PANEL A: ECOFEMINIST PHILOSOPHY, ART, & ACTIVISM
Beth Bartlett, PhD
“For Love of This Life: Carol Christ’s Contribution to Ecofeminist Thought”
This paper explores the invaluable contribution Carol Christ made to ecofeminist philosophy and activism through her, as she said, “rethinking theology and nature.” Contributing a vital spiritual dimension, Christ deepened ecofeminist philosophy by unearthing the root issue of the Western paradigm -- that mind/body value dualism is rooted in a theology and cosmology that separate the divine from earth and everything associated with it. Challenging a theology based in the separation of divinity from nature, she proposed an alternative thealogy/spirituality of the divine within all beings. She challenged the hierarchy of value dualism in her powerful articulation of the inherent worth of every being. One cannot read her words and not be changed.
In contrast with the eschatological theology that has legitimized destruction of the earth, Christ expounded a thealogy that recognizes our finitude as part of the cycle of life and death, and in so doing embraces and loves the preciousness of life. The ethic that follows from this, an ethic that enlists love and our deeply felt connections with all beings, has been vitally important to ecofeminist thought, serving as the motivation and guide of ecofeminist actions.
The second part of the paper is devoted to the profound impact Christ’s work has had on me personally – from the ways her Weaving the Visions introduced me to some of the most important thinkers in my life and has been fundamental to my teaching, to how her writing has helped me to uncover and expand my understanding of the divine. Christ gave words to some of the deepest truths of my life. She beautifully expressed and deepened my understanding of the immanence of the divine and the intrinsic value of all beings, validated my deep love of this earth, and inspired my activism.
Marianne Hertnagel, MA
“Thealogy and Ecology: Finding New Ways of Thinking and Being: An Invitation”
The relevance of thealogy to contemporary postmodern philosophical, scientific, and feminist thinking, and thinking in general, call for the need for an inclusive and new formulation of ethics, the need for the study of the goddess, the history of the Women’s Spirituality movement, and the embeddedness of thealogy within human experience. I call for the importance of thealogy as a new field of study related to emerging paradigms of thoughts and scientific inquiry. Thealogy is not just another academic subfield of feminist thinking or Christian theology, nor is it just another religion within the Western context of the study of religion. Thealogy is relevant to efforts to develop new language for evolving paradigms, specifically the need to articulate new ideas in eco-psychology, physiology, and ecological sustainability, eco-philosophy, spiritual ecology, human ethics, and a change in approaches in transformational work and healing modalities, like trauma work, and healing in general. Thealogy attracts me because it is inclusive of other ways of knowing and diverse perceptions of reality.
With this paper I will try to contribute to the development of the field of thealogy, with the goal of establishing and advancing thealogy as an emerging interdisciplinary field of study, which employs methodologies that support multiple ways of knowing and being. In enlarging and further delineating the discussion of thealogy, I hope to encourage a cross-cultural and life-sustaining worldview. I see thealogy, when fully understood, as an emerging center and network of social transformation. Thealogy, and Theology, when inclusive of other belief systems, present a possible framework for creating an articulation of women’s and men’s spirituality wherein their embodied knowledge of reality can be validated. This grounding could lead to a new embodied ontology, which would allow women and men to relate more skillfully to each other and to the rest of the natural world as well, creating new ways of thinking and paradigm shifts in ecology and sustainable ways of life and being. If thealogy were more fully developed, it could fulfill its potential to (1) become a field of academic study, (2) establish more clearly the history of the Goddess in contemporary thought on religion and to suggest its relationship to current ideas and worldviews, (3) provide a frame of reference for women’s and men’s authentic religious experiences and their relationship to female and male embodiment, and (4) further the recognition of a new frame of reference regarding women and men, one that values their respective contributions to society.
A conceptual anthology of thealogy can help to create a framework for the study of this broad subject, wherein an ontological framework of women’s and men’s spirituality in general, and feminine religious experiences in particular, can be acknowledged in order to create greater balanced harmony within individuals, societies, and our entire environment. Thealogy is situated in the contemporary struggle for the Gaian survival of all. The Potential of Thealogy in the 21st Century is relevant to efforts to develop new language for evolving paradigms, specifically the need to articulate new ideas in eco-psychology, physiology, and ecological sustainability.
