Dreaming of Sabbatical

Dreaming of Sabbatical
  In the midst of doing last-minute shopping, decorating, and entertaining for the holidays, I find myself on the eves of Christmas and New Year furiously trying to meet several important work deadlines. While burning the candle at both ends writing and grading, I also find myself from time to time breaking out in a wry smile. The reason? I get to start out the New Year with a one-semester sabbatical leave. Here’s the deal at my school: we tenured or tenure-track faculty work six full semesters and then, pending approval of our application (which nearly always happens), get to take a break from regular teaching and service commitments in our seventh semester. We get to spend our sabbatical time in any way that we wish so long as we return refreshed and provide a satisfactory account for the work we did (i.e., we submit a report to the Board of Trustees of how we advanced in our teaching, research, and service). Since we are paid our full salaries during sabbatical, such policies can be understood as recognition/additional compensation for prior service and as forward-looking investment into our and our institution’s future. (Yes, I know how privileged I am. With adjuncts now constituting 76.4% of all faculty in institutions of all types according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors and with educational institutions clamping down (or at least threatening to tighten up) on sabbaticals for tenure-stream faculty as a cost-saving measure, I am incredibly grateful that my institution has retained its generous sabbatical leave policy.) The heart of the word “sabbatical” should conjure for anyone familiar with the Bible the notion of “rest” – either for a day, as in the case of God resting on the seventh day of creation and later commanding the Israelites to do likewise (Gen 2:2, Exodus 23:12) or for an entire year, where no work (sowing, pruning, reaping, gathering) was to be done on the land. Regardless of the length of time (day or year), the point has never been to “do nothing” for its own sake, but to spend time honoring God without the distractions of ordinary life as well as to provide much-needed rest for humans, other animals, and the lands so as to enhance all of our ability to “produce” in quality ways for the long haul. Apparently the origins of the modern sabbatical for professors dates back to the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when ten colleges and universities (beginning with Harvard in 1880) established sabbatical leave programs in the U.S. By 1920, some 40 other institutions had followed suit. Of course the translation of the religious concept of “sabbatical” into any modern educational institution (secular or otherwise) will never be wholesale, but it seems appropriate that academic institutions today retain the heart of the biblical notion, which I understand to be spiritual regeneration and the reconnection as well as righting of relationships with all creation (especially when one factors into one’s understanding of sabbatical the “Jubilee” tradition, see, e.g., Leviticus 25, Luke 4:16-30). Practically speaking for me, the origins of sabbatical means that I must resist filling my sabbatical time in nearly exactly the same way I do in my regular life. (For faculty like me whose life circumstances–young children in my case–preclude me from jetting off to some foreign locale for a sabbatical stint, sabbatical life mirroring ordinary life, minus teaching and service, is a real temptation). In short, I shouldn’t think of my sabbatical as merely an ability to churn out more of the same, but to bear different kinds of fruit. I need to plan my time so that the quality, not just quantity, of the work I do improves in the aftermath. So on...
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Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)

Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)
My social media accounts have recently been ablaze with announcements of meetings, sessions, and receptions to attend for those of us who study or work in religion/theology in the U.S. Some 12,000-15,000 scholars and students will descend upon San Diego this weekend for the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) conference. While as a theological and philosophical ethicist I attend this gathering every year regardless of venue or conference theme, I’m particularly excited about this year’s focus on climate change. Sessions devoted to the topic include a panel on the release of the Public Religion Research Institute/AAR National Survey on Religion, Values, and Climate Change (Sat, 9-11:30am, CC-20D) presentations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Sat, 11:45-12:45, CC-20D), a talk by environmentalist Bil McKibben (Sat, 7:30-8:30pm, CC-20D),  the AAR Presidential Address by Laurie Zoloth (an eminent bioethics and Jewish Studies scholar; Sun 11:45-12:45,CC-20D), and remarks by former president Jimmy Carter on “The Role of Religion in Mediating Conflicts and Imagining Futures: The Cases of Climate Change and Equality for Women” (Mon, 4-5:30pm, CC-20) among others. Beyond that, I’m especially excited about the number of sessions I see devoted to discussing ecofeminism–the scholarly and activist movement that takes seriously the interconnections between the oppression of women and the exploitation of nature. Let me enumerate a few of these (n.b. the following is a non-exhaustive list): – On Friday, 1:30-3:30pm (CC-14A), the Women’s Lounge Roundtable will entail a pre-conference luncheon on “Ecofeminism and Earth Healing” featuring emerging scholars from Claremont Graduate University. – On Sunday, 9-11:30am (CC-3), the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group will feature a panel of papers on “ecological, epistemological, and ethical habitations.” – On Sunday, 1-2:30pm (CC-30A), the Feminist Theory & Religious Reflection Group will sponsor another session tied to the conference theme: “Strategic Negotiations with Feminism on the Borders: Rhetoric in American Homiletics, ‘On the Move’ Ethics in Ecofeminism.” – On Sunday, 3-4:30pm (CC-26), the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group will convene a session entitled “Ecowomanism 101: A Roundtable Discussing Vital Themes and Trajectories.” I’m looking forward to this conference and wish all AAR/SBL attendees an enriching and eventful time as well! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011), has a forthcoming co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics (Baylor University Press), and is working with Rebecca Todd Peters on anthology of women’s theological lives.  This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the intersection between scholarship, activism, and...
