Women in the Academy: Sheila Taylor

By March 11, 2010

We are tickled to hear from Sheila Taylor, who is currently finishing a doctorate in systematic theology at Graduate Theological Union. Sheila shares her journey from studying history to studying theology and reflects on what it is like to be a female scholar in a male-dominated field.


Sheila Taylor.


B.A., History, BYU; M.A., History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; MTS, Theology, University of Notre Dame; PhD candidate, Systematic Theology, Graduate Theological Union.

How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?

I started out in history; that was my undergrad major, and after my time at BYU, I headed to a PhD program at the University of Illinois, planning to become a historian. I was particularly interested in the Reformation. But the more I dug into that, the more I found that I was far more interested in the theology of it than the history, and I finally realized that probably history wasn’t the field for me. So I left the program with an MA, and headed to Notre Dame to see what theology would be like. In a lot of ways it seemed like an odd choice; Mormons didn’t do theology (as far as I knew, and I got some strange looks when I mentioned my plans!). Academic theology had hardly been on my radar screen—the field doesn’t exist at BYU, of course, and I was only vaguely aware that people did it. And I was nervous about coming in without much of a background in the subject, except what I’d kind of picked up while working in history. But I absolutely fell in love with it. In retrospect, I can see that I’d been fascinated with theological questions since I was a teenager; it just hadn’t ever occurred to me that you could go to school and study them!

What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects (papers, books, dissertations, etc.)?

Right now I’m finishing my dissertation, which is titled “Re-Orienting Our Life Stories: Salvation as Narrative Transformation.” It looks at salvation from the perspective of the self as a narrative construction; in other words, if the way we understand who we are is through the stories we tell about our lives, what does it mean in that context to talk about the traditional Christian notions of redemption or liberation? I’m drawing on work from contemporary psychologists and philosophers on narrative, and from a range of theologians.

Theological anthropology has always been my primary area of interest—what does it mean to be human? What is the imago Dei? What are we talking about, really, when we talk about grace at work in a human life? I’m interested in connections between psychology and theology—what might psychological explanations of human behavior contribute to theology? What about mental illness? And I keep coming back to questions involving religious pluralism, which is one of the most pressing challenges for contemporary theologians. Assuming that I do finish this dissertation someday, I’m sure I’ll come back to these kinds of questions.

I also keep getting sidetracked by entertaining Mormon-related projects. I’ve been co-editing a special feminist issue of Element (the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology), and I’m also currently working on articles having to do with LDS perspectives on the atonement and grace.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the academy?

On the whole, my own experience has been quite positive. Though I did struggle with the climate at BYU, even there my (male) professors encouraged me to go to grad school. And in grad school, I don’t feel like I’ve encountered many situations in which my gender was an issue in terms of feeling like professors and colleagues took me less seriously or like I had fewer opportunities. I suspect the fact that I’m single has also played a significant role in shaping my experience, in that I haven’t had to navigate the challenges which arise from balancing academic work with raising children. (On the other hand, I’m not sure quite what to think when people comment, as they often do, that they never could have made it through grad school without the support of their spouse!)

Because I’m in a field that is still male-dominated, I have, however, been in a lot of situations where I’ve felt very aware of my gender. I went to my first area meeting at the GTU and looked around and was quite stunned to realize that I was one of maybe two or three women in the room—almost all the professors and grad students were male. I hadn’t been expecting it to be quite that skewed. It’s actually evened out some since then, but almost all of my professors have been men. I’ve been in more than one seminar where I was one of two women. I’ve found such situations challenging both in terms of the way that set-up impacts the conversational dynamics, and because I’ve felt a kind of implicit pressure to prove that I could keep up. It’s striking to me, as I’m thinking about it right now, how different it feels to be in a class that’s more evenly split, versus one that’s almost entirely men; the former feels friendlier, an easier place to be.

Last fall I presented at a small conference, to an organization that is made up almost entirely of older white males, and the very senior professor who responded to my paper really went after me. Needless to say, it was not the most welcoming of environments. I don’t know that it would have made much difference if I were a young male scholar, but I did have a sense of being very out of place. (It ended well, though, because I felt good about the way I responded to him and I got a lot of positive feedback about the whole thing.) It’s hard to untangle to what extent this is tied up with gender, and to what extent it’s simply temperament, but I don’t have much patience with the kind of old-school highly contentious style of interaction that seems more about argument for the sake of scoring intellectual points than actual discussion of ideas. Looking at how this plays out, I think to some extent it might also be a generational thing—though that’s probably also related to the ways in which the field has been impacted by having more women in it. In any case, I’ve found that situations like that conference have been more the exception than the rule.

