Wisdom's Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Wisdom's Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Wisdom's Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Wisdom's Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Excerpt

"All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded, I said . . . feeling in imagination the pressure of dumbness, the accumulation of unrecorded life." Such was Virginia Woolf's response to women's silence in history, and today's student of theology is struck by the same phenomenon. The articulation of Christian theology over the centuries has been the exclusive preserve of men. Though the twentieth century Roman Catholic Church named two women, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, doctors of the church, one does not study their works in a typical course of doctoral studies in systematic theology. They are relegated to the discipline of "spirituality," which is usually considered a poor step-sister to the kind of doctrinal theology respected in the halls of academe. They are considered devotional writers, rather than theologians, and any doctrinal insights born of their experience of God are neither noticed nor studied as such, because one does not expect to find them.

But is it true that there have been no women contributors to doctrinal theology until now? Granted, until relatively recently, most women have lacked the equivalent of "five hundred pounds a year and a room of one's own," to say nothing of the educational opportunities necessary for scholarship. But there were some women in the past, particularly in women's religious communities, who were privileged with the privacy, independence and economic stability needed to render scholarship possible. Are we really to believe that none of them put such resources to bear on theological reflection and the production of the fruits of such reflection? Feminist historiography has shown that women have been more than simply the victims of male oppression throughout history; they have also been active participants in shaping the cultural and social structures of their times, although usually unnoticed and unsung. The recovery of such facts has led to a new awareness of what events ought to be considered important and recorded in history, and even to the possibility of a new historical periodization more adequately inclusive of the experiences of women. The awareness of women's reflection upon their experience of God and the examination of their records of such reflection should have a similar effect upon Christian theology. Present parameters for what designates legitimate theology need to be stretched to include the more experientially oriented mystical and devotional writings, many of which . . .

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