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  • I Am Speechless:Thank You, Colleague Friends
  • Rita M. Gross

Because I had not seen half of these tributes before the session at which they were presented, I did not have a written paper, or even prepared notes, with which to respond to these colleagues. I was so touched by the care with which each person had prepared their remarks—a fully written paper in each case—and the wonderful things they said, that when finally it was my turn to get up and take the podium, all I could say was, "I am speechless." That was my first response, but I am also very used to public speaking, so I did come up with some comments, which I reproduce here with some degree of faithfulness.

I have known most of these friends for most of my professional life. I have traveled in India with two of them (Nancy and Kathleen), coedited or coauthored books with three of them (Nancy, Rosemary, and Terry), and cotaught with one of them (Paul). With everyone except Rosemary, we have visited each other's homes as well. One of the blessings of the academic life is sharing deep interests and concerns with one's colleagues, and I certainly have experienced that blessing. In person, I decided to respond to each person in the order in which they entered my life and I will also follow that format in these written comments.

Nancy Auer Falk

The first person in this group whom I encountered was Nancy Falk, though, as she said, she doesn't remember me from those very early days. I entered the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1965, and because there were so few of us in those days, I clearly noticed a woman who was finishing her work in the same field I was entering—the history of religions. There were twelve women among some four hundred students at the Divinity School and six of us had entered that year! I remember that the professors were very worried about what to do with "all these women who now want to study religion." One of my professors said that he was changing some of the material he lectured on because of the presence of women in his class.

In such an environment, I should have known better than to do a dissertation [End Page 89] studying women in religion and using feminist methodologies, which had not yet been developed, but which I did develop in my dissertation! It has taken me a long time to learn that telling the truth can exact a heavy price. I've often commented that all I've ever tried to do in my scholarship and in my thinking is to tell the truth. It's been hard to understand how that could be so controversial or so resented by so many people. But my dissertation was very controversial even though Mircea Eliade, who was still revered in those days, encouraged me to write the dissertation I did. But what I was doing was so controversial, largely I think, because I claimed that the sacrosanct University of Chicago methodology in the history of religions was inadequate, given that it simply had no tools with which to study the religious lives of at least half of humanity. Even years later I heard via some gossip train that students of the professor who most opposed my work were telling people that I was not supposed to have gotten a degree, but somehow, it had slipped though anyway. Now, some thirty-five years later, I am amazed at the level of insight I had as a graduate student in my mid to late twenties.

During these graduate school battles, Nancy was already teaching at Western Michigan University, so I did not have her as an ally. But, as soon as I finished my degree, as she narrates in her comments, we began to work together on Unspoken Worlds, which, having been put together before computers, was extremely labor intensive. I really enjoyed the process of working together on that book. I enjoyed not having to hold back on anything. I enjoyed the give and take, the way we could put...


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