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Title: Thealogy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Feminist theology, History of feminism, Feminism, Index of feminism articles, War on Women
Collection: Feminist Spirituality, Feminist Theology, Postmodern Theory, Post-Structuralism
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Thealogy (a neologism derived from Ancient Greek θεά meaning "Goddess" and λόγος, -logy, meaning "study of") is generally understood as a discourse that reflects upon the meaning of Goddess (thea) in contrast to God (theo).[1] As such, it is the study and reflection upon the feminine divine from a feminist perspective.[2]

Thealogy is distinguished from feminist theology, which is the study of God from a feminist perspective,[3][4] but the two fields can be seen as related and interdependent.[5]


  • History of the term 1
  • Thealogy as academic discipline 2
  • Criticisms of thealogy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

History of the term

The term's origin and initial use is open to debate, and the definition and scope of thealogy are currently being defined by the key scholars in the field. Often attributed to a neologism coined by Isaac Bonewits in 1974,[6][7] Patricia 'Iolana traces the early use of the term to 1976 crediting both Bonewits and Valerie Saiving in its initial use.[8]

In the 1979 "The Changing of the Gods," Naomi Goldenberg introduces the term as a future possibility with respect to a distinct discourse, highlighting the masculine nature of theology.[9] Also in 1979, in the first revised edition of "Real Magic", Bonewits defined "thealogy" in his Glossary as "Intellectual speculations concerning the nature of the Goddess and Her relations to the world in general and humans in particular; rational explanations of religious doctrines, practices and beliefs, which may or may not bear any connection to any religion as actually conceived and practiced by the majority of its members." Also in the same glossary, he defined "theology" with nearly identical words, changing the feminine pronouns with masculine pronouns appropriately.[10]

Carol P. Christ used the term in "Laughter of Aphrodite" (1987), acknowledging that those who create thealogy cannot avoid being influenced by the categories and questions posed in Christian and Jewish theologies.[11] She further defined thealogy in her 2002 essay, "Feminist theology as post-traditional thealogy," as "the reflection on the meaning of the Goddess".[12]

In her 1989 essay "On Mirrors, Mists and Murmurs: Toward an Asian American Thealogy," Rita Nakashima Brock defined thealogy as "the work of women reflecting on their experiences of and beliefs about divine reality".[13] Also in 1989, Ursula King notes thealogy's growing usage as a fundamental departure from traditional male-oriented theology, characterized by its privileging of symbols over rational explanation.[14]

In 1993, Charlotte Caron's definition of thealogy as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" appeared in "To Make and Make Again".[15] By this time, the concept had gained considerable status among Goddess adherents.

Thealogy as academic discipline

Situated in relationship to the fields of theology and religious studies, thealogy is a discourse that critically engages the beliefs, wisdom, practices, questions, and values of the Goddess community, both past and present.[16] Similar to theology, thealogy grapples with questions of meaning, include reflecting on the nature of the divine,[17] the relationship of humanity to the environment,[18] the relationship between the spiritual and sexual self,[19] and the nature of belief.[20] However, in contrast to theology, which often focuses on an exclusively logical and empirical discourse, thealogy embraces a postmodern discourse of personal experience and complexity.[21]

The term suggests a feminist approach to theism and the context of God and gender within Paganism, Neopaganism, Goddess Spirituality and various nature-based religions. However, thealogy can be described as religiously pluralistic, as thealogians come from various religious backgrounds that are often hybrid in nature. In addition to Pagans, Neopagans, and Goddess-centred faith traditions, they are also Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Quakers, etc. or define themselves as Spiritual Feminists.[22] As such, the term thealogy has also been used by feminists within mainstream monotheistic religions describe in more detail the feminine aspect of a monotheistic deity or trinity, such as God/dess Herself, or the Heavenly Mother of the Latter Day Saint movement.

