in that “female” has the full range of human characteristics while “feminine” tends toward stereotypes of protection, nurture etc.

8. A Buddhist colleague reported that she was not so tied up with language about God but that in meditation one often looks at a sitting male Buddha. How different it is, she observed, to sit with a sitting female Buddha.

Judith told of her recent experience of visiting churches in Cordoba, Spain where she saw the power of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In some Spanish churches Mary is bigger and more prominent than the crucifix.

9. Another question arose about the nature of narrative theology, how it relates to larger theological projects, and its limitations.

Judith described it as developing a coherent understanding of God through telling one’s own story that makes the understanding concrete. It includes experiences and textures of those experiences. An idea of God that may sound boring if it is baldly stated may make sense if it is enfleshed in the concrete circumstances in life. There is the freedom in Judaism to do this because practice is more important than belief. The limits of narrative theology are that it emerges from personal experience; it does not lay a foundation for community and communal practice.

Please join us on
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, at 1pm (EDT) to talk with Melissa Browning on the subject of "HIV/AIDS and Christian Marriage in East Africa," as she shares her recent work. Email the words "Browning Registration" to by October 9th, and you will receive dial-in information.