I do some feminist theology (particularly in relation to Mormonism), but it’s not actually my primary focus, and I don’t like it when it gets assumed that of course the women will do the feminist stuff, work on the “women’s issues.”  I’m always cheered when I see my male colleagues wanting to do feminist work themselves! I work with a lot of dead white males, and I’m okay with that, because they have exciting and thought-provoking ideas. However, I also often find that feminist perspectives have a lot to add to those ideas. My dissertation isn’t about feminist theology, but a lot of the stuff I’m saying is influenced by insights from feminist theologians. And that’s ideally how I think feminist theology should be operating, rather than being placed in a corner by itself, so to speak.

I also have to add that in many ways as an LDS woman I’ve found the academy, for all its many flaws, to be a refreshing change from LDS culture—as a place where my credibility doesn’t hang on my marital status or my gender, where I don’t keep crashing into ideals of femininity that simply don’t connect with my life experience. I’m neurotic enough to have spent plenty of time feeling like I’m on the verge of failing out, my dissertation makes no sense and I should simply incinerate it, etc. I don’t want to romanticize academia; there are plenty of frustrating aspects, all sorts of politics and general craziness. But still, that sense of being taken seriously, feeling like I have something to contribute, being in an environment where it’s simply assumed that of course women should have a voice—those things have been a real positive in my life.

In your field who are some women (living or dead) whom you admire? Why?

Though I don’t always agree with them, I owe a lot to people like Rosemary Radford Ruether and Mary Daly and Valerie Saiving and other early second-wave feminist theologians who raised a lot of really important questions and laid the groundwork for many things that I take for granted as a female theologian working in the early 21st century. Elizabeth Johnson’s work (She Who Is) has given me a lot to think about, especially because as a Catholic she’s also working within a somewhat authoritarian ecclesiastical context—I’m always interested to see how women in other patriarchal religious traditions have navigated various challenges. I’ve definitely been influenced by Catherine LaCugna’s work (God For Us) on relational trinitarianism. Though I don’t do process theology, I’ve been intrigued by some of Marjorie Suchocki’s ideas, especially her thinking about sin and relationality.

More historically, I’m intrigued by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who is kind of a pioneer in feminist biblical studies. And going back even further, I love Julian of Norwich. (But who doesn’t?)

For someone who is interested in studying what you do what are some books you would recommend on the subject?

If you don’t know much about systematic theology, and you want to get a sense of what it’s generally about, you could have a look at Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction, which is quite accessible and often used in intro courses.

On grace and theological anthropology, Roger Haight has a nice little book called The Experience and Language of Grace that gives a brief overview of some of the issues. For something more in-depth, I like Stephen Duffy’s The Dynamics of Grace.

Theology, alas, is not always known for its clear and accessible prose. As an alternative to volumes of systematic theology, it can be fun (when they’re available) to look at the sermons of some of the more influential thinkers—for example, Karl Rahner’s The Great Church Year, or Paul Tillich’s The Shaking of the Foundations.

For feminist theology, I really like Johnson’s She Who Is, mentioned in the previous question.

And if you’re interested in the growing field of contemporary LDS theological work, you should definitely read Musser & Paulsen’s Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies. And join the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (see www.smpt.org).

Article filed under Miscellaneous Women in the Academy


  1. Another wonderful installment. Thanks for your efforts again, Liz, and especially thank you Sheila for participating. Your research sounds very interesting.

    I wonder if you’d be willing to speak to the current state of Mormon theological studies as you see it? You’ve hinted at some positive developments (SMPT, Musser and Paulsen’s collection of essays, and the forthcoming volume of Element you’re editing on feminist theology), but I’m curious as to your take on the relationship between theological studies and historical studies (along with philosophy, sociology, etc) in the more general field of “Mormon Studies.” I also am curious about the ratio of participation between academically-trained theologians like yourself and those without graduate training in the field of theological studies.

    Thanks again!

    Comment by Christopher — March 11, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  2. Thank you, Sheila, for some welcome insight to your academic experience and your work in theology.