Carol Christ’s works and writings give an excellent foundation in this groundbreaking thinking in a needed renewal of human thinking and interactions with all beings and life.
Gina Messina, PhD
“She Who Lives: The Eco-Feminist Activism, Sisterhood, and Infinite Wisdom of Carol P. Christ”
Carol P. Christ was a trailblazer. As a scholar, activist, and feminist spiritual leader, she changed the way we understand and recognize women’s engagement within our religious and social worlds. Through her writings, teaching, colleagueship, and mentoring, Christ called us (and continues to call us) to recognize our abilities to shift the patriarchal narrative and become active participants and change agents within our communities.
Creating the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, Christ demonstrated the ways we can engage in scholarship outside of the traditional classroom while building a bridge that encourages dialogue beyond the “Ivory Tower.” Grounding her efforts in an eco-feminist ethic, she welcomed new voices, remapped the terrain, and offered an opportunity to experience a spirituality that pulled us from concrete structures and gently laid us within the life-giving Body of all that is sacred.
Through her love of the Goddess, wisdom filled insights, creativity, and generous spirit, Christ opened the world to a path of eco-feminist religious discovery. She validated our stories, encouraged our artistry, and taught us to give ourselves permission to pursue our work in new and inspiring ways. Thus, Christ’s influence lives on within upcoming generations who have claimed our voices and begun the work to pave new paths of knowledge, understanding, and celebratory eco-feminist experience.
Pamela Eakins, PhD.
“Tribute to Carol Christ” (poem)
PANEL B: WOMEN & RELIGION: RECLAIMING THE SACRED FEMININE
Elizabeth Ursic, PhD
“Carol Christ: A Trailblazer in the Field of Women and Religion”
Carol Christ has always been a trailblazer. She was among the first cohort of female graduate students at Yale University that included Judith Plaskow, Mara Keller, and Naomi Goldenberg, all luminaries in the field of Women and Religion. In 1971 before the term feminist theology had even been coined, Carol participated in the first Conference of Women Theologians and proposed that a women’s caucus be formed in the field of Religious Studies. Later that year, Carol along with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Sallie McFague became the first cochairs of the Women’s Caucus at the 1971 American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual conference. This caucus led to the first female president of the AAR being elected as well as helping to establish the section of Women and Religion at the AAR. In 1974, Carol became the first woman to earn a PhD in Religious Studies at Yale. She was one of the first professors in the United States to teach about Women and Religion at universities that included Harvard, Claremont, San Jose State and the California Institute of Integral Studies. I currently cochair the AAR/SBL Women’s Caucus that Carol started as we continue to disrupt and transform the academy. On a personal level, Carol and I first met during my PhD research and our paths crossed professionally numerous times later. Our friendship deepened during five hours of interviews I conducted with her about her life for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion Across Generations Series that was published in 2017. My talk will include highlights and anecdotes from those interviews as well as reflections on Carol’s legacy in the academic study of Women and Religion.
Kathleen McPhillips, PhD
“The Archbishop and the Feminist Thealogian: Challenging Patriarchal Culture in Sydney Australia, 2005”
In March 2005, Carol Christ visited Sydney, Australia, where she gave a lecture on her recently published work, She Who Changes (Palgrave 2004). Her audience was the active group of christian and goddess feminists in and around the Sydney regions and whom had been reading Carol's work for some time. Carol met with us all and engaged in some bird watching and social events. But it was the political and theological upheaval of her visit that is the focus of this presentation. Her lecture was scheduled to be held at a local Catholic girl's school who had been widely supportive of the women and religion collective and hosted other feminist theologians. However, on this occasion the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney intervened and prevented her from speaking in any Catholic venue -- thus causing a political ruckus and invoking a fierce debate around the politics of orthodoxic practice and theology. I examine this event in the light of Carol's work and show just how radical and disruptive the presentation of god as feminine is to patriarchal culture and how enlivening it was for us women to participate in the politicization of our faith.
