Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology
by Carol P Christ and Judith Plaskow
Review by Rev Dr Patricia ‘Iolana
In Goddess and God in the World, two foremothers of feminist theology and thealogy offer their embodied experiences of the Divine from differing perspectives: Christ as a post-Christian Goddess Thealogian and Plaskow as a radical Jewish feminist theologian. And while this is a work of feminist theology/thealogy it is also a beautiful reflection on the power of Interfaith dialogue.
Christ and Plaskow write: "We began working on this book because—although we agree about many things—we disagree about the nature of Goddess and God. After working together for decades, we found it quite a shock to come face-to- face with a difference on such a major theological issue as the nature of divinity." (xiii)
Their dialogue is unique, as is its format. As a hybrid combination of ‘theological autobiography’ and ‘rigorous philosophical, theological, and ethical reflection,’ this book is what Christ and Plaskow call an ‘experiment in embodied theology that seeks to both demonstrate the connection of theology to experience and to show the complexity of the relationship between them.’ (xv)
While Christ and Plaskow wrote their own stories and chapters in Goddess and God in the World, they collaborated on chapter three ‘God in the History of Theology’ and chapter six ‘Feminist Theology at the Center.’
Their stories are enlightening and historic. Christ and Plaskow speak about how they both started out as theological scholars in a time when women were still unwelcome in divinity schools. Goddess and God in the World chronicles their individual and collective journeys based on mutual respect and love for one another. They speak strongly of supporting each other’s work, research, and ideas even though they may not agree on them. This is the beauty at the heart of this book—collaboration, love, support, and a mutually-respectful dialogue. This sentiment is reiterated in Christ’s chapter on Divine Power where she writes: ‘I doubt that either of us would be building theologies on personal experiences if our experiences had not been affirmed by others, particularly by other women, in communities.’ (195)
Christ and I have spoken on several occasions about the seeming lack of support within the early feminist community and continuing today. This lack of support for each other’s work has frustrated us both greatly. We have both witnessed the infighting, critical attacks, and exclusionary tactics used against fellow female scholars in theology and religious studies (although it’s certainly not limited to this academic field.) In Goddess and God in the World, Christ and Plaskow step out of this critical and harmful light to, instead, be the voice of support, encouragement, and love. Standing against the divisiveness that is often found in feminist theology, this book stands as a testament to mutually-respectful dialogue about the Divine from divergent perspectives.
Their autobiographical journey speaks of the roads not often taken and how their individual and collective experiences within their respective faith traditions are not ‘normative,’ but rather the exception to the rule. And while Christ has been encouraging women to share their stories for decades (a call began in 1979), Christ and Plaskow echo this sentiment again in Goddess and God in the World. In chapter six, Christ and Plaskow write: ‘we […] hope that what we share will resonate with the experiences of others in different situations inspiring them to think and write from their own embodied and embedded perspectives. (138)
There is common ground between Christ and Plaskow that serves as a guiding light for contemporary feminist religious scholars. Through their conversations, Christ and Plaskow discover that they both reject written traditions and construct their individual beliefs through ‘personal experiences and the insights of others.’ (194) These personal experiences are the heart of their embodied theologies, and stand as critical emerging locus theologicus (or place for theology/thealogy) that is vital to contemporary religious scholars. As increasingly more adherents of contemporary faith traditions seem to reject archaic and unchanging theologies in favour of personal experience, embodied theology and thealogy will continue to be a growing field in religious studies research and publication.
The critical, explorative, supportive, and embodied feminist ideas contained with Goddess and God in the World offer not only the story of how two foremothers of feminist theology came to stand in this time and place, but also exemplify how an interfaith dialogue can proceed with respect and love despite differences. It is a must-read not only for feminist scholars in religion but also for interfaith scholars as an exemplary interfaith dialogue. Write on, sisters. Write on.