“There are no women on my theology bookshelf…”

by maggi dawn

… so said a twitter friend this week. What is there (who is there?) he asked. And a trickle of responses came back from all over the twittersphere. When people ask about “women theologians” the subtext is often “I need to read about “women’s issues” in theology so I need a female author”.  But the most interesting women’s voices in theology are not writing about “women’s issues” per se, they are simply writing theology.  Certainly their experience of theology may be coloured by the fact they are a woman. But there is something insidious about assuming that women are there to add on “women’s issues” to what is otherwise “neutral” theology. It implies that theology written by men (mostly white men, incidentally) is neutral theology, and women add on the other stuff, the on-the-side issues that are not central. But in fact, no one gives you neutral theology. Barth gives you male, Swiss, post-war, post-liberal theology – strongly inflected by his historical setting and personal circumstances. Rahner gives you the perspective of a 20th century male celibate catholic priest, wrestling with language after Wittgenstein. Hauwerwas gives you white, American, Protestant theology; James Cone gives you black American Protestant theology – it’s all theology, but every one of them writes in a way nuanced by their particular setting. There is no such thing as neutral theology. There is theology done by people who happen to be male, by people who may be white, black, or asian, by people who may be disabled or not, poor or rich, Western or not. And theology by women is not done just for women, nor is it only about women. It’s theology – regular theology – being done by people who happen to be women.

As I set out on my PhD studies a few years ago, with my first degree behind me, I began to get calls from publishers asking me to write about women in theology, feminist theology, what is it like to be a woman and a theologian. I took these very flattering letters along to my supervisor, herself a seasoned writer and very fine theologian.  “You have a choice,” she said. “You can write about women’s issues as they relate to theology, and that is a fine thing to do. Or you can just carry on doing theology in your area of interest. But you can’t do both.”
“Why not?” I asked. I never forgot her reply:  “I’ve seen so many women start out with such promise,” she said. “Then they are asked to write about being a woman, about being a feminist, and all that stuff. They spend so much time on that, their real area of interest is swamped, and then they don’t do so well on their first call. Then guess what happens? – men, behind closed doors, say to one another – ‘told you so! women can’t cut it in theology!’ So you choose: read Coleridge, or read feminism; do one well, but don’t do both of them badly.”

There are so many women with interesting things to say, some writing about feminism but many more simply writing about areas of theology that used to be thought of as a male preserve – or, the earlier you go, writing theology against the culture that denied them access to what was assumed to be a male preserve. This is very far from a complete list, I’m jotting these down off the top of my head – but the fact that I can come up with a list like this without thinking too hard is evidence enough that there are plenty of places to go if you realise there are no women on your bookshelf. My categories are not perfect – and some of these writers could appear in two or three categories, but such is the impossibility of lists. I’ve read a lot of books, but I haven’t read everything in every field so there will, of course, be many omissions – if someone’s name isn’t here it is due to my ignorance or forgetfulness, not a reflection on them! (And please make up for this by adding more suggestions in the comments.) My purpose here, though, is not to provide an exhaustive list, but to indicate that it really doesn’t take a lot of work to find women writing in theology. It just takes a little.

Note – this is about women on your bookshelf – so this is not a list of wondrous women, but published women.

ancient voices 
Hildegaard of Bingen (12th Century, German)
Eloise (letters between her and Peter Abelard) 12th Century
Clare of Assisi (13th century Italian)
Julian of Norwich (14th century English mystic) – also note the excellent Frances Beer who writes about her
Catherine of Siena (14th Century Italian)
Theresa of Avila (16th century Spanish)

19th and early 20th century 
Phoebe Palmer (1807 – 1874, American)
Catherine Mumford Booth (19th century English)
Jessie Penn Lewis (1861–1927, Welsh) 
Simone Weil (1909 –1943, French)
Charlotte von Kirschbaum  (1899-1975,  German)
Evelyn Underhill (1875 –194, English)

biblical studies
Margaret Barker
Jo Bailey-Wells
Adela Yarbro Collins
Ellen Davis
Michal Beth Dinkler
Mary Douglas
Beverly Gaventa
Paula Gooder
Judith Gundry Paul and Perseverance: Staying in and Falling Away, 1990
Morna Hooker
Denise Dombkowski Hopkins – Hebrew Bible
Judith Lieu
Pheme Perkins
Carolyn J. Sharp – Hebrew Bible
Phylis Trible

patristics/early christianity
Pamela Bright – on Tychonius, Augustine
Virginia Burrus
Liz Clark
Kate Cooper
Nicola Denzey
Susanna Elm
Morwenna Ludlow
Patricia Cox Miller
Sara Parvis
Karen Torjesen
Frances Young

early christian art and culture
Felicity Harley-McGowan
Susan Ashbrook Harvey

Julie Canlis (writes on Calvin)
Charlotte Methuen

philosophical/systematic/historical theology
Marilyn McCord Adams
Lorraine Cavanagh
Sarah Coakley
Karen Kilby
Renate Kobler
Catherine Mowry LaCugna
Sallie McFague (also fits into ethics)
Sara Maitland – (my favourite of hers is A Big-Enough God: Artful Theology, 1994)
Margaret Miles (history of theology)
Nancy Murphy
Catherine Pickstock
Suzanne Selinger
Kate Sonderegger
Janet Soskice
Kathryn Tanner
Susannah Ticciati (apophatic theology, Barth, Augustine)
Angela Tilby
Medi Ann Volpe
(oh, and yours truly, Maggi Dawn!)

