Feminism, Theology, and Horizons: The First 35 Years
The Cambridge University Press journal Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society has its roots in the progressive re-visioning of Roman Catholic theology after Vatican II, frequently understood as aggiornamento, and is committed to scholarship that is grounded in the Catholic incarnational/sacramental tradition. Horizons also fosters diverse scholarship across the fields of religious studies and theology, and is dedicated to a broad ecumenical perspective, a wide range of theological methods, and an intensive engagement of faith with culture.
Horizons’ fourth virtual issue appears during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically altered everyday life around the world. In the United States, the observance of March as “Women’s History Month” began as “Women’s History Week” on March 7, 1982, after being authorized by a joint resolution of Congress. As colleges and universities sent students, faculty, and staff home to shelter in place in early March 2020, most programming devoted to Women’s History Month was canceled. Two months later, many Mother’s Day celebrations occurred over digital platforms as most states remained under rules barring non-essential travel.
Though the origins of a nationally recognized Mother’s Day in the United States is not without controversy, it is appropriate for this journal to recall the anti-war and abolitionist intentions of Julie Ward Howe’s proclamation calling for a women’s congress “to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” The 1982 congressional resolution recognized both that “American women of every race, class, and ethnic background served as early leaders in the forefront of every major progressive social change movement” and that “the role of American women in history has been consistently overlooked and undervalued.” During an era of social, geopolitical, and economic upheaval perhaps unknown to recent generations, Horizons offers a virtual issue that resonates with the passion of Howe’s proclamation advocating for dramatic social and political change, and seeks to recognize the often “overlooked and undervalued” contributions of women in religion and theology.
The virtual issue’s seven articles and author responses represent static snapshots across four decades (1975–2007) of a much more dynamic and complicated development of the perception of women in church and society as well as women’s actual leadership in religion and theology. It would be disingenuous not to note that the unscientific review of Horizons’ past articles focusing on these areas reveal some fault lines that remain evident in the articles chosen for this virtual issue. The writers (six women, one man) are white, Catholic with one exception, and the topics are generally driven by ecclesio-centric concerns, though from particular feminist perspectives. Over the past twenty years or so, Horizons has become ecumenical, interreligious, and international, and “feminist theology” in its pages is no longer limited to the concerns of what one might call “second wave” feminist theology.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that in the spring of 1975, in only its second appearance (volume 2, issue 1), Horizons was on the cutting edge of new creative theology, publishing a “Special Focus” section on Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father. Daly’s response to her four reviewers leads off the virtual issue and James Kenneally’s historical review of how traditional images of “Mary” and “Eve” affected American Catholic perceptions of whether and how women could be involved in social change movements follows in the fall of 1976 (3:2).
Approximately a decade later, editor Walter Conn writes that the Fall 1987 issue (14:2) started as an idea for a themed issue with “a few essays simmering on a back burner” and became “an unplanned, de facto thematic issue by and about women.” Mary Ann Donovan’s article from this rich issue explores women’s experience of marginalization in ministry, marriage, and economics as well as models of women’s nature against the backdrop of the hearings for a pastoral letter on women held by the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nancy Dallavalle’s very important article on critical essentialism (25:1, Spring 1998) continues to command attention and is in fact referenced in Elizabeth Johnson’s response to the review symposium on her Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (31:1, Spring 2004). Our virtual issue is rounded out by two articles from 2007: Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo’s feminist retrieval of the category of “martyrdom” to remember and honor the El Salvadoran women who lost their lives struggling for peace and justice (34:1) and Phyllis Zagano’s call for the restoration of the female diaconate (34:2).
The virtual issue is truly a snapshot in time and yet these images have evocative power. The articles of the virtual issue remind us of why the peace activism of the original advocates of Mother’s Day remains necessary as does an annual congressional resolution to highlight the strength, creativity, and leadership of women.
Thanks are due to Horizons’ managing editor Christine Bucher for suggesting the theme for Virtual Issue IV and researching back issues for potential articles.
 See https://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/mothers-day/the-original-mother-s-day-proclamation for Howe’s proclamation. For a history of Mother’s Day see Katharine Antolini, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control of Mother’s Day (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2014)