For some women discussions of feminism and religion can easily become emotionally charged and not without reason. Women who want to feel a sense of connection to their foremothers in the Bible (or Book of Mormon) are almost entirely presented with mere sketches or tabula rasae upon which they must draw their own images of who these women were. Women are subject to erasure and violence in the Biblical record. They are excluded or are used as symbolic vessels of meaning. The symbolic appropriation of women, to illustrate dichotomous characteristics of faith or Christian life or the Church, does not prove very satisfying for a woman seeking to discover women experiencing the ups and downs of faith, prophecy, wonder, and redemption to the same degree as they encounter men experiencing those things.
And what of those seeking the feminine divine? Some such seekers might wonder, how is it possible for a woman to truly experience divine womanhood when her models are the male Father and Son (that maleness obtains great specificity in Mormonism)? How could the male Christ truly know what it’s like to experience life as a woman and to atone for specifically female experiences–the pains of childbirth, for instance, or a woman’s emotional turmoil and monthly hormonal devastation? His suffering could not just be a kind of cosmic empathetic suffering but an actual suffering in the body, an experience of estrogenic suffering and redemption. At least, this is what I, as a woman, desire an assurance of. And, what of a Mother in Heaven?
It is these questions, and others, that a group of female friends and I will be discussing on a bimonthly basis. We will be addressing the nature of female religious experience and be seeking to bring our female voices to bear on canonical and noncanonical sacred texts. I will perhaps be writing about our sessions. For now, I wanted to collect and share a few bloggernacle discoveries, some of which you have possibly already encountered, that exemplify feminist religious criticism of the kind I hope we will be pursuing. These pieces can perhaps be patched together into a coherent critical theory; then again, maybe these voices are meant to stand alone, offering independent witnesses to the particularity of women’s individual experiences.
Monica A. Coleman, “The Barren Woman Bible,” at Patheos: “If women wrote the Bible, it might mention how messy the enterprise of not having children really is. It might mention the girl children the women loved. It might talk about how the men were in the temple, while the bleeding women gathered somewhere else. If women wrote the Bible, we would have more than these solitary scenes where a woman pours out her heart to God, and God fixes it by ‘opening her womb.'”
Caroline, “Raising up a Hermeneutics of Celebration Among Mormon Women,”at Exponent II. Caroline mentions Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s four points of a feminist hermeneutics–a hermeneutics of suspicion, a hermeneutics of proclamation, a hermeneutics of remembrance, and a hermeneutics of celebration. I love these creative possibilities for reading biblical texts.
Kristine Haglund, “Boyd K. Packer and Prophetic Despair,” at BCC. Kristine isn’t speaking in a self-conscious way about women and religion but rather adding her voice as a woman to this particular dialogue–that of the relationship between God, the prophets, and people. This is essential. I found her perspective personally helpful (and not a little chastening–in a very good way) in my approach to authority in the church. Women can speak with power and not in an antagonistic or threatening way to church hierarchy, which Mormon feminism has been perceived to be.
Amy, “Woman, Why Weepest Thou?” at To Everyone That Believeth. Here is a dear friend writing about the Bible and her personal experience in a compassionate and theologically enriching way. In this post she reconstructs the experience of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. At least in her recent posts Amy does not reflect on female religious experience per se, although I know such questions are constantly on her mind and heart. As with Kristine, a woman brilliantly and sensitively entering an often male-dominated conversation cannot be valued enough.