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My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”

My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”
I recently had the honor of serving on a panel entitled “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives” with three of my faculty colleagues: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Monica A. Coleman, and Najeeba Syeed. It had been organized by the Claremont School of Theology Alumni/ae Association in partnership with the La Plaza United Methodist Church and the Los Angeles United Methodist Museum of Social Justice (where the event had taken place). We had an incredible time. La Plaza UMC, led by CST alum Rev. Vilma Cruz-Baez (’07), graciously hosted a reception before our panel discussion. As we feasted on hearty Mexican food (my favorite was the watermelon agua fresca), we perused the Exodus exhibition in the Museum of Social Justice, which featured dramatic black and white photographs of migrants and others who had made their lives in Los Angeles (n.b., the Museum is located in the basement of the Church, which is itself located on historic Olvera Street). I was grateful for the warm welcome and short history of the Museum that Director Leonara Barron provided. After further introductions and words of welcome, moderator Thea Mateu Zayas (CST ’14) cued us panelists to begin our presentations. Our esteemed colleague, Rosemary, went first. In her typically erudite manner, she explained what ecofeminism is, particularly to what exactly ecofeminism is serves as a corrective. I was especially grateful to hear her denounce any simplistic identifications between women and nature as well as tease out what ecofeminism implies for ethics and theology. Professor Monica A. Coleman went third. She spoke beautifully about the ways in which her entrance into religious studies had been shaped from the start by black women’s scholarship–the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Katie Geneva Cannon, Delores Williams, Renita Weems, and others. She then explained what “third wave womanism” is, the impetus behind her widely-anthologized “Must I Be a Womanist” article, and the many ways that she and others will continue to “wade in the water” by “troubling” conventional wisdom. Our fourth panelist, Professor Najeeba Syeed, brought down the house! She opened with an original poem and then, with the commanding presence and passion of a scholar-activist-preacher, enumerated in eight different ways the difference that a critical feminist perspective can make to interreligious encounters or studies and transnational politics. I can’t possibly do justice to her many points (e.g., she encouraged the audience to consider who has access to sacred space, interrogated the supposed link between women’s liberation and particular expressions of public piety, delimited the ways in which feminism “busts up” traditional categories of analysis in religion), though one tweet I read later about her presentation captured what I suspect was a widespread reaction among the students in the audience: “Friend turns to me after @NajeebaSyeed finishes: ‘Holy shit.’ Me: ‘Yeah, she’s awesome.’ @CST_News feminist theology panel.” What about my remarks? I spoke second. I began by offering my understanding of feminism–one that I named as having been influenced by the work of Judith Butler, bell hooks, and Sister Margaret Farley (among others). I also stressed how the best feminist scholarship today is intersectional. I next described how feminist theo-ethical commitments inform my current research projects. I spent most of the time talking about an anthology I am co-editing with Rebecca Todd Peters (“Toddie”) that is tentatively entitled Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives. But I also took the opportunity to acknowledge how the work of Carol Adams and others had led me to develop scholarly and activist interests in nonhuman animals, given the parallel ways that women and nonhuman animals can be exploited and commodified under patriarchy. In the final segment of my talk, I spoke of the ways in which I remain in the debt of flesh-and-blood feminist theologians, particularly those I am fortunate enough to count as mentors, colleagues, and friends. I named fellow...