Barbara Jane Davy, PhD
"Hail to Carol Christ: A Memorial Toast to a New Ancestor in a Canadian Heathen Tradition"
Carol Christ taught us why women need the Goddess, bequeathing a gift of making participation in ritual reasonable as well as meaningful. Her scholarship laid a solid foundation supporting the development of feminist spirituality, and along with other second wave feminists has given my generation and those following the freedom to explore issues beyond feminism, inspiring a flowering of ecofeminist philosophy and activism. I welcome her now as part of my dísir, a term contemporary Heathens use for female ancestors. I recognize Carol Christ as an ancestor of affinity, someone I respect and honor who joins those to whom my tradition of inclusive Heathenry makes offerings as part of a rite called Dísablót. Each year Vindisir Kindred, a small group of Heathens in southwestern Ontario, celebrates their female ancestors in a rite of giving offerings and making toasts. “Minni” or “memorial toasts” to ancestors were commonly given as part of a ritual of giving offerings, and sharing food and drink, and that set agreements of how people were to live together, ratifying law in the northern European traditions that inspire contemporary Heathens. In Vindisir, and other inclusive feminist kindreds, we honor ancestors of affinity as well as our biological ancestors, recognizing what they have given us. When we hail Carol Christ as an ancestor and include her in our gifting relations, we activate her values in generations to come. When we remember what she did for us, this inspires gratitude, and a desire to give in turn – to raise up our women colleagues, our sisters, and our daughters, to celebrate them and encourage them. Her memory inspires us to become feminists, to build community, and to respect the planet as the ground of being who sustains us, who gives us all, and takes all back into herself in endless cycles of renewal.
Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD
“The Missing Goddess: Too Late for India; Too Early for the West”
The Indic Valley civilization dating some 10,000 BCE bore evidence to the worship of an Earth-Mother Deity; and the incoming Indo-Āryans with their ritual culture and uniconic polygods gave recognition to the female meter that was at once evocative of the feminine undercurrent of existence. Gradually, the later Brāhmaṇic tradition embraced and expanded feminine deities as significant counterparts to the plethora of masculine-gendered Devā-s, or Gods as we now call them, after the Greeks. While some feminine deities would be aligned as consorts of male Gods, particularly the triune Supremos: Brahmā-Viṣṇu-Śiva, in time, Goddess came into her own, and stood transcendentally as the pristine creative force named as Prakṛti, Śaktī, Bhū, Devī. Thus, Goddess in one form or another is afforded elaborate worship in dedicated temples, roadside shrines and multi-deity halls across the global Hindu diaspora. By 20th Century, Goddess claimed one-half share of the 333,000-and-a-quarter Hindu deities all-told, including Our Lady of Valenkanni (plus other versions of Virgin Mother Mary) in Christian chapels and altars across southern India (right up to Karachi and Kathmandu).
Hence, I argue, Goddess, as a symbol in the work of Carol P. Christ, is "too late" for India, because it already has so many Goddesses, and there is scant room for new concepts of theology from the "West"; and on the other hand, it is "too early" for the "West" since the exclusive and exclusionary patriarchal God religion and affiliated politics is hardly ready to accept Goddess (or myriad of Goddesses) who is "embodied intelligent love" along with the ritual, a/theological and ethical ramifications of this in the post-secular/postdivinism era.
PANEL C: GODDESS STUDIES, THEALOGY, & EGALITARIAN MATRIARCHAL STUDIES
Joan Marler, MA
“Honoring Carol P. Christ and Her Acknowledgement of Marija Gimbutas”
The passing of our dear friend, colleague, and pioneering Goddess scholar Carol P. Christ was a shock and a great loss for all of us. She entered the realm of the Ancestors just two days before the beginning of the international symposium in honor of Marija Gimbutas where she was planning to speak. I am deeply grateful to her for allowing me to record her reading her text for the panel on the continuity of Old European patterns into later cultural periods. Her generosity made it possible for us to hear her voice one last time on July 18, 2021.
Carol had an abiding appreciation for the scholarship of the Lithuanian-American archaeologist/archaeomythologist Marija Gimbutas. Carol's writings and deep soundings reflect her profound respect for Gimbutas's work, that weaves like a gleaming thread through her own writing, especially through her ongoing blogs that continually shimmer with new insights.
