by Mary E. Hunt and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
The Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network held its annual meeting in conjunction with American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature gathering in San Diego, CA on November 21, 2014. The topic was teaching and activism that engage gender-based violence as part of feminist liberation theological praxis. More than sixty colleagues from ten countries joined in an intense but enjoyable session. A video of the session is also available.
The meeting opened with a message from Monica Maher, a longtime FLTN colleague. In sending her regrets that she could not come to the meeting, Monica told about a colleague, Margarita Murillo, who was killed recently in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and that even more recently the woman lawyer working on the case was also murdered. “Clearly, feminicide is on the rise around the world and theological resources/voices are urgently needed!” she said. “Gracias for your work on this.”
To that end, we were fortunate to have four speakers whose remarks focused on ways in which colleagues’ work in religion can be useful in eradicating violence:
Solveig Anna Bóasdóttir is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland where she is dean of the theological faculty. She insisted on the need to theorize anti-violence work in the context of feminist studies in religion, citing bell hooks, Iris Young, and Rebecca Chopp as guides. She stressed the need for theological students to understand social connections and sexism as part of the big picture.
Marie M. Fortune founded the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, now known as FaithTrust Institute, in 1977 in Seattle, WA, USA where she served as Executive Director until 1999. Now she serves as Founder and Senior Analyst of the Center. She cited progress in the field insofar as sexual and domestic violence is now part of the conversation in many schools if not taught as a stand-alone course. She asked how religious leaders are dealing with campus sexual assault. And she underscored the complexity of faculty sexual misconduct. Her advice was to encourage young scholars to take on anti-violence issues as part of their academic research.
Elizabeth J. A. Siwo-Okundi is Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology and Homiletics at Boston University from Kenya. She stressed the importance of doing anti-violence work “boldly, truthfully, lovingly, and faithfully.” From her perspective as a preacher, she observed that many people–victim/survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators alike– are in congregations. How they hear the message variously makes preaching a daunting task.
Traci C. West is Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School (Madison, NJ). She discussed what works well in addition to what is challenging about teaching anti-violence materials. On the plus side, integrating anti-violence education into the general curriculum seems to be most effective. Whether dealing with the medical ethics of pregnancy as the result of rape, or about coercion in heterosexual marriage, the many fields of theological study (history, theology, sacred texts, etc.) are relevant. Challenging but rewarding work includes her collaboration in Zimbabwe, an example of the complexity of transnational intellectual learning.
Wide-ranging discussion followed small group conversations. Much of it focused on the need for resources around the world. For example, the World Council of Churches, the World YWCA and the Lutheran World Federation collaborated on a project entitled “NoXcuses for Violence Against Women.”
Several colleagues reported the closing of gender studies programs in their countries. Backlash in Germany and Australia was reported. With Mexico a mere fifteen minutes from the site of this meeting, Maria Pilar Aquino reminded the group of issues of violence. She also reported on a recent conference on women’s peace efforts. Transgender Remembrance Day is November 20th, an occasion to recommit to eradicate violence against trans people.
The following morning, the Women’s Caucus of the AAR featured this discussion on their program. It was a marvelous opportunity to collaborate with more colleagues for several hours as Marie Fortune and Mary E. Hunt reported on the FLTN session. Sharon Davis, Gina Messina Dysert, Nancy Nienhuis, and Elizabeth Ursic made remarks. Small group discussions ensued. This format was a great way to extend the FLTN conversation and will be repeated in November 2015.
Thanks to all presenters and participants in both sessions. This was a wonderful experience of theory and praxis coming together to make change.
Call for Presentation Submissions for FLTN meeting 2015
The theme for the November 20, 2015 FLTN meeting at the AAR/SBL Annual Meetings in Atlanta, Georgia will be the connection between Feminist Liberation Theologies and the Arts. The FLTN seeks submissions exploring the multi-faceted connection between feminist liberation theologies and the arts.. Brief presentations will open discussion on how the arts broadly conceived play a role in communicating feminist liberation theological themes, as well as ways that artistic expressions can be countersigns of that work. FLTN also wants to consider how the arts can help to socialize resources and bring more people into progressive religious conversations. Please submit a short summary of your topic to FLTN c/o firstname.lastname@example.org by March 30, 2015.
Note: Your participation in the FLTN is part of what is AAR and SBL term an Additional Meeting. Therefore, it does not count as one of your allotted slots. Also note that the Women’s Caucus will continue this conversation at its meeting on Saturday, November 21, 2015 from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
For more information, see the poster below.