If you were in Mary Hunt’s company, she would first offer you a cup of tea. She has done so nearly every day in her work as cofounder and codirector of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), hosting feminists and scholars from across the United States and around the world at the Silver Spring, Maryland, office. In my year-long staff associate position there, I observed her taking the time to sit with every scholar, both those new to the field and those with years of experience, to listen to each person’s story, share about her own work, provide support and resources, and talk specifically about ways to collaborate with feminists of all ages in a variety of fields. Equality, Mary has remarked, “involves making common cause with those who seek a just world on the myriad fronts of social change where Catholics’ energies are [End Page 183] needed. . . . We do so grounded in a spirituality of generosity and gratitude, in a practice of hospitality and solidarity, lest we replicate the flawed model that has oppressed Catholic feminists too often.”1
Mary earned her PhD from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, a master’s in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School (HDS). Her undergraduate work was at Marquette University. For more than thirty years since then, Mary and her partner, feminist liturgist and therapist Diann Neu, have built a network of women colleagues and activists at the intersection of feminism and religion with WATER. Mary calls her role as codirector at WATER, “a platform for the same theological work that teaching is for so many people,” but remains involved with education outside of the organization. She has taught at many institutions as an adjunct or visiting scholar, among them Colgate University, in philosophy and religion; HDS, as a fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life; in summer programs at Pacific School of Religion, Iliff School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary; and, for a number of years, in the women’s studies program at Georgetown University. International work in Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil has given the alliance a worldwide focus since its inception. She is also an advisor for the Women’s Ordination Conference and serves on several editorial boards, including the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.
In preparation for this interview, I was curious to learn more about the importance of fluidity in growth and change over the years and how expanded understandings of gender, sex, race, class, and religion continue to uproot and inform Mary’s work in the field. I also wanted to learn more about how to engage in work that is awake to change while still holding on to the history of all the brilliant feminist scholars who have paved the way. Mary and Diann have hosted more than sixty young scholars since WATER’s inception with a particular emphasis on guiding the next generation, bearing in mind both feminist history and a changing feminist future. I met Mary at WATER’s office in Silver Spring, Maryland, for a conversation on the importance of nonhierarchical structures, feminist theology’s evolution, and the vitality provided by communities that span generations. Before we began, we sat for—what else?—a cup of tea.
You come from a Catholic family. Could you talk about how growing up in that space influenced you? Is there a specific memory of when you first became interested in spirituality?
I grew up in a Catholic family in Syracuse, New York. Like many children, I grew up in a kind of Catholic ghetto where I didn’t realize there were a lot of other faith traditions out there. Many of the people in my neighborhood [End Page 184] had large Catholic families. In my own Irish-Catholic household, both of my parents were practicing Catholics, and it was expected that one went to church.
Early on, I saw through...