At the outset, I wish to thank Mary Hunt and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza for the opportunity to participate in this discussion. They continue to serve as powerful models for the ways that feminist scholarship in theology and religion can be actualized toward equality and social justice goals.
The writings of feminist liberation theologians deeply influenced my early academic formation. Their courageous and inspiring work fueled my impulse not only to interrogate and challenge so-called sacred texts, traditions, and doctrines but also, more recently, to consider and address seemingly secular mechanisms and processes that inform contemporary social governance and justice structures in ways that I believe perpetuate harm to women and others. I am thus grateful to share a few professional and personal experiences that can perhaps [End Page 172] offer some additional and diverse illustrations of how we, as theologians or secular scholars, might live out our feminist commitments within the academy and beyond.
After earning a PhD in Women and Religion and despite the concern of my doctoral advisor, I declined several academic opportunities to work with governmental organizations, including positions with our federal departments for culture and the status of women, as well as with UNESCO in Paris. In these roles, I was regularly engaged in international negotiations and forums in support of women’s equality and cultural diversity, including with the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the Organization of American States.
While exhilarated to apply my academic training and interests in those multilateral collaborative forums, I was also profoundly discouraged by how certain regimes—political, social, and religious—perpetuated injustices and violence against certain groups, particularly women and children, often without opposition from domestic and international communities. Religious movements, in particular, seemed immune to criticism and were rarely scrutinized in political forums for their role in perpetuating inequality. Whether in isolated communities with prescribed gender roles that disadvantage women and girls or in more visible political movements that maintain legal authority to limit female access to positions of power and influence, religious tradition and doctrine persist, often under the rubric of respect for diversity, as a basis and entitlement to discriminate against members of one’s own community and citizenry.
Against this backdrop, I am convinced there is a need for both secular and theological scholars of religion to investigate the perceived sacredness and irrefutability of religious belief and practice, particularly when they give rise to or implicitly support the potential violation of recognized human rights. Within Christianity, Alison Stuart’s work has been particularly illuminating in this regard in examining European jurisprudence to expose how women’s freedom of religion is impeded by their lack of power and equal positioning in their own religions.1 Addressing the tension between respect for religious diversity and freedom versus the condemnation of all systems, including religious systems that relegate women to an inferior status in myth or reality, remains a challenge not only in the public service but within the academy as well.
Recently, I had an opportunity to combine my public-sector experience with my ongoing commitment to the academy. Between 2007 and 2013, I was employed in the Office of the President at the University of Saskatchewan where I lead the institution’s government relations, a role that required me to engage regularly with all levels of government—municipal, provincial and federal, as well as international.
While I have never missed an opportunity to remind university administrators [End Page 173] and funders of the importance of valuing all spheres of scholarship, particularly the humanities where critical analytic abilities are perhaps best developed, my recent teaching and appointment as a Policy Fellow with our Graduate School of Public Policy have enabled me to pursue more intensively my interests in legislation, policy, and justice as they intersect with categories of religion, gender, and identity. Having expanded my teaching subjects to include public administration and governance, I encourage students to rethink intersections of religion and politics and to consider the ways that legislation and legal interpretations, including within the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both rely on and reinforce conventional definitions of religion that support patriarchal hegemonies within culture. Whether it...