Dr. Xochitl Alvizo (MDiv. ’07, PhD. Practical Theology ’14) recently published the co-edited volume Women Religion Revolution with Dr. Gina Messina. Dr. Alvizo is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies in the area of Women and Religion and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality. She dedicates her work to bringing a feminist focus to theology and to the study of religion, including feminist and queer theologies, congregational studies, ecclesiology, and the emerging church. In this blog post, Alvizo shares more about the importance of women’s momentum in politics, the importance of women’s publishing initiatives, and where she sees revolution rising now. We hope you’ll also visit the Feminism and Religion blog, where Dr. Alvizo shares her inspiration, the process of collaboration, and her hopes for Women Religion Revolution on the Feminism and Religion blog in two posts: The Making of Women Religion Revolution and Women Religion Revolution and its Political Theological Orientation.
The 2018 elections were a record-breaking year for women in politics: 117 women were elected to Congress and nine to governorships. There were other firsts: Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, Reps. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women elected to Congress, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’s first black congresswoman. Does this historic year raise any new reflections on the significance of Women Religion Revolution, especially given its intersections at politics and religion?
You know, women’s liberation is a movement hundreds of years in the making. I was recently reading the 1980 republication of Women Church and State: The Original Exposé of Male Collaboration Against the Female Sex by Matilda Joslyn Gage and the detailed research Gage provides there regarding the intentional and systemic efforts by male-led society to control women – their voices, bodies, and participation – is just such a sobering reminder of the deep, deep roots of sexism and misogyny that we are up against. So changing this reality has necessarily been deep, slow work, and the wave of women entering elected office is part of its fruit. Early feminists, both those of the nineteenth and twentieth century, were stongly convinced that women’s awakening to the reality of these systemic oppressions and the contra-reality of women’s equal worth and dignity would have revolutionary implications. There are women who will do this revolutionary work – and I mean revolutionary in terms of indicating a “turning,” the work toward fundamental change – from within the institutions already in place, at the boundary of them, and completely outside of them. All of these are necessary and valid options. We have to chip away at these deeply ingrained oppressive systems from all sides. These newly elected women in office, just as the individual women who contributed to Women Religion Revolution, are each doing their part in continuing the movement of women’s liberation…which, to be clear, is human liberation – it is liberation for us all.
How are, or maybe why are, women’s writing and publishing revolutionary?
In a world where the literary “canon” of almost every field is dominated by male voices – and in some cases exclusively so – publishing women’s voices is a radical turn. In a very practical way the publication of women’s writings is itself a disruption of things as they are and reflects real change. Now, when the content of the writing is also new in form, disruptive of the status quo, and contributes to the envisioning and creating of a new reality, that’s even better! That is more of what we need and it is part of the deep work we must continue to do and we need to do it in ever more creative and disruptive forms. This is also why many early feminists saw women’s liberation not just as a social revolution but a spiritual revolution. It requires us to tap into our deeper selves, the parts of our be-ing that have not been disciplined and colonized by all the oppressive “isms” so deeply embedded in our society and inherited throughout history. I’m telling you, this is why ours is deep, slow, work!
Where do you see revolutionary spirit and practice rising up – or preparing to rise – in the context of religion now?
Publicly, we see it in religious communities’ activist participation in political protests, rallies, marches; in their creative ministries that bring attention to urgent social issues; in inter-religious collaborations and movement building. And more importantly, the true revolutionary spirit and practice in religious communities that I see taking place is manifesting as critical self-reflection. The willingness to take a deep critical look at the inheritance and biases that our religious traditions come with; to study and face the ugly truths of how our religious traditions and institutions, those we have often experienced to be life-saving, have been (and continue to be) death-dealing. Through book studies, speakers series, discussion groups (i.e. consciousness-raising groups), some congregations are daring themselves to see, to really see our collective and religious complicity in systems of oppression. This is difficult vulnerable work, which I think has the most revolutionary potential. Because as Mary Daly stated, “it isn’t “prudent” for women [us all] to see…Seeing means everything changes; the old identifications and the old securities are gone.” But this kind of destabilizing change is exactly what we need in order to uproot the deeply embedded “isms” our society and religious traditions continue to perpetuate. This critical self-reflection is necessarily part of the deep, slow work we must all do if we are to achieve liberative and lasting change. It is how our revolutionary spirit will be able to rise up in action and change; our religious communities can be a context in which we support one another to do this together.
More excerpts of reflection on Women Religion Revolution:
“The essays capture critical moments in women’s lives in which they identify that the way things are are not the way things have to be, and in turn are moved into action. Sometimes it is not always about a critical moment, per se, sometimes it is a larger ongoing reality – injustices around women’s reproductive rights and their rights over their own bodies; violent uses of power; human exploitation; the church’s failure to affirm the sacredness of all people in its language, symbols, and structures – just to offer a few examples. These ongoing realities of injustice lead the authors to draw from both feminist and religious resources to fuel their work to change these systems/structures. They see their death-dealing character and know that that passivity is not an option.” See more at Feminism and Religion.
“We wanted to complexify the religion/feminism dichotomy that often exists in the popular imagination; to up and expand the popular understanding of those terms to a broad audience…Volumes like this help mediate the politics of our differences in that it is a first step toward creating space – toward creating the conditions in which women can use the power of their voice to speak out loud and speak revolution into be-ing so as to continue building it. We have a critical need to bring the power of our voices together even while we leave space for one another; to honor each other’s journey while also actively finding the connecting threads that move us toward building a common critical political voice and vision, in a time when forces against our humanity are great….
“The volume is also…an invitation to all of us to keep on, to push further, and to hear our own deep wisdom voice speaking us to greater and more radical revolutions, turnings, in our own contexts, while also taking the whole cosmos into account, which is the challenge Carol Adams gives us in the foreword.” See more at Feminism and Religion.