    I’m particularly interested in your transition from history to theology. How did you find the methodological shift between the two? And given your background in history, how did you come to work in systematic – as opposed to historical – theology?

    Comment by Ryan T — March 11, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

  3. Sheila, if I knew you went to the UoI, I had forgotten it. That is so cool! (For those who don’t know, that is where I went to law school.)

    Did you know Patrick Mason? Or the guy who was at UVU who went to Notre Dame (brain freeze, can’t remember his name)? It seems like there have been some token Mormons who have gone the ND route, sort of like now they have four LDS football players and are recruiting more.

    I really appreciated this installment. I have tremendous admiration for Sheila–and, I freely admit, a crush. She has the most beautiful smile in the world, and she’s always working it.

    Oh, and I would love to hear your response to Christopher’s excellent question from no. 1 above!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 11, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  4. Thanks, Sheila, for participating in this series.

    Comment by David G. — March 11, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

  5. Sheila,

    I’m easily one of your biggest fans since we were fellows together at the Summer Seminar at BYU, both because of your intellectual acuity and your balanced, diplomatic temperament when taking on controversial and/or uncomfortable issues and discourses in academia and (Mormon) culture in general. So this is where I’m coming from as I ask two questions, both of which could in theory be answered in ridiculously long responses:

    1) Your field of expertise is theology in general and systematic theology in particular. What might you briefly have to say about Mormon theology, which, though it has been systematized by various people also seems to in essence resist systematization? I’m curious to hear from the only Mormon I know actually trained in systematic theology your take on this.

    2) You write that you are cheered to see male colleagues wanting to do feminist work. This would seem commendable, but in my experience it doesn’t seem to be easy (on some levels it seems enormously difficult) to engage feminist thought and add anything scholarly or productive to the feminist canon as a man. It is a matter of actually being able to say anything as a man about feminist discourse and whether it is even ethical to make the attempt in the first place. In my academic experience, some women encourage men, or better said, are eagerly open to men doing feminist studies while others point out the above difficulties of capacity and ethicality. Not that men are intellectually deficient in seeing the arguments, critically assessing them, etc, but that, as inescapable constitutive components of the ontology that feminism seeks to overcome and deconstruct, it is simply ontologically impossible for men to become participants in the discourse, nor would it be ethical to make the attempt. This is not to say that men should not in some sense be feminists, appreciate and try from their own situation as much as possible to enact the moves that feminism makes that are conducive for the good of both women and men, but simply that attempts to produce this discourse, as men, is in essence a category mistake and not possible.

    What is your take on this? Do you see anything problematic with men trying to engage in feminist studies, either because it makes no sense because they are part of the problem, or they will simply fail to grasp (because they are men) the female phenomenological experience without which feminist studies are not possible? You study, as, inescapably, a woman “dead white males” and the theologies that they produce and you can be considered a legitimate, more than adequate, contributing scholar in these fields. I’m just not convinced it can easily and unproblematically be flipped the other way, for the reasons I outlined above. I think men often very flippantly assert their feminist cred simply because they say they are (hey, who doesn’t want equality?), but the existential (passionate) appropriation of feminist discourses seems much more difficult to really attain. In other words, it’s not simply objective assent and understanding of what feminists are saying. Subjective, inward appropriation is entirely another matter, one that is sacrificed for and bought with a price.

    One upshot, of course, may be that should men and women think this about men doing feminist studies, then men will turn away from feminism (even more?) and the good that comes of feminist work would be even harder to be realized.

    Sorry this is so long, and don’t mean to be too controversial. The heart of this is that I feel it is difficult as a man to do full justice to women, no matter how hard I try, from my inescapable position within patriarchal ontology, to the point that even the language of how to go about it escapes me. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to ask this question of a feminist scholar, but she had to also be a friend so I could trust the response 🙂

    Comment by Jacob B. — March 11, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

  6. BTW, JI, if “Women in the Academy” is a series, it will be critical to profile Deidre Green, at Claremont, who studies women and religion. She’s easily one of the more brilliant and insightful up and coming women scholars in Mormondom. IMO.

    Comment by Jacob B. — March 11, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

  7. Thanks for asking the questions, Liz, and thanks for providing excellent answers, Sheila. This series is already surpassing its (already-high) expectations.

    As someone who is studying theology right now (albeit historical theology), I am interested in your response to Chris in #1 and Jacob’s first question in #5.

