An Interview with Renate Jost
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An Interview with Renate Jost

In May 2012, Susannah Heschel and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza visited the Augustana Divinity School in Neuendettelsau (Bavaria, Germany) for a study day. At that time, I, Tina Binder, was a student assistant for Renate Jost and had the opportunity to meet these two remarkable women. At an evening meal, Elisabeth spoke about the first and soon-to-be-released Across Generations interview with Jane D. Schaberg in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (JFSR). When I gave up my post as student assistant in September 2012 to begin the vicarate, my roommate Sophia Weidemann replaced me. She told me about her new project: an interview for JFSR with Renate. After a brief conversation, a discussion with Renate, and initial agreements, it soon became clear that, as fellow students, roommates, and colleagues who knew each other well yet had differing perspectives, we should do the interview together.

Tina Binder:

Professor Jost, one semester I had the honor of translating the Book of Ruth with you and some other students for the second revised edition of the Bibel in gerechter Sprache (Bible in justice language). This was a new German translation of the Bible by theologians who asserted that Jesus was a Jew, that biblical women should be made visible, and that all forms of discrimination should be avoided. In your courses, you repeatedly choose themes from the Book of Ruth.

Renate Jost:

For me, the Book of Ruth is one of the masterpieces of world literature. For this reason and also to appeal to people unfamiliar with scientific and theological biblical interpretation, I chose a narrative interpretation of Ruth for my book Freundin in der Fremde (Girlfriend in a foreign country). That was the project I was working on when I translated the text with the group of students you referred to. Because I worked as a pastor for four years and there were no feminist materials available for practical use in the 1980s, it was important to me to provide resources to stimulate thought and to offer suggestions for teaching and group work. Poverty, especially among women who [End Page 161] are poorly educated, underemployed, single, or widowed, was and is an urgent problem in Germany. This is why I tried to interpret Ruth as well as Naomi as relevant role models, who, for example, illustrate the life of poor, embittered widows. Furthermore, I outlined what was for me a formative model of a communitarian coexistence of young and elderly women. Hardly any other biblical text in the First Testament offers a better opportunity to reflect on love between women. So, with my new interpretation, I tried to illustrate the respect and unconditional acceptance of many ways of life, a topic that was fiercely debated in the late 1980s.1 A childless female chancellor, a gay foreign minister, a former priest as federal president who was married to one woman but presented his life partner as first lady at public events, as was the case in 2013, would have been unthinkable thirty years ago.2 The topics of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, which I also addressed in my interpretation, are unfortunately still relevant today.

Sophia Weidemann:

Let’s go back to your beginnings. When and how did you first experience feminism and feminist theology? What touched and inspired you so much that you continued on a feminist path?

Renate Jost:

My first encounter with feminist theology was in 1976. I was studying Protestant theology in Göttingen at the time and lived in the Theologisches Stift, a theological university institution that has existed since 1765 and supports students and young researchers. Feminism was something that many of my colleagues at the time ridiculed, and feminist theology was virtually unknown. There was no literature available in German, except for translated protocols of the sexism consultation that had taken place in Berlin in 1974. We residents of the Stift, as we called it, decided who would be accepted into our institution—a product of the German 1968 movement. Isolde Böhm, who explicitly referred to herself as a feminist, was to arrive from Berlin. Everyone was curious...