theological memoir (strong in theological content but doubly interesting for their literary form)
Karen Armstrong
Rachel Mann – Dazzling Darkness
Chine Mbubaegbu Am I Beautiful
Kathleen Norris
Katherine Jefferts Schoritheology, literature and the arts (including novels, poetry and literary critique of notable theological content)
Ruth Etchells – a pioneer in this field
Kathy Galloway (who would also figure in systematics, I think) 
Mary Karr Sinners Welcome 
Sarah Miles – Take this Bread
Flannery O’Connor
Marilynne Robinson – Gilead, Home

ecclesiastical history 
Caroline Walker Bynum (medieval history and theology)
Rona Johnston Gordon
Judith Herrin
Frances Knight
Jessica Martin
Jane Shaw
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Monks and Markets: Durham Cathedral Priory 1460-1520
Megan Williams

sociology of religion/religious studies
Linda Woodhead
Kristin Aune
Eileen Barker
Grace Davie
Penny Edgell
Sally Gallagher
Elaine Graham
Slavica Jakelic
Bernice Martin
Sarah Jane Page
Laurel Schneider
Sonya Sharma

Asian Christianity and Theology
Chloe Starr

Teresa Berger – Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical Tradition: Lifting a Veil on Liturgy’s Past (2011)
Marva Dawn (no relation!)
Siobhan Garrigan
Gail Ramshaw
Melanie Ross The Serious Business of Worship (ed., 2010)
Nicola Slee

on doctrine/ethics/political theology
Susannah Cornwall (theological ethics, sexuality, interest)
Margaret Farley
Amy Laura Hall (also on Kierkegaard)
Jennifer Herdt
Ann Morisy
Rachel Muers
Esther Reed
Anna Rowlands
Emily Townes
Heidi A. Campbell
Pauline Hope Cheong
Bex Lewis
Rachel Wagner

Barbara Brown-Taylor
Anna Carter Florence
Susan Durber
Fleming Rutledge
Nora Tubbs Tisdale

devotional writing and pastoral/applied theology
Dorothy Bass
Christina Baxter
Zoe Bennett
Kenda Creasy Dean – youth ministry
Lillian Daniel
Barbara Glasson, A spirituality of survival
Janet Henderson
Vanessa Herrick
Jane Keiller
Bonnie Miller-McLemore
MaryKate Morse
Mary Clark Moschella
Kathleen Norris
Elaine Ramshaw, Ritual and Pastoral Care
Janet K. Ruffing
Margaret Silf
Rosie Ward, Growing Women Leaders, nurturing women’s leadership in the Church
Lucy Winkett
Margaret Whipp
Almeda M. Wright

feminist theology
Ann Loades Feminist Theology: A Reader gives samples of a wide range of writers – including:
Mary Daly
Jenny Baker
Daphne Hampson
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
Elaine Storkey’s What’s Right with Feminism is a very good opening up of the subject
and in reply to that movement of writers, the quite brilliant womanist theologian:
Jacquelyn Grant: White women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus

some authors that have highlighted women in theology who were previously overlooked because they worked in a man’s man’s world:
Teresa Berger
Reuther, Rosemary R. and Rosemary S. Keller, Women & Religion in America: The Nineteenth Century.
Janet Soskice: Sisters of Sinai
Marion Ann Taylor: Handbook of Women Bible Interpreters

forthcoming books/authors to watch out for:
Pam Smith (@revpamsmith)

And some more names I missed on my first think through – thanks to commenters for adding to the list…
Marcella Althaus-Reid // Lytta Basset “Holy Anger. Jacob, Job, Jesus” // Myra Blyth //  Marcia Bunge // Lisa Sowle Cahill //  Dana Robert Daneel // Mary Albert Darling “The God of Intimacy and Action” (co-author)  // Rachel Held Evans // Julie Gittoes (ecclesiology, eucharist) // Lisa Goddard and Clare Hendry “The gender agenda” // Ruth Gouldbourne //  // Mary Grey // Georgia Harkness // Jane Harrison // Lisa Isherwood // Kelly Johnson // Patricia O’Connell Killen // Lilly Lewin – youth ministry and worship  // Hannah Lewis, Deaf Liberation Theology // Diana Lipton // Catherine Madsen // Jacqueline Mariña, on Schleiermacher // Hilary Marlow – OT // Frederica Matthews-Greene // Alison Milbank  //  Alison Morgan – The Wild Gospel // Beth Newman  // Hulda Niebuhr // Ann Nyland “The Source”  // Elaine Pagels // Christine Pohl
// Randi Rashkover (Jewish Philosophy in conversation with Christian Theology) // Esther Reed // Gillian Rose // Angela Shier-Jones // Edith Stein // Dorothy L. Sayers // Dorothy Solle // Edith Stein // Marianne M Thompson // Heather Walton // Frances Ward // Helen Wareing //  // Jane Williams // Michaela Youngson // Lauren Winner – memoir

One begins to wonder how anyone could have a theological bookshelf that has *no* female authors on it…