Know your (women) theologians

I can’t say enough good things about this list of important women theologians over on Englewood Review of Books. Some I was familiar with, and others were new to me. All are examples of women writing about God, in a diverse array of perspectives.

What a theologian looks like, in my head

And can I just say, the word theologian hasn’t really kept a lot of currency in the secular world?  I have always taken it to mean something like “scholar of God,” and I’m not wrong. For the most part, theologians are scholars of God– members of the academic field of theology. As a scholar myself, I value that sense of the word. But, as I spend more time with this word I’m learning more of its nuances too.

Like “public theologian.” My favorite elaboration of this idea is at (my favorite podcast/ radio program) On Being, where the great Krista Tippet interviews people of faith (and just people of ideas that link somehow to faith!). My sense of the term “public theology” is something like “bringing divine matters to bear on matters of the world, for the good of the world.”  As On Being’s “Public Theology Reimagined” project articulates:

“Public theology is about the virtues that accompany the work of theology, not just the ideas. It means connecting grand religious ideas with messy human reality. It means articulating religious and spiritual points of view to challenge and deepen thinking on every side of every important question.”

In my own work as a scholar of writing, one important theme across much of my research (and not only mine) has been that we write better when we have a strong sense of “Writer identity”– that is, when think we are writers. So, how do people come to see themselves as writers?  It has three components. One component is actually writing. You can’t be a writer without writing any more than you can be a swimmer without ever getting in the pool. Another component is reflecting on what you do when writing– that is, remembering and describing writing experiences (to others and/or to yourself) so that you have intentionality and self-consciousness enough to draw deliberately on your writing experiences moving forward. (This reflection component is the focus of the next book!)

And finally, the third component is having a definition of the word “writer” that can conceivably include you. If “swimmer” is defined as people who have won Olympic swimming medals, it’s a small, elite group. If it includes all who swim on a regular basis, many more of us get to call ourselves swimmers– and seeing ourselves as swimmers increases our odds of getting to the pool a few times a week. It’s the same with writing: if you limit the definition of “writer”to only those people who have published books, then you leave out a lot of people. You leave out almost all children, for instance– yet sense of identity as a writer is known to be helpful for learning to write in childhood or adulthood. But if you can come to think of “writer” as someone who writes daily, or as someone who revises, or who shares writing with an audience, then there’s a lot more room for learners in there.

This gets us back to theologians. Who is a theologian? Scholars of God? Or those who think and write about God, with a broader public in mind?  If the latter, there’s room for me in there. And for you! I find that news encouraging. And it makes it somewhat less crazy to think that I might broaden my writing life from matters of education to matters of God.

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