    Comment by Ben — March 12, 2010 @ 4:47 am

  8. Thanks for this contribution.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 12, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  9. Hi, all! It’s fun to be here; thanks for all the comments
    Christopher, those are some good questions. I always find it kind of fascinating to talk to Mormon historians, because the field of Mormon history seems so much more established—like there are earlier generations of Mormon historians (e.g., the New Mormon history people), and my impression (you all can tell me if this is correct) is that up-and-coming Mormon historians see themselves as being in a generation past that. Whereas with theology, it’s all so new! Obviously you can look at the tradition and see people doing theological work —though at some point it seems that “theology” became a scary term. But Mormon theology as an academic discipline is just barely getting going. So I think we have yet to see what role it will play in Mormon Studies. Honestly, I’m encouraged that it’s even playing a role. I remember when I first started at Notre Dame, and people asked if I were going to do Mormon theology. And I said, there is no field of Mormon theology. So it’s been fun to see that developing; I think every year I’ve gone to SMPT, there have been more people.

    And in response to your second question—there are very few people involved in this whose graduate training is in the field of theology. A lot of philosophers, and some from other disciplines in the humanities. And a good number whose professional career is something completely different, but who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Mormon theology. But as far as grad degrees in theology, there aren’t many of us (yet!)

    Since this is a series on female scholars specifically, I’ll add that right now the field is also really skewed, gender-wise (to a much greater extent than systematic theology more generally). So if you are female and at all interested in this stuff, you should totally join SMPT!

    Comment by Sheila — March 12, 2010 @ 10:58 am

  10. Ryan, yes, it does seem like it would have made sense for me to have ended up in historical theology, given my background. And when I started at Notre Dame, that was in fact my area of emphasis; they stuck me in it because it seemed like the logical fit. It didn’t take me long to switch to systematics, though. For me, a lot of the appeal of theology was that I wanted to do constructive work. I didn’t just want to read about other people’s theology; I wanted to develop my own theological approaches to various topics. I found myself thinking in that direction even as a historian; I remember writing a paper on Luther’s view of the atonement, and thinking, it would be so fun to think about what he’s saying in a contemporary context!
    The boundaries between the two can seem a bit murky, though. I’m reminded of a conversation we had in one seminar at the GTU. For our first set of comps, systematic theologians here have to learn the theology of seven major 20th century figures, and be familiar with a lot of late 20th century theological movements. And the question came up—what exactly are we saying here? That when we hit the 20th century, somehow historical theology morphs into systematic theology? Of course, for our second set of comps, we have to trace the historical trajectory of a theological question, including thinkers from patristics, medieval, Reformation, and modern eras. So the historical piece is an important part—obviously to be a systematic theologian, you really have to be familiar with the historical discussion. I’ve actually met people who considered themselves more systematic theologians than historical ones, but who were kind of hiding out in historical theology.

    That said, I do see the difference as being the question of whether you work on understanding better what Augustine said (for example), versus bringing in Augustinian insights to contemporary questions. (Though I’d be interested in Ben’s take on this.) That’s the aspect of theology I really enjoy, so it was kind of a natural shift. And I didn’t find the transition from history to theology to be as challenging as I thought it would be. I’m probably overstating the case, but the humanities generally have a lot in common, in that they’re based on the ability to critically engage texts. And wow, being a grad student in history definitely prepared me for having to read like a maniac in a grad school! I found theology to be less reading, but more philosophically dense stuff.

    Comment by Sheila — March 12, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  11. Kevin, yay for the fighting Illini! And yes, I knew Patrick; he actually lived next door to me in the grad dorms my first year at Notre Dame. I didn’t cross paths with Dennis Potter (I’m guessing that’s the person you’re thinking of)–he left right before I arrived, but I heard a lot about him; he definitely left a memorable impression. (I did meet him later, at a Sunstone symposium.) There was a group of some interesting LDS grad students when I was there; Ben Huff (who sometimes blogs at T&S) in philosophy was also around, and Miranda Wilcox, who does medieval studies and is now teaching at BYU–she was the one other female LDS grad student. But I was only there for two years, and at the time I was seriously being anti-social when it came to church stuff (even for me!), so I didn’t get to know people as well as I might have.