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What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting

What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting
Like many others, I’ve been following the aftermath of the recent shooting death of an 18-year old black teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri with a mixture of shock and horror. Mainstream news coverage and my Facebook newsfeed have been appropriately flooded with commentary about systemic racism, racial profiling, civil unrest, and the militarization of the police. As several African American thought leaders have noted, Brown’s death was not an aberration but “just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men.” I probably would have only continued to think about these horrific black-male-deaths-by-white-police accounts through these familiar lenses of racism, police brutality, parental grief, and communal protest had I not stumbled upon several reflections explicitly identifying Michael Brown’s shooting as a feminist issue. Xochitl Alvizo, for one, analogized between the “everyday existence of young black men, of boys in this country, and that of women” (viz., “the lack of safety in public places; the need to always be aware of one’s surroundings; the lack of trust in the intentions of another; living with the knowledge that people like you experience violence at much higher rates than others”). While any astute observer could have made this comparison, I’m not surprised that it was a queer feminist of color (Latina) who did so in this case.   Other feminists of color, including Dani McClain of The Nation, senior legal analyst Imani Gandy as quoted in Feminist Newswire, and Emma Akpan of RH Reality Check, explicitly named police violence against black and brown male youth as a “reproductive justice” concern in a way that I had not heretofore considered.   According to Loretta Ross, co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, the term “reproductive justice” was coined by African American women in 1994 after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. While widely adopted and used by activists, academics, funders and others alike, the term is “not merely a substitute for the terms ‘pro-choice,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ or even ‘sexual rights.’” Instead, the framework is at once intersectional and holistic in seeking to go beyond the narrow “it’s my body, it’s my choice” language in attending to the harsh realities that disproportionately block underprivileged women of color from self-determination in crucial aspects of their lives. As black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett explains, “We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence….If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”   More specifically, the shooting death of Michael Brown (and others) violates the third of the three core reproductive justice principles for which SisterSong has stood since their founding in 1997: Decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth Decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy Parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government This lesser emphasized third principle among those committed to reproductive rights seems entirely appropriate to me—a helpful corrective to the mistaken view that all that is needed on this front is legal, safe, and affordable access to reproductive healthcare for women. It both angers and saddens me to read of accounts from black feminists like Akpan that they “grew up listening...
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A Prayer for our Broken World

A Prayer for our Broken World
The news of late has been terrible. I read about the following headlines yesterday (July 17, 2014): 1. A Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers aboard. Both the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia separatists have denied responsibility and it is still (at the time of this post) too early to assess blame. I feel for the families and loved ones of those lost, the people in the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine, and Malaysian Airlines for the tragic year they have already undergone. 2. Israel begun a ground offensive in Gaza “after 10 days of aerial bombardment failed to stop Palestinian militants from showering Israeli cities with rockets.” I had been following reports of Palestinian and Israeli children being caught up in the cycle of violence and my heart has been heavy with sadness. 3. Closer to home, I’ve been reading about escalating protests by both sides of the immigration debate as throngs of “unaccompanied alien children” (to use official parlance) from Central America who have been apprehended at our southwest border await their fate. As a Christian, parent of young children, and an American, I am totally baffled about what to think about this humanitarian crisis and political-legal quandary. So it is days like these where I find myself speechless. I have no witty analyses to provide, solutions to propose, or words of comfort to offer. Instead, I find myself turning to the eloquently written prayers of others to see if their words can help me form my own. I found myself thumbing through my copy of Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. I was especially moved by eminent process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki’s prayer entitled “For Peace.” Beloved God, you have shown us through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that you feel the pain of the world, the sins of the world, the griefs of the world. You have shown us that our relentless turn to violence is ever more gall, more nails, more spears. And our hearts cry out in sorrowful confession that we crucify you anew through every pain we inflict upon our world.  Beloved God, you have shown us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that you receive our ills for the sake of transforming our ills, that you experience our deaths for the sake of renewing our lives, that you feel our many forms of violence for the sake of impelling us to join in your own loving will toward reconciliation and peace.  Beloved God, upon us to sharing more deeply your own love for this our world. Pull us into your will toward reconciliation and peace. Transform these agonies of war into agonies for peace, until we yearn for peace so profoundly that we become your channels for its accomplishment.  Through Jesus Christ our crucified and resurrected Lord, Amen. May Suchocki’s prayer, or that of another (including your own), bring us peace. Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and her co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics is forthcoming (with Baylor University Press). She is also co-editing a volume with Rebecca Todd Peters that is tentatively entitled “Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives.”  This blog was originally posted on feminism and religion —a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f”...