In 2000, Melissa Raphael wrote the text Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess for the series Introductions in Feminist Theology. Written for an academic audience, it purports to introduce the main elements of thealogy within the context of Goddess feminism. She situates thealogy as a discourse that can be engaged with by Goddess feminists—those who are feminist adherents of the Goddess who may have left their church, synagogue, or mosque—or those who may still belong to their originally established religion.[23] In the book, Raphael compares and contrasts thealogy with the Goddess movement.[24] In 2007, Paul Reid-Bowen wrote the text "Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy", which can be regarded as another systematic approach to thealogy, but which integrates philosophical discourse.[25]

In the past decade, other thealogians like Patricia 'Iolana and D'vorah Grenn have generated discourses that bridge thealogy with other academic disciplines. 'Iolana's Jungian thealogy bridges analytical psychology with thealogy, and Grenn's metaformic thealogy is a bridge between matriarchal studies and thealogy.[26]

Contemporary Thealogians include Carol P. Christ, Melissa Raphael, Asphodel Long, Beverly Clack, Charlotte Caron, Naomi Goldenberg, Paul Reid-Bowen, Rita Nakashima Brock, and Patricia 'Iolana.

Criticisms of thealogy

At least one Christian theologist dismisses thealogy as the creation of a new deity made up by radical feminists.[27] Paul Reid-Bowen and Chaone Mallory point out that essentialism is a problematic slippery slope when Goddess feminists argue that women are inherently better than men or inherently closer to the Goddess.[28][29] In his book Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality, Philip G. Davis levies a number of criticisms against the Goddess movement, including logical fallacies, hypocrisies, and essentialism.[30]

Thealogy has also been criticized for its objection to empiricism and reason.[31] In this critique, thealogy is seen as flawed by rejecting a purely empirical worldview for a purely relativistic one.[32] Meanwhile, scholars like Harding[33] and Haraway[34] seek a middle ground of feminist empiricism.

