Archive for women theologians

The Contribution of Women Theologians

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

January2013coverIn the current issue of U.S. Catholic Magazine (January 2013) there is a cover story titled, “What Women Theologians Have Done for the Church,” by Heather Grennan Gray. It’s an excellent piece that leads an issue focused on women and the church. In light of the recent ecclesiastical critiques of the work of certain women theologians — one thinks most recently of two distinguished professors and women religious, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Margaret Farley, RSM — Gray’s article succinctly highlights the shifts from before through after the era of the Second Vatican Council that have created the conditions for greater theological education and participation of the laity in general and women more specifically. There are a number of excellent theologians, liturgists, and pastoral staff members interviewed in this essay. One of the main commentators quoted in the piece is a professor of mine at Boston College, Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, a religious sister and theologian. There are also a few quotes from another familiar person who is a current doctoral student at Boston College, let’s just say that if you’re reading this blog, you already know who he is. Here’s the opening of the article, click the link to read the rest of it online.

Kathy Barkdull started her career in parish ministry the same way many others have: The director of religious education at her parish tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would teach a class. With a willing spirit and not much more, she agreed. Twenty-five years later, Barkdull is pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello, Idaho, and oversees evangelization and discipleship programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and other ministries at the 1,200-household parish.

Over the years Barkdull received training through the diocesan certification program, workshops, and seminars, and eventually graduated from the Ministry Extension program at Loyola University in New Orleans. But Barkdull began to understand her work in a new light after she attended a conference of the National Association of Lay Ministers (NALM) in 2004 and heard Zeni Fox, a professor of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University, talk about the theology of lay ministry. Something clicked.

“Finding ways to call lay ministers forth, to support one another, to feel connected—that has really become my passion,” says Barkdull, who left the conference with the idea to start a lay ministry council in the Diocese of Boise, a territory of 84,000 square miles that is home to just 40 priests. At their first gathering in 2004 more than 300 came to listen to Fox give the keynote speech. “This focus has really energized and encouraged me,” Barkdull says.

In a very real way Barkdull’s work as a professional parish minister and lay ministry advocate has been shaped not just by Fox but by a host of Catholic women who have studied, taught, and contributed to theology. The fact that women have only been admitted to graduate-level theology programs at Catholic institutions for the past 70 years means the addition of women to the ranks of church scholars is a relatively recent change.

In the intervening decades, however, Catholic women theologians have helped form both lay and ordained church leaders’ understanding of liturgy, scripture, ethics, pastoral ministry, spirituality, faith formation, theology, and the church itself. This means that regular Catholics, too, have been influenced by women theologians—whether they know it or not.

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Women Theologians: The Next Generation

Posted in Theologians That Rock with tags , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The latest installment of “theologians that rock” features a small group of young women theologians.

Recently, stumbling upon an update by a Facebook friend from the days when the graduate student club “Future American Theologians” was still active, I came across a collaborative blog that I feel is definitely worth a “shout out.” The blog, WIT: Women in Theology is the collective internet publication of several women graduate students in theology programs at the University of Notre Dame, Boston College and Marquette University. They explain in their blog description that the motivation to form this joint effort stems from the absence of substantive women’s voices in theology online. “The original concept was developed in response to the realization that feminist issues in religion constitute something of a void on the Internet. We hope to contribute to filling this void.”

This is something that I have become keenly aware of in recent years. While there are increasing numbers of women studying for ministry degrees and serving the people of God in a variety of wonderful capacities (thanks to Vatican II), there remains a noticeable vacuum of female theological perspective “from above.” This is something I noticed first-hand while working on my M.A. in systematic theology. Thanks to several brilliant feminist theologians under whom I studied as an undergrad (people like Susan Abraham at Harvard University and Erin Runions at Pomona College) I was often times more sensitive to themes related to feminist, womanist, mujerista, postcolonial and other contextual theologies than several of my professors and even many of the self-described “feminist theologians” among my female peers. Even recently, while writing this blog, I have been hard-pressed to find voices of women theologians given equal footing online and elsewhere.

This is in large part why Julia, Elizabeth, Bridget, Megan, Erin, Katie and Beth are this week’s “theologians that rock.” Their collective voice provides a much-needed source of theological reflection, which, as they themselves explain is the most striking feature of their project. “Our feminist and theological commitments vary, and we hope that our collaboration here will create a space for our individual voices to emerge.”

The women of WIT are also to be commended for their stellar “rules of engagement” outlined for their blog.  More web-based fora for theological and religious conversation should follow this example of establishing ground rules for healthy discourse.

At WIT, we believe that robust theological reflection is characterized by collaboration and dialogue. We’re committed to creating a safe space for discussions that are open, challenging and respectful.

Disagreement is a necessary and fruitful part of this process. It is most productive when all parties agree to assume good faith. People who post on this blog, and people who comment on it, do so in order to seek greater understanding and contribute positively to Christian feminist reflection. Each party will assume that any response to her work has this positive goal in mind, even if it takes the form of a negative critique. In order to preserve the possibility of this assumption, any negative critiques should be directed to particular claims and, where possible, cite directly from the text in question. No ad hominem arguments will be accepted.

The authors of this blog are particularly aware of and sensitive to a tendency to critique theologians as inadequately Christian and/or Catholic. We reject this way of speaking as it obscures the substance of any argument and breaks Christian charity. No comments will be made that accuse any member of not holding to the faith which they themselves claim. The ambiguity of the phrase “good faith” is helpful here. In this second way also, assume good faith.

According to the first posting, this blog was inspired by a conversation between the graduate students at ND and J. Kameron Carter who visited from Duke University to give a lecture.  It is still a new effort on the part of these seven women and a project certainly worth watching.  The handful of posts, the first of what I hope will be many, many more, are very good.  Some are rather lengthy (a temptation that this man in theology can relate to — theologians like to use lots of words), but they are all substantive and insightful.

Support these voices of women in theology and encourage others to do likewise.  Within the theological community we need to support one another and this next generation of women theologians will (are) shaping the academic discourse today.  Check their blog out!

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