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No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith

No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith
I’ve recently read Jim Belcher’s In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity (2013). Even though I had several issues with the book, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading and finished it in the space of one day. What’s the book about? After spending a decade planting and leading a church, raising four children, writing his first book, and fixing up an old house, the author found himself totally worn out and in deep need of spiritual rest. So, too, did his wife Michelle who desperately craved “some time away from the bubble that was pastoral ministry, where every decision or action was open to scrutiny, where private life was difficult to maintain.” So the couple took their four school-aged children and embarked on a yearlong sabbatical across Europe. In addition to recharging and recuperating, the plan was for them all to explore the biographies and places of some of the great heroes of Christian faith. Their pilgrimage sites included C.S. Lewis’s Oxford University, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary and place of imprisonment, Vincent Von Gogh’s asylum in Saint-Rémy, the French village of Le Chambon that served as a haven for 5000 or so Jews fleeing the Nazis and their French collaborators, and the key places in the life of Maria von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame), among others. The book was an inspiring read. I found myself entertaining thoughts of how some day in the distant future I, too, might manage to take an extended family trip that would also be rejuvenating, educational, and spiritually uplifting. What I had (and still have) a hard time identifying with, however, is a parental fear explicitly named by the author that served as another part of the rationale for the pilgrimage. In his own words, “we worried about [our children’s] faith—would they grow strong in their trust of God or would they fall away?” Belcher was especially concerned about what would happen when his kids went to college “and faced all the temptations of university life, both morally and intellectually”: would they “abandon the faith because it did not mean much to them…[because it would get] in the way of their happiness and success?” I can’t say that I share this fear, let alone concern. Granted, my kids are only 4 and 6 and so perhaps my time to worry will come later. (At this stage, my husband and I are preoccupied with much more basic concerns than spiritual maters, such as getting our 4 year-old to be less picky of an eater and teaching our 6 year-old how to have better impulse control.) On deeper reflection, however, my inability to relate to this apparently widespread  concern about passing down the faith is probably tied to my own baggage. When I majored in philosophy and religious studies in college, countless individuals from my evangelical Christian community (though fortunately not my parents) expressed worries that I would “lose my faith.” I remember being warned away from taking academic courses on Christianity or the Bible because they weren’t taught by “believers.” These fears of others only grew when I pursued a doctorate in theology and philosophy in graduate school. I resented their paternalistic interventions and wanted to pursue “the truth”—wherever that led me. [It would be appropriate here to note an important contrast: the Belchers tackled their fears for their children by providing them with more knowledge and experiences while members of my home community wanted to prevent me from having either.] Sure enough, one doesn’t emerge from a serious study of philosophy, theology, and religion unscathed and the faith that I had prior to these studies is...
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A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi
The start of the Spring 2014 semester is right around the corner, which means that many academics like me are madly trying to put the finishing touches on their syllabi. The process of doing so has always been equal parts exciting and stress-inducing. Right now, however, I am feeling the pain. Why? Let me speak first to the joy. What I cherish most about creating syllabi is the constant opportunity for renewal. As a professor with a 2/2 teaching load (i.e., I teach 4 courses per year) and with academic freedom to teach what I want in concert with my institution’s curricular needs, I get to design new classes, reconfigure courses I’ve taught previously in light of new scholarship (or new topics or new pedagogical techniques I’d like to try in the classroom), and of course do it all in the context of a different crop of students each time. Other perks include consulting with colleagues at different institutions about how they’ve designed similar courses and receiving free or greatly discounted examination copies of the books I’m considering adopting. That twice-yearly deluge of new texts feels like Christmas! What, then, of the pain? Beyond the normal stress of having to meet deadlines under the constraints of time (after all, students should rightfully receive their syllabi by the first day of class), I have always felt the burden of responsibility at the syllabus-construction stage. To be sure, the anxiety I feel about the task is not attached to any insecurities about my teaching abilities, it’s tied to the heavy obligation I feel to my students and to the field to “do it well.” To illustrate, of the many ways that a course like “Introduction to Christian Ethics” or “Religion and Human Rights” could be taught (e.g., thematically, chronologically, using a “greatest hits” or a “voices from the margins”  or a “both/and” approach, focusing more on theory or applied ethical case-studies, etc.), I must in every case decide on what I think will be the best way given my sense of how the field is constituted, my strengths, and the needs and abilities of the particular constellation of students who are likely to enroll. Discerning all of that is not easy and there can be real losses to the choices I’ve made to further those ends, however reflective or conscientious I’ve been on the matter. One of the greatest losses I feel is in the limitation of the topics and texts that can be covered. That can’t be helped, for only so much material can be absorbed within a 13-15 week semester. I know that when I am making cuts, I am engaging implicitly or explicitly in the process of canon-formation. As readers of this (feminism and religion) blog know, any talk of canon is talk of power. Who or what to include? Who or what to exclude? On what basis does one make those judgments? Alas, the blog must end and the class prep must resume, for my Spring 2014 syllabi for “Feminist Ethics” and “Ethical Theory: Metaethics” won’t write themselves. Here’s to all students and fellow academics for a successful Spring 2014 term! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology  and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two co-edited book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics (under contract with Baylor University Press) with Ilsup Ahn, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives with Rebecca Todd Peters.   This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the...