    I really enjoyed being a Mormon at Notre Dame. My classes were almost entirely Catholic (sometimes with a token Protestant or two), so I had by far the most unusual religious background. And people were really curious, but also very respectful. We had lots of fun conversations. I have a distinct memory of sitting outside the library (in sight of the Touchdown Jesus) in the sunshine and drawing diagrams of the Plan of Salvation to a good Catholic friend who was saying wow, this is wild stuff!

    Comment by Sheila — March 12, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  12. Hey David and Jacob–always nice to see my fellow Bushman seminar alumni. (You know, I realized after I wrote this that my comment about often being one of two women in a class held true of our seminar as well. It would be cool to see more women involved in those. Though of course our group was nonetheless fabulous.)

    Jacob, great questions. I will be back with some thoughts on them. (And I echo what you said about Deidre.)

    Comment by Sheila — March 12, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  13. Love it, Sheila! Thanks for being part of the series. And Deidre’s on tap, hopefully.

    Comment by Elizabeth — March 12, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  14. Sheila–yes, Dennis Potter! I had a really cold and was hopped up on drugs when I wrote that and my brain simply wouldn’t pull the name back from its recesses.

    Thanks for the notes on attending ND; I’ve always kind of thought that would be a cool place to go to school as a Mormon, and it’s interesting to learn of your actual experience there.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 12, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  15. Thanks for the detailed response, Sheila. I’ve observed some resistance from folks involved in SMPT directed towards historians interested in theology, and more generally some resentment to historians and the way they dominate Mormon Studies. I’m encouraged by your own take on things, and I share in your hope for more LDS pursuing grad degrees in theological studies and especially for more females getting involved in Mormon Studies.

    Comment by Christopher — March 12, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  16. Thank you Sheila and for the thoughtful questions and answers.

    Comment by Jared T. — March 12, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  17. Sheila,
    If you had to do it all over again, would you choose GTU? Would you reccomend it to other students over other programs?

    Comment by mmiles — March 12, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  18. Hey Sheila! Gailan says hi. Glad to see you taking the next step. GTU: cool.

    Comment by WVS — March 12, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

  19. Thanks, Sheila, for your thoughts/responses. In a Philosophy of Religion course this quarter I’ve been getting something of a feel for where various types of theology, philosophy of religion, and other humanistic disciplines come together. For me it’s a very interesting place.

    I was interested in your experience in history at ND, too. Perhaps I’ll have to get it touch with you about it; it’s on my list.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Ryan T — March 13, 2010 @ 3:20 am

  20. Excellent interview. 🙂

    Comment by Kaimi — March 13, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  21. […] out Lynnette’s discussion of her experience as a woman in the […]

    Pingback by Zelophehad’s Daughters | Young Female Mormon Scholars — March 13, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  22. All right—on to Jacob’s first question about systematic theology. Which touches on that perennial problem of what role there is for theology in Mormonism in the first place. I’ve heard more than once that Mormonism is actually antithetical to theology, because of our belief in continuing revelation. There are a couple of reasons why I would question this:

    –My understanding of theological work is along the lines of David Tracy’s description of it as mutually critical correlation between interpretation of the tradition and interpretation of the contemporary setting. I don’t think the fact that we can potentially add new revelation means that we can’t engage in this process with the revelation that we do have.

    –Additionally, in practice we don’t really have all that much continuing revelation in the sense of new scripture, doctrine, etc.; our current use of the phrase seems to almost entirely refer to God’s involvement in the administration of the church, and changes to church policy. Given that, I’m not sure that we’re in as different a position from other Christian denominations as it might initially appear.

    That said, I do think you can make the case that Mormon theology at least in theory resists systematization. I think it might depend on whether you take a view that God has been revealing the same thing over and over, and the restoration brings it all back in its entirety—or a view that there really could be something totally new (as the 9th Article of Faith says, “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”) In the latter case, any theological system is always susceptible to revision, and even to being overturned altogether.

    But looking at what “systematic theology” has come to mean in theology more generally, I think the tendency to build overarching systems is on the wane. I think it’s worth remembering that whether Mormon or more generally Christian, theology is always by its nature tentative; it’s never meant to be the definitive pronouncement on anything, because that’s not the purpose of theology. All theological systems are by nature provisional, open to question and critique. (Grand systems can also be a problem, I think, in their tendency to overstate the coherence of various doctrines and not adequately deal with tension and contradiction.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that I can certainly see the use of articulating theological systems in the sense of thinking about how doctrines relate to each other. Or I’m thinking of something like Karl Rahner does, taking a particular premise (in his case, a transcendental anthropology), and exploring it through the traditional loci of Christian theology (christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc.)

