Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender

Article excerpt

Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender. By Sarah Coakley. Challenges in Contemporary Theology Series. Oxford and Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. xx + 172 pp. $70.95/£50.00 (cloth); $30.95/£16.99 (paper).

The essays collected in Powers and Submissions are remarkably cohesive and stimulating. At the heart of the work is Coakley's overarching desire to engage "the paradox of power and vulnerability" (p. 34) through critical, constructive, and contemplative retrievals of patristic, mystical, and Enlightenment texts. The pervasive subordinating and disempowering of women through Christian interpretations of submission, self-emptying, sacrifice, and self-denial has resulted in many opting for a post-Christian stance. Coakley shares a deep agreement with these critiques, while also representing well-known feminist theologians who choose to remain Christian while bringing a deep acuity to the monumental task of retrieving and reconstructing the tradition from the ground up. At the same time, Coakley issues a clarion call to Christian feminism to recognize an inherent "danger . . . in the repression of all forms of 'vulnerability,' and in a concomitant failure to confront issues of fragility, suffering, or self-emptying except in terms of victimology" (p. 33).

In the stellar first chapter, "Kenosis and Subversion: On the Repression of 'Vulnerability' in Christian Feminist Writing," Coakley delivers a virtuoso study of the doctrine of kenosis that culminates in her argument for the necessity of an apopliatic, contemplative stance. While Coakley recognizes that lier call for embracing contemplative silence is a "risky" one, she argues that it is "profoundly transformative, 'empowering' in a mysterious 'Christie' sense. . . . If, then, these traditions of Christian 'contemplation' are to be trusted, this rather special form of 'vulnerability' is not an invitation to be battered; nor is its silence a silencing" (p. 35). The paradox of vulnerability does not intend the co-opting of women's emerging knowing and empowerment. It does, however, acknowledge creaturely dependence upon Cod "because it is as well to bring to consciousness how . …

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