Saturday, June 3, 2017
Teresa Forcades (theologian and nun): "A theology that moves beyond any stereotype of women is necessary"
El Diario Vasco
May 23, 2017
The Catalan nun and theologian Teresa Forcades (1966) offered a lecture yesterday on "Spirituality and gender" in Portalea, in a convocation organized by a group of women from the Eibar church arena who have been meeting fortnightly in San Andres parish for more than 11 years. Forcades, a native of Barcelona, has a degree in Medicine. She moved to the United States to study Internal Medicine at the State University of New York. Back in Spain, she entered the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. Her Theology degree wasn't validated by the Spanish Catholic schools because she got it from a Protestant school. Even so, Forcades published the book La teología feminista en la historia ["Feminist Theology in History"] in 2007, in which she places it in the framework of critical theologies or liberation theology, doing a historical review of women who throughout history have experienced the contrast between theological discourse and their experience of God. In 2013, she created, together with Arcadi Olivares, a populist platform to promote the self-determination of Catalonia. In 2015, Forcades left the Benedictine convent to run in the Catalan autonomy elections, though she hasn't stopped being a nun.
Don't you think that reading the Sacred Scriptures leaves women in second place? Don't you think that a very stereotypical and to some extent chauvinist image of women emerges from that reading?
It depends on how the Sacred Scriptures are read and interpreted. If the statement "women should remain silent in church" is taken out of its historical context, it's simply sexist. If you take the context into account, then that statement preserved in the Bible, in addition to being sexist, testifies that in the first centuries there were women who did talk in the Church and an image appears of the first communities that contributes to questioning the history of humanity as it has been told to us, and I'm not just referring to the religious environment. In Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, for example, appears the name of Junia, a woman apostle, whom Saint Paul regards with reverence. In the Middle Ages, the name Junia (female) was changed to Junias (male).
What work have you been doing in favor of the promotion of spirituality from a gender perspective?
In 2007, I published La teología feminista en la historia, where I've gathered the testimony of women theologians like Cristina de Pizán, Isabel de Villena, Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Teresa de Jesús, María Jesús de Ágreda, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Marie de Gournay, Bathsua Makin, Anna Maria van Schurman, Margaret Fell, Mary Astell, who range from the 14th to the 17th century. In 2015, I published Por amor a la justicia: Dorothy Day y Simone Weil ["For love of justice: Dorothy Day and Simone Weil"], a work focused on the lives and work of these two great 20th century women committed to workers' struggles who, after declaring themselves atheists and first living as such in their youth, experienced the presence of Jesus in their lives in a way that was surprising to them. My latest book, which will appear in October is Los retos del Papa Francisco ["The Challenges of Pope Francis"]. In it I address, among other things, the question of women in the Church. Apart from the books, I give courses and various talks about spirituality and theology done by women and especially about the need to formulate a theology that is able to move beyond any stereotypes.
Has it been costly for you to maintain such revolutionary positions in the field of spirituality and gender?
Up to now it hasn't been very costly. I have the support of my community and also my bishop who, even though he thinks differently, isn't an authoritarian man. In spite of that, during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the fundamentalist Catholic groups were strong and there was a lot of criticism of me on the Internet that now, with Pope Francis, has disappeared. My critical stance towards the interests of the big pharmaceutical companies and towards certain political interests in Catalonia has been more costly.
Have you gotten pressure to not work in the political arena?
From the Church no, none. What my community asked me to do was that while I was active in politics, I would ask for a period of exclaustration to avoid media pressure on the monastery and that's how we've done it.
What were the reasons that led you to study Protestant theology?
Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is a Catholic feminist theologian known worldwide for her Biblical interpretation work. I translated one of her books and she encouraged me to ask for a scholarship to Harvard, which is where she is a professor. At Harvard, even though its origins are Methodist, they don't just teach Protestant theology, but there are Catholic and Orthodox professors and Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist ones too. What drew me to Harvard wasn't Protestant theology, but the quality of the teaching there. Then, when I was already a nun and after finishing my doctorate on the Trinity, I moved to Berlin to do the post-doctorate and they invited me to give classes in the School of Theology of Humboldt University, which is Protestant but has a chair devoted to Catholic theology. However, I didn't work in that chair but in the gender studies one.
How do you draw the youth audience to religious faith in these times?
My experience with young people is especially in Germany (Berlin), which is where I've given classes in the university. I've observed that among them the tendency that was in effect a few years ago to separate spirituality (personal experience of faith) from religion (institutionalized experience) is diminishing. Young people of today are more sensitive to the limits of individualism and more open to community experiences. The best way to put them in touch with religious faith is still proposing experiences of silence, of encounter with oneself, and contact with credible testimonies to which they can formulate their questions and concerns.