This presentation acknowledges the potency of Carol's writings in terms of her own responses to Gimbutas's concepts of the Old European Goddess and the civilization of Old Europe. Both of these great scholars understood that our birthright - for most of human herstory - has been to live in a respectful communion with the sacred cycles of the living world - rendered for thousands of years in female forms. Their messages to us are more essential now than ever as we refine our inner powers and step forward, as women of our time, into an increasingly uncertain future.
In hui Lee, PhD
"A Journey toward the Goddess: Translating Rebirth of the Goddess by Carol P. Christ into Korean by the Academy Halmi of South Korea"
In order to fully honor and remember forever Carol P. Christ, one of the greatest Founding Mothers of Women’s Spirituality, while we all are mourning, I would like to share a story of translating Christ’s book, Rebirth of the Goddess, into Korean by the Academy Halmi of South Korea. Later we successfully published the book and the book is available for purchase at present. In the process, we had a chance to be in close contact with Christ around the time she was moving to Crete. It was her devotion and boundless love to Women’s Spiritualty scholarship that touched us deeply.
Academy Halmi (Halmi=Grandmother and Goddess in Korean) was launched in 2016. It is a loosely organized group of Korean women who are passionate about Feminism, Women, and Goddess spirituality. We all agreed to disseminate Women’s Spirituality scholarship, so we started reading books in the field by translating, taking turns. We meet on the last Friday of the month. From 16 members in the beginning, we are now 13, (number for a witch’s coven!), so it is perfect! The first book we translated was the Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor. Somehow, we ran into troubles publishing it. Then one of our members secured enough publishing funds in time when we finished translating Christ’s book. Christ was more than okay for us publishing her book in Korean. Not only did She waive any copy right fee, she even wrote a long article, reflecting on writing Rebirth of the Goddess, 25 years later (we will share this article). We wished to invite Christ to South Korea to speak, soon. Alas, her journey on this planet ended too soon. May Her spirit guide us to post-patriarchy! Blessed be.
Nané Jordan, PhD
“Love at the Centre: Living Goddess Studies with Carol P. Christ”
As both a daughter and genetrix of feminist Goddess studies, I immediately felt compelled at the time of Carol P. Christ’s to re-read her courageous development of the feminist fields of thealogy and Goddess studies, including her texts: Odyssey with the Goddess, Rebirth of the Goddess, and She Who Changes. Christ initiated scholarly and lived pathways for embodied, experiential, embedded, and relational knowing. She gestated Goddess-centred feminist studies and research from and with heart and spirit, in a journey that reconnected mind to body and culture with nature—continually affirming love at the centre. I will explore how Christ’s opus provides a life-affirming, embodied philosophical foundation for feminist liberation, healing, and re-sacralization of female-bodied selves through the studied and practiced honouring of women, Goddess(es), and Mother Earth, while reflecting upon my own work towards a thealogy of birth.
Leaving an academic position to commit to her Goddess-centred way of life in Greece, Christ provided women with opportunities of pilgrimage to experience the Goddess (her preferred term) in themselves, the Earth, and community with others. Her paradoxical journey “inside” and “out” of the academy reflects the ongoing tensions and opportunities that scholars and activists such as myself experience. As a burgeoning Goddess scholar, mother, and community birth-worker, I joyfully immersed myself in then alternate feminist studies of Women’s Spirituality at New College of California. I later pursued my doctorate in Canada, where I sought to expand possibilities for embodied, spiritual feminist studies in the mainstream academy by inquiring into Women’s Spirituality as a model of transformative feminist education, replete with Goddesses—highlighting the impacts of such in my own and other’s lives. Though Goddess-honouring rituals and practices enjoy widening circles, scholarly pursuit of spiritual feminist and Goddess studies are still almost heretical fields of academic inquiry—as repeatedly noted by Christ herself. In and with this struggle, I will celebrate the gifts of my own birth-based thealogical journey, as nourished through the lived and philosophical pathfinding of Goddess foremother Carol P. Christ.
