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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Women Changing the Face of Christianity

Event Recap

On December 2, Collen Griffith, Faculty Director of Spirituality Studies at the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College, reflected on the changes that have been made in contemporary Christian thought since women began to enter the seminaries in large numbers in the 1970’s.

Griffith began by pointing out that 50 years ago it was almost impossible for women to enter the field of theology and yet today women outnumber the men in most divinity schools. She also noted that in enrollments at IREPM the ratio of women to men is 4:5. This has brought about a number of changes in the way theology is thought about, studied and discussed. Griffith argues that the contributions of women theologians have shifted our understanding by bringing more diverse images of God into our thinking and conversations. It has also shifted us to more sensitive and more contextual modes of spiritual engagement that have brought the link between theology and spirituality closer together.

Griffith illustrated her theme by focusing on four contemporary women theologians: Elizabeth Johnson, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Sandra Schneiders, and Sallie McFague. Each of these women have sought to broaden our classical theological understandings to be more inclusive in our conceptualization of God and the created order. Johnson highlights God’s relationality and brings more attention to the concept of Wisdom. McFague has developed a theology of the environment and challenges accepted theological anthropologies that see ourselves as apart from, and different than, the rest of nature. Fiorenza’s work calls attention to the more democratic aspects of communal life and worship that challenge modern conceptions of church and spiritual authority, while Schneiders’ work calls attention to misogynistic texts and the importance of focusing on, and reinterpreting understandings of women’s leadership in the Scriptures.

The discussion following the talk was engaging and ranged across a variety of points. In response to the question “…outside of seminaries and classrooms, have women significantly changed the institutions of the Church?” Griffith replied that she believed that “women have changed the Church, which changes the institutions.”