    But I’m not all that crazy about the term “systematic theology.” Some schools use the term “constructive theology” to describe the area that I’m in, and I like that a lot better. In any case, I don’t see any inherent contradictions between the kind of work I’m doing and Mormonism. I actually think the kind of messiness of Mormonism—the internal pluralism, the difficulty of establishing just what doctrine is—can be fun (though admittedly also frustrating), because there are so many places you can go with it. Even if it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to fit all of it together into some grand theory of how everything works. Because that’s not the point; the point of theology, as I understand it, isn’t to definitively answer all the questions, but to find new ways of articulating what’s in the tradition.

    Hmm. That was a long (and unsystematic) answer! I’m kind of making this up as I go, but it’s fun to think about this stuff.

    Comment by Sheila — March 13, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

  23. Sheila,

    Thanks for the interesting post. Jacob B’s first question reminded of these blog posts:



    It would be great your thoughts on the issues raised.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — March 13, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

  24. Jacob, I appreciate your second question; it’s a really good one. And a hard one to answer. But as you say, it’s good to hear such questions from a friend, because on my side it makes me feel like I have room to just write some scattered thoughts and see if anything coherent emerges from them. (That’s my way of warning you that I’m about to free associate, possibly into a black hole.)

    So, can men do feminist theology? It seems like it gets back to the problem of gender essentialism, that Mormon feminists as well as other feminists really grapple with. Is there something unique about female experience that a male can never understand? That’s often cited, of course, as a reason why it’s a serious problem to exclude women’s voices, in the academy and elsewhere. But what does that mean for feminist theology, and in particular, who does it?

    One initial thought I have is that one of the critiques of early feminist theology is that it assumed some kind of universal female experience—but it turns out that the specific female experience being brought to theological questions was largely that of middle-class, white women. And if we emphasize the diversity of female experience, as do third-wave feminists, could it be that from that point of view it’s less problematic for men to be engaged in feminist work as well, as it’s not as if we’re talking about two basic experiences (male vs. female) but rather something far more complicated? I don’t know—just thinking out loud.

    Another thought is that I think gender studies has so often been equated with women’s studies—as if women were the only sex that had “gender.” I can see a lot of value in a kind of masculinist approach which examines men’s experiences and how they shape the tradition, or looks at masculine ideals and norms and how they relate to theological ideas.

    Though when I put it like that, I can see more clearly the problem that you’re grappling with; how would I myself feel about participating in such a project? Would I have anything of value to say? Could I really “get” it? I realize the two situations aren’t entirely comparable, in that in any situation of inequality, the less privileged group usually has to spend a lot more time understanding the viewpoint of the more privileged one than vice versa. I grew up in a world in which, for all the gains of feminism, I think male experience is still taken as normative. But still, I have to admit that I would find it challenging to do that kind of work, especially if it were specifically drawing on male experience.

    So if feminist theology is about dialogue between the tradition and female experience, I can see why this poses problems for men who might be interested in the subject. But it seems to me that feminist theology doesn’t only draw on female experience; it also draws on things like philosophy or social theory or research in other academic disciplines. And those methodologies are equally available to men and women. On the most obvious level, men can be aware of feminist critiques and approaches, and let those influence and inform their work. And again, if we maybe used the category of gender—looking at how Christian ideals have been gendered (as opposed to talking about them in exclusively feminist terms)—that seems quite doable for men as well as women.

    Another thing I’m thinking that may or may not have relevance is that I can’t escape my own patriarchally influenced thinking, either. No matter how much I might question and critique it, it’s played a huge role in shaping how I see the world. So there’s a sense in which I’m in the same boat, maybe, at least a little?

    Okay, I’m realizing as I write this out that my view is influenced by the way I do feminist work myself. And I see no problem at all with men doing the kind of work I’m doing—bringing feminist perspectives to theological questions (for example, my dissertation includes the work of feminist theologians on original sin), or looking at traditional feminist questions like women and priesthood. But as I mentioned, feminist theology per se (outside of Mormonism) isn’t that central to what I do, or my area of expertise. You might get a different answer if you asked a “real” feminist theologian. 😉

    So I guess I’m ending up in the “yes, men can do feminist theology camp,” but you’ve made me realize that I need to think harder about what that actually means, and might look like. (And I’m doubtless influenced by the fact that I personally think it’s important to have men involved in this, so of course I want to answer in the affirmative!)

