- Editors' Introduction
Mary Emily Briehl Duba opens the Short Takes section of this issue by declaring, "We live in a time of crisis" (159). Was there a time when we were not in crisis? A crisis is a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. Feminists and womanists do not know, nor can they recall, times of peace, safety, justice, or even American "greatness." Jan Willis, who marched in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign and now witnesses the #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName movements, wonders in this issue, "how many times—in my lifetime—we will be forced to go through these things again" (85). Twenty-four years ago, Willis wrote that "the trauma of slavery haunts African Americans in the deepest recesses of their souls," and still there are no reparations.1 You will notice that a number of contributions to this issue include lengthy lists of calamities. There are still more items one could add regarding life in the contemporary United States: rising anti-Semitism, increasing eviction rates and homelessness, and skyrocketing debt among both young and old. These lists compose a dismally steady drumbeat. We might find consolation in Karl Marx's assertion that petrified conditions could be made to dance by singing their own tune to them, just as the people must be taught to be terrified at themselves in order to give them courage.2 Nevertheless, we feminists and womanists have devised our own instruments by which to compose our songs and gather our courage.
A number of the contributions to this issue provide an occasion to reflect on the JFSR's dual allegiance to the academy and to feminist activism. The JFSR recognizes two communities of accountability: the academy, in which it is situated, and the feminist movement, from which it draws nourishment and vision. But what does this activism look like now? How is it sustained? And how does it inform our work in the academy? Our article section starts with Mara Benjamin's painstaking reconstruction of the development of Jewish feminist theology in North America. In addition to charting Jewish feminists' challenge to the authority of [End Page 1] classical textual sources, repudiation of gender subordination, and renunciation of patriarchal images of the divine, Benjamin's thorough and admiring analysis illuminates the "outpouring of innovative work in midrash, ritual, liturgy" (11) through which feminist activists transformed modern Jewish life and thought. In her article, "Tracing the Contours of a Half Century of Jewish Feminist Theology," Benjamin credits Jewish feminist activists for this long-running burst of critique and creativity and expresses concern that there is now a divide between the academy and feminist activism. The critical study of gender is welcome, agitation for social justice, not so much. Benjamin appeals to readers—an appeal we wish to amplify—to risk breaching this troubling divide.
In the last three decades, women's activism has secured several victories regarding women's ordination in Theravāda Buddhist communities and countries. In our second article, "Sri Lankan Buddhist Nuns: Complicating the Debate over Ordination," Susanne Mrozik focuses on the consequences of this revival of women's ordination in Sri Lanka. Evidencing determination, commitment, and resourcefulness, women in Sri Lanka had already established an alternative women's renunciant order in the early twentieth century, known today as dasasilmātās, or "ten-precept mothers"—however, these renunciant women are not considered members of the monastic community. Now that women have a choice to join either order, Mrozik was curious as to what factors drive their decision. Interestingly, women do not necessarily choose to seek ordination but often remain as dasasilmātās. Mrozik uncovers the nuances of their decision making, focusing on the women's desire to maintain relationships with one another and to avoid the drastic shifts in status that choosing to ordain often introduces in their lives. Although this may raise some important questions regarding ordination and hierarchy, Mrozik's intimate account reveals the complexities of women's lives that their activism cannot always afford to register.
In our third article, "Can Women in Interreligious Dialogue Speak? Productions of In/visibility at the Intersection of Religion, Gender, and Race," Judith Gruber interrogates both the exclusion and use of...