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Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference

Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference
On October 7, 2017, five distinguished panelists will speak at a one-day event: the Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference for Justice and Peace. Co-sponsored by the Friends of Sabeel—North America (FOSNA), Claremont Area FOSNA, Claremont School of Theology, and the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, the conference will be held at Pilgrim Place (Decker Hall)–the retirement community for folks serving in religious or charitable organizations where Dr. Ruether currently resides. Dr. Ruether is widely known as a pioneer of Christian feminist theology and ecofeminism and has enjoyed a long career as a prolific scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church. A graduate of Scripps College (BA: Philosophy) and Claremont Graduate School (MA: Ancient History, PhD: Classics and Patristics), she is the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and a visiting professor of feminist theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983) and Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992) are widely regarded as classics in the field. Other notable publications among her 46 books include work on historical theology (viz., Women and Redemption: A Theological History (1998), Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History (2005)), interreligious encounters (Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet: A Buddhist-Christian Conversation (2001), Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions (2005)), and the Israel-Palestine conflict (viz., The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict (2002)). Beyond Dr. Ruether’s many accolades, I’ve long been impressed with Rosemary’s active mentorship and generous support of the next generation of feminist scholars. Since working at Claremont School of Theology from 2009 onwards, I have seen her serve on countless qualifying exam and dissertation committees of my students and, in several cases, write the forward to their first books. Longtime readers of this blog (Feminism and Religion) may recall that Rosemary supported it from the very start, including by authoring our  “What is Feminism?” section. For me personally, Rosemary is 2-2 in saying “yes” to my requests–that she guest-lecture in my Introduction to Christian Ethics course and serve as the respondent to a panel I had helped to organize on “Thinking Animals, Rethinking Race, Ethnicity, and Religion” at the American Academy of Religion (2012). About the Conference According to FOSNA, the purpose of the conference is to “honor Rosemary’s distinguished career dedicated to justice and peace, and to hear the voices of others advocating now for justice and peace in the Middle East.” Following a severe stroke last year that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak, it is FOSNA’s hope that Rosemary might be present for some portion of the conference and, most importantly, that “the rest of us…carry on with the same passion [she] had for many years for justice and peace for the Palestinians.” Speakers will include Princeton theology professor emerita Jane Dempsey Douglass, FOSNA theology consultant Don Wagner, Churches for Middle East Peace executive director Mae Elise Cannon, and Kairos USA program director Mark Braverman. The banquet will feature FOSNA founder Naim Ateek, the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation (cf. Ateek’s Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (1989), with a forward by Rosemary). The cost for the general public to attend the full conference and banquet is $80; Pilgrim Place residents, $60; students $30. Those wishing to attend only the banquet and Ateek’s talk will be charged $30. A box lunch will be available for $6.75. After September 13, the...
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A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder

A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder
  How does a professional society—a Christian one, no less—come to terms with the sexual abuse perpetrated over decades by one of its most vaunted members? At the recently concluded annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, this question was at the forefront of many conference participants’ minds. John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is often described as the most prominent Mennonite theologian of the 20th century. Author of the acclaimed The Politics of Jesus (1972) and a staunch proponent of Christian nonviolence, Yoder taught for many years at what is now the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary before joining the faculty at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. His decades of professional misconduct (i.e., his so-called “experiments”) with numerous women have been subject to two disciplinary proceedings in two contexts, but “the story of his abusive behavior remains painfully unresolved,” particularly as a 2015 report based on newly available documents and interviews makes clear. As fitting for a conference theme on “Structural Evil, Individual Harm, and Personal Responsibility,” the Society held several sessions for its members to come to terms with Yoder. A midafternoon panel comprised of two leading Christian ethicists (Stanley Hauerwas and Traci C. West) and the current president of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Sara Wenger Shenk) used the John Howard Yoder case as an “opportunity for self-critical reflection.” The panel collectively pondered the responsibilities of ethicists, scholarly societies, and academic institutions as they reflected upon the following questions: “How should we handle morally compromised legacies in teaching and scholarship? What can we learn from Mennonite institutional responses to Yoder’s harmful legacy? How can we foster cultures of ethics within the SCE and beyond?” The SCE also hosted an evening ecumenical service of “lament for sexualized violence.” As the planning team for this service acknowledged, there had never previously been a space for the SCE as a whole (i.e., beyond individual papers or panels) to express their concerns. Given Yoder’s egregious, decades-long abuse of power and his leadership in the Society (n.b., he was President from 1987-1988), the organizers wisely acknowledged that “we as an academic society must also face the difficult questions of our own complicity and of how to foster a community of scholars in which sexualized violence no longer has a part.” Other responsibilities prevented me from attending the panel, but I was able to attend the approximately 1-hour service. The liturgical setting in my judgment was powerful–appropriately somber and intense. I was heartened by the explicit naming at the beginning of the “complex and perhaps even conflicting emotions” of those assembled there, the pained confessions and intercessions of various congregants during the “prayers of the faithful,” and the manner in which service concluded, wherein participants were invited to write their (signed or anonymous) thoughts in such a way as to either be archived for future generations or ephemeral (i.e., dissolved in water). While I have long associated the SCE with good papers and good conversations with friends and colleagues, this was the first time that SCE had functioned for me as church. John Howard Yoder was also the subject of other sessions at the SCE, two of which I’ll note here. The first was a joint effort sponsored by the LGBT and Queer Studies in Ethics Interest Group and the Ethics and Sexualities Interest Group. In a co-hosted evening session entitled “Breaking Silence: Calling Out the Sexual Violence Against LGBT/Queer/Transgender Persons and Perpetrated by John Howard Yoder,” the organizers first acknowledged that the “racialized and sexualized violence perpetrated against marginalized bodies of color (LGBT, queer and transgender)” is “distinct but related” to the sexualized violence perpetrated by Yoder. They then raised questions about (1) how various...
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Tipping Points in Academe