    Comment by Sheila — March 13, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  25. I’d apologize for the length of my comments, but it’s totally Jacob’s fault.

    mmiles. I think the GTU was a good fit for me, in that it’s not too structured and you can pretty much go in the direction you want. Also because of the wide diversity of students. Coming out of Notre Dame, I was thinking I wanted to do a PhD at a Catholic university, but in retrospect I’m glad that didn’t work out; it’s been good for me to engage with more traditions, I think. (My committee includes a Jesuit, a Lutheran, and a psychologist who’s interested in Buddhism.)

    The real downer, though, has been the lack of funding. I’m more in debt than I might have been at another program. That’s the one thing that might give me second thoughts, were I to do this again.

    I also think that so much of your experience in a program has to do with the other grad students. And I’ve made some really good friends here, met some amazing people—and I’m very glad to have that, especially since they’ll be my future colleagues in the field. When I think about that, I’m glad I ended up here.

    (I did a little thing about the GTU at FPR a while ago:

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2009/08/tips-on-applying-spotlight-on-gtu/ )

    Hi, WVS! Fun to see you here. Tell Gailan hi back.

    Comment by Sheila — March 13, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  26. Oops–the link above will work if you take out the ) at the end.

    Admin: fixed

    Comment by Sheila — March 13, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

  27. Sheila, what I would find really useful would be a Mormon “systematic” theology in the sense of the same kind of taxonomically detailed considerations of theology as in those massive Christian systematic theologies. But instead of proscriptively saying what the doctrine is for each of those topics, giving rather the various divergent views and their historical development. Or schools of thought, if you will. So B.H. Roberts championed the tripartite theory of individuated intelligence, spirit birth and physical birth; the JFS/BRM axis saw intelligence as an unindividuated primordial soup; read in context, Joseph seemed to simply equate intelligence with spirit with no conception of spirit birth at all, etc. The point wouldn’t be to declare a winner (as in that horrible new show The Marriage Ref), but simply to survey the ground.

    I would find such a work very helpful, and I sort of have a fantasy of doing it, but I’m not much of a theologian so it’s really just a fantasy.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 13, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  28. In the era of the Bloggernacle, the voices of the Saints and the Seers exist side by side. The discussion of doctrine no longer needs to be constrained by authority. We acknowledge and respect what the Brethren have said by placing their words in historical context. At the same time we are sensitive to what ordinary members have taught one another in classes and through their “best books.” We find streams of revelation at all times and places and try not to pigeonhole them into something that is internally consistent. It seems to me that disciplined theology, from a Mormon perspective, could survey what has been said and written about our gospel and emphasize its significance and diversity. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about such an endeavor would be its explanation of what Mormon theology means for those of us who are sojourners in the twenty-first century. I sincerely believe disciplined theology can be written for Mormons, both within and without the academy, that transcends the genres of apologetics and devotional literature. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if this kind of work spoke more or less equally to Mormons of every gender, culture, and nation?

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — March 13, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  29. Sheila,

    Thanks for your well-reasoned responses to my questions. Much to think about.

    Comment by Jacob B. — March 14, 2010 @ 10:58 am

  30. .

    I had no idea of the imbalance. How could I? The only three GTA people I know are women. I have been deceived.

    Comment by Th. — March 14, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  31. Funny how you keep bringing up that these “old men” were white. Is it that you just can’t keep away from race, even though you don’t explicitly mention race as an important factor? Or is it that you just really don’t like the white guys, old, dead, or otherwise?

    Comment by Barney — March 15, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  32. Professor;

    Thanks for the input. I appreciate your willingness to approach this difficult subject with integrity and commitment. I also appreciate the fact that your Mormonism is not held against you in your academic work.

    Continue the good work and I hope to read more of your work.

    Blessings my friend

    Comment by Leanna — March 22, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  33. Because that’s not the point; the point of theology, as I understand it, isn’t to definitively answer all the questions, but to find new ways of articulating what’s in the tradition.

    I like the way you summed that up. Fun post, thanks!

    Comment by BHodges — March 24, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  34. Is this a series? I love it! I’m a new professor of education (and Mormon) and I always feel like a fish out of water. Hope to see more of these.

    Comment by hkobeal — May 23, 2010 @ 5:13 pm


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