Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network 2020 Meeting Report

“Feminist Liberation Theologies on the Ground: Acting When We Are in extremis

By Mary E. Hunt and WATER Staff

November 20, 2020

The Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) convened the 24th working meeting of the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network by Zoom from the WATER office in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, on Friday, November 20, 2020, 4-6 PM ET. Mary E. Hunt and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza co-chaired the session on “Feminist Liberation Theologies on the Ground: Acting When We Are in extremis.” The Women’s Caucus of the AAR/SBL collaborated, with Elizabeth Ursic bringing greetings from that group.

Typically, this meeting has been held in conjunction with the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. But the Covid pandemic moved those meetings on-line. We followed suit but without a link to AAR/SBL so that FLTN participants would not have to pay to attend our meeting which has always been open to all.

More than ninety participants from twelve countries and more than sixteen states in the U.S. gathered at a liminal time in world history. Many expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be together especially since the in-person meeting was impossible. It was wonderful to have people who have never been to an FLTN meeting before join because technology made it possible.

Two years ago, FLTN looked at Economics: Global and Local Intertwined: A Feminist Liberation Theology Priority. As we discussed implications of economic injustice, it was obvious that climate change and related ecological matters were linked to resources. So, last year we looked at Worldwide Climate Change: FLT Perspectives. Then Covid hit. Now, it is clearer than ever that economics and global climate change play central roles in how the pandemic is unfolding. Feminist Liberation Theologies on the Ground: Acting When We Are in extremis is a broad formulation to explore what is happening around the world and how we can bring our unique theological and ethical efforts to the mix. Reports as well as video recordings of past meetings of all of these FLTN meetings can be found at https://www.waterwomensalliance.org/feminist-liberation-theologians-network/.

Our speakers in 2020:

Rita Nakashima Brock is the first Asian American woman to earn a doctorate in theology. She is a Senior Vice President and Director of the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America. A professor for 18 years, she was a fellow at the Harvard Divinity School Center for Values in Public Life. Her publications include the co-authored books, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War (2012) and Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire (2008).

Mary Condren is a former Research Associate of Harvard Divinity School where she did the ThD in Religion, Gender and Culture. She is director of the non-profit educational company, WomanSpiritIreland, and a Research Fellow in the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, Trinity College Dublin. Her critical work concerns the role of violence and the discourses of sacrifice in contemporary politics. Her constructive work focuses on recuperating the indigenous female traditions of Old Europe in Ireland. Her book The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland is a classic in the field.

Mónica Maher is based in Quito, Ecuador and works throughout Latin America facilitating workshops, speaking and teaching about women´s rights and religion, non-violent action and trauma resiliency. She directs the Peacebuilding Program in Latin America of Friends Peace Teams, and teaches in the graduate program on Gender, Violence and Human Rights of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador. She holds a PhD from Union Theological Seminary (NYC) and an MDiv from Harvard University. Dr. Maher is an ordained UCC Minister and a Zen Sensei. She holds the distinction of having been the first WATER intern!

Kathleen McPhillips is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Newcastle in Australia. She is a sociologist of religion and gender and employs feminist, psychoanalytic and sociological frameworks to issues around gender and religion, particularly around institutional child sexual abuse in religious organizations. Kathleen has extensive experience in attending, reporting on, and analyzing the Catholic Church at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and has held numerous research grants. Her most recent publications are in Child Abuse and Neglect, Feminist TheologyJournal of Australian Studies, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, and Journal for the Academic Study of Religion.

Summaries of their presentations follow. A video of this event can be found at https://www.waterwomensalliance.org/feminist-liberation-theologians-network/. It contains the presentations in full.

Rita Nakashima Brock

Rita Nakashima Brock spoke on the dangers of our society not recovering from latent moral injury, “when your love system collapses because of a moral failure” – yours or someone else’s. Without a recovery process, it is easy to slide into toxic anger, despair, cynicism, and more. Among her list of societal moral injuries were the pandemic, climate-change-induced disasters, the murder of George Floyd and “unveiling” of systemic racism, and the shattering of our trust in institutions. Rita ended by calling for ways to begin to process this moral injury together. Volunteers of America has started the healing process with healthcare workers who were on the front lines from the beginning. Her closing words: “We are looking at the classic definition of an apocalypse.”