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A Feminist Eulogy?

A Feminist Eulogy?
My grandmother, my last living grandparent, recently died. She was 84 years old. Because I’ve just come back from Taiwan where I participated in all of her funerary rites and delivered a eulogy therein, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing the dead.  Is there such a thing as a “feminist”  or feminist Christian way to remember the dead? What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy? My grandmother saw incredible change in her life: she was born under Japanese rule, lived through the decades-long imposition of martial law (after Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists fled the mainland in defeat from the Communists in 1949), and witnessed firsthand the “Taiwan miracle” of rapid industrialization and growth in the latter part of the 20th century. I knew her best, however, in the context of family: as a woman who worked alongside of my grandfather who was a doctor in southern Taiwan, who served as something like a home caretaker/nurse for him after he became semi-paralyzed mid-life from a  stroke, and who capably raised four kids and then came to cherish her ten grandchildren from them. I reproduce below a slightly redacted version of the eulogy I delivered, which my mom then translated into Taiwanese. I confess that as I was writing (and even delivering) it, the feminist in me was worried that I would be reinforcing–as opposed to interrogating–the idea that “good” women should serve others selflessly. (And that was a particular concern of mine because I knew a good portion of those assembled believed that). A-ma was a constant presence in my life, even though she triangulated between our house, my auntie and uncle’s house in San Marino, and her own and other relatives’ homes in Taiwan. My earliest memories of A-ma was of her cooking, cleaning, taking care of A-gong [grandfather], and reading the Bible. I can’t recall one episode when I heard her complain; she accepted her caretaking responsibilities with grace. Even with our language barrier, she did whatever she could to help my brother and me. When I was in elementary school, A-ma would generously send a large package of new clothes every summer for my brother and me to wear – this was in the late 1970s and 1980s, before clothes became inexpensive in the U.S. I also remember that in fifth grade, A-ma sewed me a beautiful pink dress and pink hat for “Civil War Day” and I won first prize for my costume. She was very proud. My fondest memory of A-ma when I was little girl, however, was when we used to go digging for clams. We would roll up our pants and the sleeves of our shirts and feel for clams with our toes. A-ma always managed to find the largest ones. After soaking and rinsing them, she would steam them for our whole family to enjoy. These were some of the best meals of my life. Apart from the birth of my two children in the last five years, Ama was present at every major milestone in my life: from my college graduation, to graduate school graduation, to my wedding day. I will also never forget the fun times we had when we were on vacation. I especially remember the look of glee on her face when she helped to reel in a 150 lb. marlin in Cabo San Lucas and then began practically lecturing the person cleaning and filleting the fish not to waste any of it and to keep the eggs. The only memory I have of A-ma upset about anything was on our trip to Alaska. When we were walking around town one afternoon, we...
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No More Of This in Academe!

No More Of This in Academe!
Last week, social media was ablaze over a September 18 Pittsburg Post-Gazette column entitled “Death of An Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik that had the following teaser: “Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83.”  Inside Higher Ed reports that the column went viral as “adjuncts across the country reported seeing something tragically familiar in her story.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education likewise covered the story with this tagline: “An Adjunct’s Death Becomes a Rallying Cry for Many In Academe.” This tragedy involves all sorts of issues with which readers of this blog are concerned: power, structural injustice, job insecurity, underemployment, unions, healthcare, and Catholic values (the last of these since Margaret worked at a Catholic institution), to name a few. To pay homage to Mary Margaret and to the plight of many today facing similar obstacles and difficulties, I invite you to read Daniel Kovalik’s full column. On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to. On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court…follow link to read the rest. Daniel Kovalik is senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union (DKovalik@usw.org). First Published September 18, 2013 12:00 am How can we work together to prevent more of these stories from happening? November 17, 2013 update: According to a recent Slate magazine article by L.V. Anderson, “the story…[i]s more complicated than the story that went viral. The reasons Vojtko’s life ended in misery had much less to do with her status as an adjunct professor than tweeters using the #IamMargaretMary hashtag might believe.” Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on a co-edited anthology providing a theological exploration of women’s...
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