Lisa Christie, PhD
“Carol P. Christ’s Feminist Philosophy of Religion; Appreciation and Expansion for Spiritual Feminists Believing in Life-After-Death and the Practice of Divination”
Informed by her theological studies at Yale, Christ responded to the patriarchy and misogyny of most traditional theology, which was influenced by “classical” philosophy and its masculinist biases, by developing the first systematic Western Goddess thealogy, Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality, which reflected her experiences and feminist philosophical and theological sensibilities and was affirmed by the process theologian John Cobb as a work of process theology. Subsequently, Christ developed a feminist philosophy of religion, She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World based on the process theology of theologian Charles Hartshorne. In this latter work, Christ encourages feminists in religion to consider the philosophical underpinnings of their beliefs and practices and, following the thealogian Mary Daly, proposes that process theology provides a philosophical platform that could bring together feminists in religion across spiritual traditions to challenge the masculinist biases of most western theology. In She Who Changes, Christ raises questions regarding the philosophical underpinnings of beliefs and practices common in the Women’s Spirituality community, including the belief in life after death expressed as immortality and/or reincarnation, and the practice of divination. Regarding the former, though her personal experiences suggest that our consciousness may survive the death of our body, she has no experience suggestive of reincarnation and she is skeptical both of the concept of immortality apart from the body and of reincarnation as a justification for the acceptability of suffering in this life, and so she was not drawn to develop support for this in her feminist philosophy of religion but suggested that others might do so. Two feminists in religion, the womanist theologian Monica Coleman and I as a Goddess thealogian accepted and addressed in different ways how process philosophy can address experiences of ancestors. And as a Goddess thealogian, I further developed support for experiences of spirits, of reincarnation, of Goddess possession (in Wiccan circles sometimes known as “drawing down the moon”), and other exceptional spiritual experiences. In this essay, I review the outlines of Christ’s process philosophy of religion and how it informs ideas of the Divine and then, for the benefit of feminists who place some importance on the topics of life after death, divination, and other experiences, I describe support in process thought for these key topics.
PANEL D: WOMEN’S SPIRITUAL PILGRIMAGE
“Pilgrim of the Goddess: Carol P. Christ and Her Life in Greece”
Carol Christ led groups on her Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete more than 40 times from 1995 to 2019. These tours brought hundreds of women to the magical landscape of Crete, where archaeological sites reveal a Bronze Age culture most likely based on egalitarian matriarchal societies of peace. In her book A Serpentine Path, Carol tells how the Goddess tours began. She also describes how she came to live in Greece, and the pain she faced early on from her mother's death and a broken heart. Through the tours, she was able to transmute her own struggles into valuable experiences for tour participants. In this way, Carol lived her life as a spiritual pilgrim, moving beyond her pain with the help of ritual at sacred sites dedicated to the ancient Goddess, which she saw as actual portals for initiation.
Just weeks before she passed, Carol completed her final article, on the Minoan site of Gournia. Beginning from the hypothesis that ancient Crete was matriarchal, matrifocal, and matrilineal, and drawing on evidence from existing egalitarian matriarchies, Carol paints a plausible picture of women's leadership roles in the religion and culture of Bronze Age Crete.
Like Marija Gimbutas before her, Carol offers evidence for a culture of Old Europe which “view[ed] the earth as a great and giving mother.” Carol's original move to Greece was partly motivated by a profound intuitive longing – which many women share – to connect with this Goddess-reverent culture. In her Gournia article, where her brilliant mind and impeccable scholarship build a solid bridge between archaeological speculation and spiritual inclination, Carol's life as a pilgrim can be said to have reached its destination.
Irene Plunkett, PhD
“Carol Christ and Women’s Spiritual Quest: Shaping a New Lens for Reading Literature”
In the Women’s Spirituality movement, in circles large and small, we often speak about “hearing ourselves into speech.” This phrase is a way of reminding ourselves and each other that women’s voices, literal and metaphorical, have too often been silenced or not allowed to be heard at all. And without speech, without expression, it is difficult, nearly impossible, to access one’s creative voice. One remedy for that is to work against the tide to express oneself anyway. But crucially, as this expression suggests, simply having an audience, that is, someone or some ones to listen, is itself a part of the equation. Expression graces the listener; hearing honors the speaker and thus encourages her.