Tipping Points in Academe
I’ve been thinking a lot about tipping points of late. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s debut book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000), a tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” when an “idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The term apparently originated in epidemiology to describe a situation when an infectious disease can no longer be prevented from spreading more widely. Tipping points are essentially turning points where whatever comes next can not be the same as what came or was before. In my fields of study, theology and philosophy, it’s clear that feminist scholarship reached its tipping point long ago—well before I began my graduate studies in the late 1990s. As many readers of this blogsite know, Women’s Studies is an established department in many institutions of higher learning (even as it continues to face questions about its legitimacy and continuing pressures of budget cuts in some quarters), feminist journals have long been producing high-quality articles (viz. the flagship Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion was founded more than three decades ago in 1983), and even academics who don’t explicitly identify as feminist can no longer simply ignore “the woman question” in their work as legions of (male) academics once did as a matter of course without repercussion. That feminist scholarship has long crossed the threshold at least in academia, however, does not, of course, mean that our work as feminists within the academy is complete. For instance, how many of you have ever attended a conference where all the panelists were men? That still all-too-common phenomenon even has a cheeky name – the “manel” or all-male panel. This hilarious “Congrats, you have an all male panel!” tumblr is attempting to document “all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts.” For kicks, readers are encouraged to add a David Hasselhoff stamp to their photo or screenshot before submitting. (In all fairness to Hasselhoff, there’s no evidence that he approves of manels; the tumblr’s founder apparently selected him as a quasi-patron saint of all-male gatherings given his embodiment of “white masculinity” during his heyday on the hit 1980s t.v. show, Knight Rider). photo source *                *                * Any feminist who scrolls through the submissions will likely find herself laughing at the hilarity of the smug David Hasselhoff stamp, while simultaneously lamenting the fact that manels in this day and age still exist. Clearly then, gender diversity (on panels) has not yet reached the tipping point. Yet the “name and shame” strategy of this tumblr and development economist’s Owen Barder’s encouragement for experts to take “the Pledge” (“At a public conference, I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the Chair” )– are clearly attempting to make manels a thing of the past.     There are so many more “tipping points” that I’d like to see in academia. Perhaps the biggest one is getting to a situation where it would no longer be acceptable to frame racial issues in black and white terms—as if the matter in the U.S. or elsewhere was binary. I’d also love to get to the tipping point where anthropocentrism in scholarship was as noticeable and problematic to readers as, say,  pro-slavery attitudes that one can find in many classical texts. What tipping point would you like to see? What small or big thing(s) are you doing to bring it about? Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor...
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Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016)

