- The Evolution of Feminist Studies in Religion
The founding of JFSR in 1985 was an audacious and revolutionary act. Up until then, only the occasional article using a feminist lens surfaced in mainstream journals in the field of religion. Likewise, a diversity of voices was lacking in traditional scholarship. Responding to the ongoing need for dialogue and research dedicated to feminist studies in religion, Judith Plaskow and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza partnered to create a space where scholars and activists could have regular access to materials that addressed such issues. Their mission was bold. As Plaskow explains,
We intended to be a serious academic journal in which feminist scholars could proudly publish, and which would “count” for tenure and promotion. Yet we wanted the scholarship we published to come out of some kind of commitment to social and religious change. . . . We wanted to create a context in which some of the angry debates among feminists in religious studies could be aired and resolved. We wanted the work of women of color to be a central part of the journal from the beginning. We hoped that JFSR might have an appeal beyond the academy, that its articles and features might be of use to pastors, activists, and ordinary women interested in religion and feminism.1
Thirty years later, JFSR is recognized as the premier journal in feminist studies in religion; is widely accessed by scholars, religious professionals, and activists; and continues to offer a space where critical dialogue and research in the field that encompasses a broad range of voices takes place. Mission accomplished.
Today, the terrain of feminist studies in religion continues to evolve. While print journals like JFSR are certainly still relevant, new technology is affecting [End Page 135] the way we engage the field and the voices that are included in the conversation. The digital world brings with it a new revolution—opportunities for those who have been oppressed to claim power and share thoughts amid conversations where their voices have often been suppressed. I am not claiming that social media does not bring challenges or that all conversations that occur in the blogosphere are feminist and inclusive. Certainly not. However, it is clear that technology can be used as a tool to advance dialogue and expand movements committed to feminist ideologies.
A close examination of social media and the digital world demonstrates the embodiment of feminist values. For instance, hierarchies can be eliminated and a democratic participation process can be created. In addition, personal experience is significantly represented within the online platform, which helps eliminate an authoritative tone. “Women are claiming their experience and voicing what is often not said within the confines of a patriarchal culture. In doing so, women are empowered and empower other women to claim their voice and speak their own truth.”2 The Internet also addresses accessibility issues; geographical and situational boundaries no longer impede some voices from joining the conversation. As Gwendolyn Beetham and Jessica Valenti explain, “contemporary globalization has made the Internet—and blogs in particular—a valuable way for feminists to communicate through and beyond various divides.”3
The birth of online feminism and the movement to implement contemporary feminist action via social media paved the way for the field of feminist studies in religion to continue to evolve. With feminist blogs being called “the consciousness raising group of the 21st century,”4 feminist theologians, activists, and practitioners recognized that the digital world offers an opportunity to create space for voices that traditionally have been silenced. Within religion and theology, the power of voice has been dominated by men, and women have been excluded from the larger conversation. However, social media allows women and all voices that have been suppressed to “take the microphone.” Such action shifts the larger conversation, expands borders, creates new frontiers, and allows women to be recognized as leaders within their religious traditions. This is nothing short of revolutionary.
Caroline Kline has established herself as a leader in the Mormon feminist movement through her founding of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.5 [End Page 136] The site hosts an ongoing dialogue about gendered issues in the Church of the Latter...