Women & Theology from the Global South, week 11

Dr. Lee remarked that adding a reflection on the course would make this somewhat secretarial project stronger. She also mentioned it would require me to be transparent about my perspective.

I was raised Catholic in Iowa near the Mississippi River. The driftless region is and was cared for by the Sac-Fox Nation (Meskwaki) since before occupation by the French then Germans and Irish. I’m German-Irish (i.e. mixed white/caucasian), middle class, bisexual-heterosexual, cisnormative-heteronormative. Now 31, my pronouns are she/her(s)/they/their/ours. I’m in graduate school and aspire to get a doctorate someday. My beliefs are private, but I call myself a Humanist because I don’t mind representing humans as a species. I also call myself Nihilist because I love the potential of abyss-esque black holes and horizonless space. I teach and do odd jobs for money but I still financially rely on my family. I tell myself “it’s interdependence, not dependence” but I don’t know that my family all feels that way. I am the youngest of three and a half siblings. I like being the youngest. I do sometimes ‘get what I want’ in part because I watch everyone around me and learn how to negotiate situations based on their experiences. There are negative aspects as well, like being overly sheltered. Also, being at the bottom of the pecking order, there’s often a lack of control over decisions (even about my own life)
…Surely that’s enough about me. 

This course required us to be in conversation with past and present relationships between countries, cultures, and individuals.

Had I had access to Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Ivone Gebara, Chung Hyun Kyung, Kwok Pui-lan, Marcella Althusser-Reid, etc, at an earlier age I think I might have remained Christian (probably not, I’m non-dogmatic and have no desire to be saved). Reading their work is what it felt like to first read Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, or Baldwin. It’s like listening to the music of Divinum Mysterium played on the organ. As a thinker and a writer, I respect and admire their exceptional focus. They fleshed out, in words, the world’s wounds and salves. Overall, the contents of the syllabus are refreshingly complex, satisfyingly discontent, but not ill-humoured. Reading this collection is like having a dirty wound scrubbed clean, at times it’s uncomfortably progressive.

I feel transported into a liminal space after studying their work yet my surrounding environment remains the same. Attempts to express my interpersonal change feel weak or mediocre at best.
I’m hesitant
to take a strong stance about this body of work. I’ve only read the material once (if truly that–it’s a lot to absorb in a short time). Since my understanding is surface level the risk I take in trying to write about it is that I become
at best, overly romantic and
at worst, ignorantly critical.

It reminds me of this Buddhist koan I learned in Thailand about a student who notes to the Ajahn pouring from a kettle that nothing more can be added to a cup overflowing with tea and the teacher responds that nothing can be added to an overflowing mind. Reading this body of work begs the question of how do I empty my cup so I can receive this knowledge? How can and does being introduced to these knowledges and perspectives affect my thought and behavior?

Notes on the in-person meetings
As a lot of courses are online now, meeting in-person can feel unique and personal. It felt like we were being prepped for a UN meeting. Being in this course felt important.

The more I am around professors and students the more I pick up on new ways to organize and present information. For me, respect and honesty from a professor are naturally more motivating than being in a competitive environment as it fosters a sense of belonging and a desire to be able to repeat the information with accuracy.

Dr. Lee’s style doesn’t tend to be showy or competitive, yet I can’t imagine her losing a fight. She is subtle, nuanced, listens and speaks carefully and purposefully. Her lectures are well thought without seeming rehearsed or rote. Her tangent level, like Dr. Amy Erickson, is somewhere between a (strict) Dr. Jeffrey Mahan and a (loose) Dr. Jacob Kinnard (all of whom are excellent at moderating tangents towards the overall focus). The flexibility provided to chose our final paper or project was met with constructive direction.

Dr. Lee’s background is in pedagogy which means we don’t just talk about who the authors are and what they are saying, we incorporate what we learn into practice. I enjoyed experiencing everyone’s centering rituals, presentations, and presence in the conversations. A good deal of time was spent learning about the authors. That is a practice I’m beginning to incorporate into my teaching curriculum.

Studying and applying these critical theories can feel like activism because it changes how we think and live. For some people, that process of change is scary because we face the potential loss of our former selves. I believe when we start from a place of curiosity for what is beyond our context, learning a new topic can feel less confrontational when and if it conflicts with what we know or believe.

One recommendation I can make based on what I’ve read, seen, and experienced is that we (in N. America) need to adjust how we symbolize light and dark in our narratives. Far too often we use light and dark as a symbolic dichotomy of Good and Bad. Try flipping the two around when you speak or listen to stories. What do you notice about yourself or your environment when dark is Good and light is Bad? Or, when neither is neither.

Where now?
A museum guide once said that we should look at a piece of work
and after some time ask, “what if…”
…What if these women hadn’t confronted the world with their ideas like they did?
What if they didn’t write philosophy/theology but wrote westerns or computer manuals? What if their medium was film or poetry? Would it look like Bar Bahar or maybe Where Do We Go Now? Would it sound like Forough Farrokhzad’s “Another Birth”:

تولدى ديگر
فروغ فرخزاد

همه هستي من آيه تاريكيس ت
كه ترا در خود تكرار كنان
به سحرگاه شكفتن ها و رستن هاي ابدي خواهد برد
من در اين آيه ترا آه كشيدم آه
من در اين آيه ترا
به درخت و آب و آتش پيوند زدم

Another Birth
A dark and chanted verse is what I am
Forever bearing you
In myself imbued with you
Forth to the morning of eternal burgeonings and blooms
Oh yes I drew you through this verse oh breath
Oh yes I drew you through
This verse and crafted you
To seas to trees to fire I grafted you.

[Read the full poem on PoemHunter]

After reading some of their work and watching the videos, what are your “what if’s”?

Being introduced to a set of knowledge is like finding new love. It’s intimidating to allow oneself to be woo’d by a new philosophy or theology. It’s scary to temporarily ignore gravity and be dipped, swooned, into a new perspective. Here, this series comes to an end, but the exploration does not. A lot of people’s worthwhile work went into this project, I hope you’ve fallen in love with some of its elements. I appreciate your time and consideration of their, and my, contributions to the global conversations of philosophers and theologians.

Raise hell peacefully,
Emi

Photography by my eldest brother Seth Nagle 

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