The Sadness of Reading an Old Book That Isn’t Old-Enough

Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in ReligionWomanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion by Carol P. Christ
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This text had been low on my Feminist Theology To-Reads simply because it was so often quoted since that I thought it might be redundant to read. But I kept feeling nudged to sit down with it on its own terms instead of others’ summaries. My reading of it is strangely bittersweet.

As one of the foundational feminist theological texts, and the collection that brought wider attention to the article written by Valerie Saiving in 1960, widely considered to be feminist theology’s launch, Womanspirit Rising (1979) is an outstanding collection of questions, challenges, and proposals emerging from what was essentially the first decade of feminist theology. Reading it, I was struck by the fact that it was published the year I was born. As I sat reading the copy from my university library, (purchased 6th February, 1984 according to the bookplate), a book physically as old as I am, I couldn’t help lingering on the first page of library stamps dating from the pre-digital checkout era. I found myself wondering whether these mystery book borrowers had the book assigned to them for a class or not. Were they researching undergrad papers? MLitt dissertations? Their PhD theses? Or did the book get discovered on the shelf and perused out of curiosity of the borrowers, sought out to address personal wrestling/hope/doubt? How many of these stamps are men who checked out the book, or has this copy only been held by women readers?

This is where my thoughts turned as I read the articles within, some very familiar to me already, and some entirely new. I was astounded by Phyllis Trible’s re-reading of Eve and Adam’s creation. How had I never encountered this before? It is the most straight-forward, lucid, original language and context-based interpretation of Genesis 2-3 I’ve ever read, and it completely deconstructs the myth of gender hierarchy as divinely ordained, or even present at all. It should be required reading in OT survey courses. [And herein lies a larger issue I don’t quite touch on, which is that so many of the theories and interpretations here that are over thirty years old STILL have not been widely disseminated or integrated into church practice and teaching.]

And there are many other gems in here, as well as some historiographically interesting pieces about the woman’s movement. But why then was my reading bittersweet? There’s my initial struggle which I’ve felt since beginning my PhD research as a feminist theologian that no matter what, I keep having to go back to resources that are 30 years old. It’s hard not to look at the evidence and ask “Did feminist theology peak at its inception?” “Where is the new authoritative work?” I don’t mean to say there isn’t any new work, which would be ridiculous, but simply that I’ve been surprised how often I am spending my time reading texts from the 70’s and 80’s in order to address current issues. Part of this is just due to the fact that entering any discipline means getting a strong foundation and these are the foundational sources, but I still catch myself sighing when I discover yet another text from 1985 that I should probably read if I’m going to call myself a feminist theologian of any salt.

So there’s that concern: a perceived dearth of new feminist theological material in the past 15 years compared to its beginning. But that highlights another humbling fact, which I already named in passing; feminist theology is only 40 years old. In the history of the study of theology, I’m participating in a discipline that is younger than my parents. That’s a couple centuries/millennia behind the dominant theological discourses. So should I be glad that my entire lifespan is encapsulated within the birth of feminist theology? Frankly, no. Despite my slight bemoaning of always having to go back to the foundational texts of the 70’s and 80’s, I feel to some extant a righteous anger that my foundational texts are ONLY from the 1970’s and not from the 1270’s. That feminist theology is barely older than I am, brings home the sorrow of generations of missing contributors. I am part of the first fruits of the birthing generation of feminist theology, and I feel terrified at the responsibility of questioning and speaking on behalf of so many silenced sisters since the start of humanity’s efforts to articulate in writing their perception of relationship to the Divine. How feeble and trite my ideas that I can freely espouse and publish seem when compared to all the knowledge, experience, and revelation of generations of women forbidden the opportunity to preach, debate, or transform community spiritual life with their written words. How costly my every word seems when added up to the missing words that precede them.

And yet the stamps in this 1979 feminist reader in religion, and the words written within, remind me why I do have every right to speak- and why so many more words are needed still.

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Posted on Wed, Sep 11th, 2013 at 4:07 pm
Filed under Books, Cultural Shifts, History, theology.

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Comments: 1

  1. 1 | Lucy

    April 18th, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Kj, this is so powerful!


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