Social Transformation in the Urban Context (a.k.a. PANAAWTM 2016)
  In a few days I’ll be heading to Chicago to attend another conference—PANAAWTM to be exact. PANAAAWTM stands for “Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry.”  As I’ve explained in a previous blog, PANAAWTM’s deepest roots can be traced back to two groups of women: 1) Asian American women in theology and ministry in the West Coast who, with the help of Bishop Roy I. Sano, had begun meeting together in the late 1970s for mutual support and encouragement, (2) women on the East Coast who had come predominantly from Asia for graduate school in theology or to work in ministry who, through the assistance of trailblazing feminist theologian Letty Russell, also began to come together in 1984 to “explore common interests and the possibility of forming a network.” Though I have only begun to attend PANAAWTM for the past five years, it has now become a part of my regular conference circuit. It’s frankly so different from the other annual conferences I attend. How so? First, consider its more intimate size. In the past several years that I’ve attended, I’ve spent a long weekend in March with approximately just 50-70 other participants – a far cry from the hundreds that regularly turn up to the Society of Christian Ethics in January or the thousands that show up in droves for the American Academy of Religion in November (the two other guilds to which I belong and in which I actively participate). The small conference size facilitates the ability for us attendees to get to know one another in light of the more relaxed, “family feel,” atmosphere. Second, consider its “niche” target audience—women academicians in theology and related fields (e.g., Bible, ethics) and women in ministry (whether ordained or lay) who are of Asian heritage. The all-women—and all Asian—constituency is really quite unique for conferences and unparalleled in my personal life that going to PANAAWTM has consistently felt to me like moments out of time. And to be clear, these are no ordinary women — the women who attend are bona-fide, groundbreaking leaders in their fields of study or other areas of influence. These are women who are or have been “the firsts,” who are continuing to upend the status quo in accordance with feminist values, and who will not be content with any secondary class treatment or any attempt at marginalization they receive in whatever segment of society (viz., family, church, academy, nonprofit sector, business world). Third, consider its unusual format when judged from the standards of either an academic conference or a more standard, church-style retreat. PANAAWTM meetings in my judgment have always blended really creative and beautiful opening and closing rituals, sessions devoted to formal presentations (on research or community activism), informal sessions dedicated to personal or professional development, and then special fun times of celebration that usually involve a gift exchange, an auction, and either singing or dancing or some other form of merrymaking. PANAAWTM for me is the space in which I both serve – and am served – by others. It’s where I can build more personal relationships with my colleagues  and also learn from the example of our senior scholars of their tireless service and dedication to PANAAWTM (e.g., in the ways in which they keep PANAAWTM running even with our modest budget as they fundraise and contribute honoraria they receive from speaking engagements to provide scholarships for students to attend). It’s also where I can do my part in helping to equip and train the next generation by leading workshops (n.b., past topics of mine include public speaking, work/life balance, publishing) or serving on panels in various capacities (presider, presenter, respondent). This year’s conference...
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Finding My Voice

Finding My Voice
In my work with doctoral students, I’ve noticed that what often sets apart “good” graduate students from “good” junior scholars is the ability for the latter to say something important and distinctive. That is, while it may be sufficient during coursework and qualifying exams to master the canon of whatever counts as good scholarship in one’s field, success beyond graduate school will require academic hopefuls to make a bona-fide scholarly contribution to her field of study. For this reason, I am frequently asked by the graduate students I mentor, particularly those who are women, about the process by which I came to find–or claim–my scholarly voice. What follows bellow is a version of a talk I gave at the annual conference of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) in 2014 on this very question. The year was 2001. As an ABD, I was delivering a paper at my first academic conference (one for theology graduate students). There were four of us presenters, one from each of the schools represented in the Northeast (Harvard, Boston College, Yale, Brown). Naturally I was equal parts honored and nervous about making my debut. I remember stumbling over a few phrases, but being pleased overall with my performance. The Q&A that followed also generally went well. As it turned out, however, I had mentally prepared for nearly every question save one, which in hindsight had been the most important. In a nutshell, it was this—what say you? A senior white male faculty had noticed that I had let other thinkers do the talking for me. He observed that my paper had mostly been about advancing a theoretical paradigm of a particular scholar for a certain purpose and that I had responded to questions mostly by referencing what this same scholar or others would say. But that gentle soul kindly pressed to hear my authentic voice: he told me that those 50 or so assembled there were eager to hear me and that someday if he or others were to buy my books(!), it wouldn’t be because I had mastered the literature on any given topic, but because I had something unique to say about it. That exchange is one of my earliest and clearest memories of being invited to find and claim my own scholarly voice. Post-conference, I wish I could tell you that I experienced a Saul-to-Paul conversion and no longer deferred to the views of others. The truth is that the process of emerging as a scholar in my own right took longer than that. As I see it, I only started to grow comfortably into that new role in my second or third year as an Assistant Professor. Though certainty about our own motives ultimately remains inscrutable even to ourselves, my best guess of what initially kept me from speaking in my own voice was a fear of being wrong. I had always done well in school and had long grown accustomed to a conception of myself as a good student. And while I continued in grad school to succeed in absorbing and critically interrogating difficult material, the prospect of offering something constructive, something to take the place of what I had in whole or in part undermined, was much more daunting. Who was I to stake my claim on a weighty theological or philosophical question, particularly when some of the brightest thinkers throughout history had yet to resolve or reach a consensus on the matter? What I now interpret as enabling me to overcome this fear of being wrong was a combination of several factors: (1) a few “wins” or occasions where I took a decisive stand...
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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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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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