Western modernity and its fearful concerns about Western secularism continue largely to circumscribe Vatican II theology, especially in the US academic context. Occasionally, theologies of identity from the Global South counterpoise these concerns, but the fact that these perspectives are only included when they take on the form of contemporary geopolitical identity politics reflects the persistent influence of Western modernity on Vatican II theology in the United States. Identity politics as they relate to Global Southern women replicate European colonial histories and contemporary neocolonial relationships between the United States and other-than-Western cultures, reinstating Western Christianity’s drive for supremacy. As such, Vatican II theology in the US academic context reinforces a relationship of violence and exclusion, vitiating the claim that the Vatican II Catholic Church and its theology is hospitable to Global Southern women.
Expectations of identity-based theological reflection have also shaped the relationship of mentor and mentee in the theological academy. Yet strategic alliances have helped here, including, in some ways, subverting the power dynamic. My students, for example, have often been better mentors of my theological vision than my professors and colleagues in the academy. Hence, my vision for women in Catholic theology is one of feminist co-mentoring, marked by a sacramental ethical intimacy of and with the whole person.
One of the ways in which the violence of Vatican II theological and academic contexts is perpetuated is the assumption that studying theology is a desirable and achievable choice for women from other parts of the world. Theology as an academic discipline arose in a particularly Western and, in the United States, liberal Protestant milieu. Twenty-five years ago, when I imagined my own study [End Page 119] of theology, my lack of institutional affiliation as woman religious was a severe impediment both legally and culturally. In the traditional and cultural context of my upbringing, the idea that I would travel from India to North America alone in any capacity was unthinkable, even though it was the early 1990s. For another thing, I wanted to study theology, which no one, especially my mother, had heard of as a distinct or reputable subject of study. I was asked repeatedly why I wanted to study theology and whether my goal was “to be a nun.” The idea that I could study theology vocationally as a single Catholic woman was hardly intelligible.
In the United States, a liberal Protestant view of democratizing education, especially education in religion, assumed and continues to assume that cultural contexts should not bar women from access to academic and political opportunities. Conversely, Vatican II theology, for all of its loosening of institutional constraints in terms of theological education, did not and does not welcome the experience of women from the Global South unless they replicate the concerns of North American Catholic theology. Even when there is “inclusion,” it is based on legally mandated diversity requirements. Such a narrow view of the scope of theological production is reflected in the legal structures in place for women and the study of theology in a global context. Entry into the global academy comes at a high price for Catholic women.
When I presented my papers at the US consulate in Mumbai in 1990 at my first interview (there were three total), I was turned away after two minutes of conversation in which an African American woman (her race and gender identity is important to my narrative) asked me a single question: What is the net worth of your sponsor’s assets? I had no idea what she was talking about; my preparation for the interview had centered on arguments for why I wanted to study theology. I was dejected but knew I had a couple more tries left. The official’s racial and gender identity became an important part of my political concerns in later years when I realized the extent to which the US legal and academic context is persistently racist. Pitting minoritized groups against each other, reminiscent of the colonial strategy of “divide and rule,” creates a fracturing of alliances; a black woman now enforces the colonial relationship with a brown woman. At the second interview, a white...