Mary Condren

Mary Condren offered hope, critiquing the theology of sacrifice and recuperating both the indigenous traditions of Ireland and a theology of mercy. In doing so, it requires a reframing and renaming of words: from “altar” to “hearthstone,” “blood of sacrifice” to “dew of mercy,” “sacred” to “holy,” and “Goddess” and monotheism to “Cailleach: The Veiled or Mysterious One,” illustrated by the triple spiral, representing the cyclical turn of seasons and an indigenous version of the Holy Trinity. In the mindset of this reframing, Mary applies it to COVID times as a form of Wintertime. It is the time for hibernation, reflection, meditation. Activities must cease, so that new life can come into Earth with Spring. She concluded with a reading of the poem, “After a Winter’s Silence” by May Sarton.

Mónica Maher

Mónica Maher, based in Quito, Ecuador, narrated the work her community has been doing in the wake of the pandemic and Hurricanes Eta and Lota. Mónica focused her remarks on two apocalyptic themes: salvation and imagination, to answer the question, “What have feminist liberation theologies to offer in such a context in extremis?” Mónica shared stories of neighbors saving neighbors, illustrating the slogan, “Only the people, save the people.” These tragedies have brought back interconnection to one another, also evident in the imaginative work of feminist liberation theologians. Finding community during the pandemic has required creativity. It involves the delivery of food and seeds for gardens in neighboring communities. And it has entailed meeting via Zoom which expands the range of community like never before. Mónica Maher ended by saying, “We proclaim feminist justice as cognitive justice, decolonizing epistemologies to embrace corazonar, thinking with the heart, and senti-pensar, feeling-thinking…In this way of knowing and being and acting together, we can save ourselves and our planet.” 

Kathleen McPhillips

Kathleen McPhillips, taking up the term “apocalypse,” described the wildfires, made worse/possible by climate change, that ravaged Australia from June 2019 to May 2020. These fires destroyed 46 million acres and almost 500 people died as either a direct or indirect result. Thankfully, when the pandemic came to Australia, the government took it seriously and the public as a collective worked together to mitigate the impact with a state-wide government shut-down which, while disrupting life, has lessened the virus’ impact in comparison to the individualistic approach in the United States. In the work of feminist liberation theology, focus has gone toward stopping the rise of domestic violence and women taking the brunt of the pandemic consequences. Feminist theological groups have been able to meet online and gather for conferences, have planned a podcast, worked to get women’s voices back in church discussions, and recover “herstories” in the churches and outside, and to digitize records.


Thanks to Zoom, we were able to move into small groups both for the customary introductions that we usually did in the larger group, and for discussion on the ways that feminist liberation theological work is helpful on the ground in our various settings.

Reflections on the groups were offered both in the chat and in the plenary session that followed. Among the ideas shared:

  1. “Queering the Apocalypse” including rejecting some of the patently absurd ideas of the current U.S. Administration and seeing immigration tragedies as signs of horrendous times.
  1. Searching for ways to recover from the “moral injury” that affects not just individuals but whole societies. The arts and beauty are one route to healing.
  1. The importance of transnational community for moving on from the pandemic.
  1. The possibility of Open Access resources, the democratization of resources. {Ed. Note, what WATER refers to as “Sharing because together we have enough.”}
  1. The reality of white supremacy, global authoritarianism, and racism as founding ideologies that need constant attention to uproot.
  1. The arts, especially music, were lifted up as common resources for FLT work, used to spark activism, connect groups of people, aid in healing, and more.
  1. Hearing more from indigenous peoples and building on women’s ancestral and indigenous wisdom.
  1. A wide interest in a celebration for the FLTN’s 25-year anniversary next year.
  1. A further look into academia’s future and its potential collapse: its lack of accessibility and economic future.
  1. A suggestion offered later is that FLTN colleagues recruit younger women and more international colleagues since the forum is now available virtually.