As it turns out, the same is true of writing: having an audience of readers completes the process of writing for the author. And by acknowledging women’s language, women’s experiences, including the sacredness of the everyday and, sometimes, the need for solitude, Carol Christ helped to shape, not only a literary legacy, but the language for understanding and revealing that legacy. Her work, especially in Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest, helped to shape a lens through which we could see what was hiding in plain sight: a lineage of women’s spiritual literature.
In her work, Christ distinguished between women’s literature focusing on social question and literature focusing on spiritual quest which she defines as “… a woman’s awakening to the depths of her soul and her position in the universe. A woman’s spiritual quest includes moments of solitary contemplation, but it is strengthened by being shared … a woman must listen to her own voiced come to terms with her own experience. She must break long-standing habits of seeking approval, of trying to please [others] but never herself.” (pp. 8-9)
The lens that Christ has shaped helps to understand, sometimes in retrospect, a group of U.S women’s writers that emerged in mid-century—a number of women whose spiritual quest demanded solitude and who ended up seeking their souls alone, on islands.
“A Personal History of Carol Christ”
Susan Swan went on the Minoan pilgrimage with Carol in 1995; did her Lesbos workshop in 1997; and rented a house in Molivos in the summers of 1998 and 1999 in order to do her research for the novel What Casanova Told Me, which explores Goddess spirituality from multiple perspectives. Her work in progress, Bigger, A Memoir of Life with a Large Body, discusses the way Swan’s unusual height shaped her life. Carol Christ and Susan were the same height and Carol’s philosophy of embodied spirituality is the subject of the last third of Swan’s memoir, Bigger. Swan will be talking about her friendship with Carol for the Symposium.
Elizabeth Kenneday, PhD
“Transformation Through Experience: Carol Christ’s Journey as Priestess and Seeker”
“There is no goal, only the journey.” Carol Christ, A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess
My paper chronicles Carol Christ’s transformation from an academic to a spiritual guide as reflected in her writings, as well as my personal observations and experiences as a member of Karolina’s Fall 2018 Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (Carol enjoyed the Greek version of her name while we travelled in Crete). I am relying here primarily on two volumes, Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (1987) and A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess (2016 – an updated and revised version of 1995’s Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete). Karolina informed us early on that we were not to take her picture. I accidentally included her in this photograph of a cave ritual in Crete. She approved it, saying “Oh, that’s just the back of my head—I don’t care.”
Despite extensive world travel, my understanding of the concept of pilgrimage was quite vague before journeying to Crete. I will confess to a major desire at that time to explore the ruins of Minoan culture together with a rather unfocussed spiritual quest which involved an obsession with feminine imagery through time. I was particularly intrigued with the figurine called the Snake Goddess. I found the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete led by Carol Christ and signed up.
Not long before departure for the pilgrimage, Carol sent out a Call for Proposals for a forthcoming anthology of feminist pilgrimages, which caught my attention. Although it came too late to consider writing about the Crete journey, I began to research pilgrimage in general, and the idea of women’s pilgrimage, in particular. As a result, I began to see my own travel and career in a different light, and submitted a proposal, which was accepted, “The Beloved Thing,” in Feminist Pilgrimages: Journeys of Discovery, edited by Stacy Russo (Litwin Books, 2020). I have Carol to thank for that, and for prompting more focus to that vague spiritual quest I was on, when first joining her pilgrimage and in the years since.
Carol’s ability to fashion an illuminating pilgrimage for over 600 women since its inception can be seen in her own journey through her personal experiences. Following a trip to Lesbos, Greece she shed the “third-person” model of academe and began trusting her “authentic voice,” calling herself a priestess of Aphrodite and embodying the goddess in the performance of rituals at the ruins of a temple there. “In time, as I allowed Aphrodite’s power to penetrate my blood and bones, it became more and more difficult to return to a culture that sapped the life energy I felt so strongly in Greece,” she asserts, as she decides to refashion her life in Greece. Her statement from A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess about pilgrimage is one that speaks for others, “I did not know that the pilgrimage would be deeply transformative for me as well.”