See also


  1. ^ Raphael, Melissa. "Thealogy." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 13. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 9098-9101. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. "In 1979 Naomi Goldenberg first used the word thealogy to denote feminist discourse on the Goddess (thea) rather than God (theo)."
  2. ^ Caron, Charlotte (1996). "Thealogy". In Russel, Letty M.; Clarkson, J. Shannon. Dictionary of Feminist Theologies. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 281–282.  
  3. ^ Raphael, Melissa (2000). Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on The Goddess. Introductions in Feminist Theology. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press. p. 10.  
  4. ^ 'Iolana, Patricia (January 2012). "Divine Immanence: A Psychodynamic Study in Women's Experience of Goddess". Claremont Journal of Religion 1 (1): 86–107 [90]. While seemingly inclusive in scope, theology often has a focal handicap--it is monotheistic in its thinking, examining God from a narrow and often monocular lens often concretised by its own dogma, and often exclusivist and hampered by truth claims. Thealogy, on the other hand, is pluralistic, syncretistic and inclusive. It is fluid and comprehensive, able to contain many different belief systems and ways of being. Thealogy does not stand in opposition to, but as a complement to, Theology as a branch of religious study. 
  5. ^ Clack, Beverly (May 1999). "Thealogy and Theology: Mutually Exclusive or Creatively Interdependent?". Feminist Theology 7 (21): 21–38.  
  6. ^ Bonewits, Isaac (2007). Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 222.  
  7. ^ Scharding, Philip Emmons Isaac (1996). "The Second Epistle of Isaac". first published in August 1976 c.e., which was edited by Isaac Bonewits and Robert Larson; but prepared for reprinting with some new additions and historical commentary by the current associate editor, Michael Scharding, in August 1996 c.e. The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) A REFORMED DRUID ANTHOLOGY: Being an unofficial and unauthorized historical collection of some of the spiritual writings from the various Reformed Druid movements in North America; and being mostly a 20th anniversary reprint of. Northfield, Minnesota, USA: The Drynemetum Press. p. 67. ...C. Taliesin Edwards (the leading thealogian in the Neopagan movements has called “The Da Mind” (in his Essays Towards a Metathealogy of the Goddess), and that others have called by a variety of names. 
  8. ^ 'Iolana, Patricia (2011). "Radical Images of the Feminie Divine: Women's Spiritual Memoirs Disclose a Thealogical Shift". In 'Iolana, Patricia; Tongue, Samuel. Testing the Boundaries: Self, Faith, Interpretation and Changing Trends in Religious Studies. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 15.  
  9. ^ Goldenberg, Naomi (1979). Changing of the gods: Feminism and the end of traditional religions. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 96. The word theology has also come to be used almost exclusively in regard to Christian god-talk. The advent of witchcraft, with its colorful goddess-talk, requires a new term. I hope witches and scholars of feminist religion will adopt my suggestion and name themselves thealogians. 
  10. ^ Bonewits, Isaac (1989). Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic (reprint ed.). York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.  
  11. ^ Christ, Carol P (1987). Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row. p. xii.  
  12. ^ Christ, Carol P (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  13. ^ Brock, Rita Nakashima (1989). Plaskow, Judith; Christ, Carol P., eds. Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. San Francisco: HarperCollins. p. 236.  
  14. ^ King, Ursula (1989). Women and spirituality: voices of protest and promise. New Amsterdam. pp. 126–127.  
  15. ^ Caron, Charlotte (1993). To make and make again: feminist ritual thealogy. Crossroad.  
  16. ^ Hope, Angela; Morgain, Shan. "What Is Goddess Thealogy & Deasophy?". Institute for Thealogy and Deasophy. Retrieved 10 December 2012. Goddess thealogy and deasophy are reflections on both past and contemporary Goddess communities' beliefs, wisdom, embodied practices, questions, and values. 
  17. ^ Christ, Carol P. (2003). She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 11–12.  
  18. ^ Crist, Carol P. (2012). Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality. Psychology Press. p. 153.  
  19. ^ Clack, Beverly (September 1995). "The Denial of Dualism: Thealogical Reflections on the Sexual and the Spiritual". Feminist Theology 4 (10): 102–115.  
  20. ^ Eller, Cynthia (1995). Living In The Lap of Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. Beacon Press. pp. 140–141.  
  21. ^ Raphael, Melissa (1996). Thealogy and Embodiment: The Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sacrality. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 228–229.  
  22. ^ Raphael, Melissa. "Thealogy." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 13. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 9098-9101. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. "There are those on the gynocentric or woman-centered left of Jewish and Christian feminism who would want to term themselves theo/alogians because they find the vestiges of the Goddess or "God-She" within their own traditions as Hochmah, Shekhinah, Sophia, and other "female faces" of the divine."
  23. ^ Raphael, Melissa (2000). Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on The Goddess. Introductions in Feminist Theology. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press. p. 16.  
  24. ^ Raphael, Melissa (2000). Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on The Goddess. Introductions in Feminist Theology. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press. p. 10.  
  25. ^ Reid-Bowen, Paul (2007). Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 200.  
  26. ^ Grenn, Deborah J. (n.d.). "Connecting With Deity Through a Feminist Metaformic Thealogy". Metaformia: A Journal of Menstruation and Culture. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  27. ^ Damian, Constantin-Iulian (January 2009). "Radical Feminist Theology: From Protest to the Goddess". Scientific Annals of the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iasi – Orthodox Theology (1): 171–186. Retrieved 11 December 2012. Finally, we point out the antichristian character that animates the construction of this new deity, created “after the image and likeness of man”. 
  28. ^ Reid-Bowen, Paul (2007). Goddess As Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy. Ashgate Publishing. p. 156.  
  29. ^ Mallory, Chaone (2010). "The Spiritual is Political: Gender, Spirituality,and Essentialism in Forest Defense". Journal for the Study of Religion Nature and Culture 4 (1): 48–71.  
  30. ^ Davis, Philip G. (1998). "The Foundations of "Theology"". Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality. Dallas: Spence Publishing Company. pp. 86–100.  
  31. ^ Graham, Elaine L. (2002). Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture. Rutgers University Press. p. 215.  
  32. ^ Fang-Long, Shih (2010). "Women, Religions, and Feminism". In Bryan S. Turner. The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion. John Wiley & Sons. p. 234.  
  33. ^ Harding, Sandra G. (1991). Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?: Thinking from Women's Lives. Cornell University Press. p. 142.  
  34. ^ Haraway, Donna J. (1991). "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective". Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. p. 312.  

Further reading

  • Goldenberg, Naomi (1990) Returning Words to Flesh: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Resurrection of the Body. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Miller, David L. (1974) The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Raphael, Melissa (1997) ‘Thealogy, Redemption and the Call of the Wild’ from Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain and Ireland School of Feminist Theology No. 15, May 1997 Lisa Isherwood, et al. (eds) (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press) p. 55-72.
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