Mónica Maher – Ecuador / Mireille D’Astous – Montreal, Canada: Ivone Gebara’s text on pandemic: https://www.lautreparole.org/ethique-pandemie/ [Opened in Google Chrome, it will give you the option to translate the article into English up at the search bar.]

Danielle Lynch – Australia: I’m currently working on how song queers theology – here’s a shameless plug for new my album, Into Silence: https://open.spotify.com/album/0ReCDQ0UGBheEDvGIubxXx?si=iUaYQCzOT4G5dCyyJBiXRA

My friend and fellow music-as-theology advocate Maeve Heaney also just released a new album, Strange Life: The Music of Doubtful Faith: https://open.spotify.com/album/7lQQXfzymCrjs83whKW8As?si=Chr7fps8Tn-BJM6P5kEoyg

June Boyce-Tillman – UK: The International Network for Music Spirituality and Wellbeing: www.mswinternational.org

Colleen Hartung – Wisconsin, USA: Claiming Notability for Women Activists in Religion (Women in Religion – Volume 1), Edited by Colleen Hartung (Atla Open Press) https://books.atla.com/atlapress/catalog/view/40/66/320-2

Ana Ester – Brazil: Pandemic, isolation, and lockdown made me think about what I am calling a “Bionic Theology.” I published that in Portuguese. The theologian Claudio Carvalhaes has talked about a “Theo/login” also. There is a lot to think from this interconnection between theology and virtuality.

Kathleen McPhillips – Australia: New books from Australian scholars:

-by feminist theologian and poet Anne Elvey: Reading the Magnificat in Australia (Sheffield Phoenix Press). Anne was an FLTN speaker in 2019.

-by Katharine Massam: The Bridge Between (ANU Press) – a history of Spanish Benedictine missionary women in Australia.

-by Kathleen McPhillips & Naomi Goldenberg: The End of Religion: Feminist Reappraisals of the State (Routledge) – examines in case study format the application of vestigial state theory to women, gender and violence.

Mark Primavesi UK: Tara Brach and Elizabeth Lesser in discussion yesterday on Lesser’s new book Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes: https://youtu.be/mziEun7MA7k

Mónica Maher – Ecuador: María Pilar Aquino is doing a lot of work on feminist peace building.

Mireille D’Astous – Montreal, Canada: in response to a query about feminist economists https://www.cidse.org/2020/11/09/what-if-the-economy-was-female/

The session concluded with discussion of next steps. Next year’s meeting will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of FLTN. We will craft an agenda in light of this reality, perhaps reviewing the work and sketching some steps forward. Suggestions for speakers and formats are welcome and needed.

The Zoom format was very popular because it allowed many people who do not usually go to AAR/SBL to participate. Perhaps we will have one Zoom meeting/year and one hybrid, in-person and on-line meeting/year. This remains to be decided. Opinions are welcome along with specific suggestions for content.

The session ended with hearty thanks to the speakers and to Anali Martin for technical assistance at WATER. The tentative date for next year’s meeting is Friday, November 19, 2021, 4-6 PM, in San Antonio, Texas where the AAR/SBL is scheduled to convene. Stay tuned. As we learned this year, much can change between now and then.


  1. Our dear and esteemed colleague Rosemary Radford Ruether remains at the Health Center at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California following a debilitating stroke several years ago. Cards or letters can be sent to her via her daughter, Rebecca Ruether at 1516 Esplanade #304, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Some of us have sent financial contributions to help defray costs, so know that if you wish, such gifts are welcome.
  1. Please feel free and encouraged to use the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Google group to share information and ideas. If you are not receiving this group’s information and wish to, please contact waterstaff@hers.com.

Thank you for your participation in FLTN. Please feel free to contact me (mhunt@hers.com) with ideas and suggestions.

We at WATER wish you a healthy year ahead.


Mary E. Hunt

Co-director, WATER