Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia
Edited by Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen.
New York: Palgrave, MacMillan, 2006, 2008
(This review refers to the 2008 paperback edition.)
Reviewed by Melanie Springer Mock, Ph.D.
For the past decade, I have been a professor at a Christian university. During that time, many of my students and some of my colleagues have repeatedly expressed a disappointing sentiment: namely, that Christianity and feminism are incompatible ideologies. They assert that one cannot be a Christian and a feminist, for the latter undermines the very foundations of our faith in Jesus Christ by contradicting biblical truth and church tradition. Because my identity as a Christian, a teacher, and a scholar is tied to my identity as a feminist, I am always nonplussed by these assertions, for I cannot myself see any contradictions between Christianity and feminism, finding instead that we cannot truly embrace one ideology without holding to the other as well.
Nonetheless, this often articulated but misguided understanding of Christian feminism reflects a pressing need for dialogue about what it really means to be a Christian feminist. As my own workplace environment suggests, such dialogue is especially important (and long overdue) in Christian institutions of higher learning, where critical analysis, close readings of scripture and of culture, and thoughtful, open conversations are presumably honored as part of the academic enterprise.
Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen provide one avenue to discussion through their thoughtful compilation, Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays From Academia. This collection of eight essays explores several questions significant to Christian feminists: namely, in what ways are Christianity and feminism compatible? How does one live as a Christian and a feminist? And, perhaps most imperative in this volume, what exactly does Christian feminist scholarship look like? How do academics writing about Christian feminism approach their craft?
The contributors to Being Feminist, Being Christian convincingly show that there is no monolithic Christian feminist identity, nor is there a singular approach to Christian feminist scholarship. This is a significant strength in the collection, as the text argues that dialogue about Christian feminism is important, even among Christian feminists. Despite the book’s decidedly Wesleyan bent, readers will find a number of theological perspectives embedded within the essays, and may even discover places where the writers themselves disagree about either Christian theological matters or feminist ideologies. Nonetheless, readers will find that each essay offers a compelling argument for the ways the writers’church traditions and academic disciplines find compatibility between Christianity and feminism.
Although every writer in Being Feminist, Being Christian provides rich analysis of the intersections between feminism and Christianity, some essays are not for the faint of heart, densely weighted as they are with language specific to the writers’ academic disciplines. For example, Elizabeth Powell, a theological graduate student at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., provides an interesting comparison of two important feminist thinkers in her essay “In Search of Bodily Perspective: A Study of Simone de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray.” Powell’s essay is impressive in its synthesis and analysis, as she presents a rereading of these thinkers’ work in light of Christianity; still, her writing is sometimes unfortunately hampered by theoretical-speak that will limit her audience to academics already familiar with the discourse she uses.
Other contributors are far more accessible in their approaches to Christian feminism, and provide strong anchors to the essay collection. The text opens with Pedersen’s “Christian Feminist or Feminist Christian,” an autobiographic exploration of the compatibility issue central to the collection. By tracing her own development as a feminist Christian, Pedersen suggests Christianity may provide a “redemptive corrective” to feminism, and shows the ways feminism may provide the same for Christianity. The book’s last essay, Christopher Noble’s “Biblical Literalism and Gender Stability,” offers a fascinating Christian rereading of Gender Performance Theory, and posits an interesting negotiation between two predominating threads of feminist thought: essentialism and gender performance. Noble’s thoughtful and immanently readable essay is a satisfying end to Being Feminist, Being Christian, as Noble retraces many of the theories explored by other writers in the collection.
Still, it is the more autobiographic essays, like Pedersen’s and like Linda Beail’s “Blessed Mother or Material Mom,” which resonate most with me. This could be, in part, because I am an autobiographical scholar and am thus drawn most to writers’ life stories. More, though, I think Pedersen and Beail (among others in the collection) best address the myriad ways Christian feminism is integrated into their own life experiences in the academy, in their churches, and in their personal lives.
Certainly there is a place for a theoretical examination of Christian feminism, and Being Feminist, Being Christian provides strong examples of the excellent scholarship produced about Christian feminism. But if we are to have engaging dialogue about Christian feminism with its skeptics, we may need to speak a different language, as it were, narrating our own lives’ experiences with faith, with the church, and with Christian institutions rather than speaking only in the realm of academic disciplines. In telling our stories, we may embody the very theories put forth by this collection, inviting a host of others into “this varied and complex search for what it means to be a committed, thinking feminist Christian or Christian feminist at this time in history” (p.8).
Melanie Springer Mock is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Writing and Literature at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon. Her article, “Feminism in Peril: Contending with the F-Word” was published in the Fall, 2007 issue of Christian Feminism Today. Her work has also been published in The Mennonite Weekly Review, Adoptive Families, Literary Mama, Brain/Child, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other places. Her book, Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors, was published by Cascadia in 2003. Among her online articles is one about international adoption in which she tells how she and her husband became the parents of two little boys, Benjamin from Vietnam, and Samuel from India. In addition to her devotion to her family and teaching, Melanie enjoys running and playing soccer.
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