Johnson, Elizabeth A. 1941-
JOHNSON, Elizabeth A. 1941-
PERSONAL: Born December 6, 1941, in Brooklyn, NY. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Brentwood College, B.A., 1964; Manhattan College, M.A., 1970; Catholic University of America, Ph.D., 1981.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Theology, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Theologian, Roman Catholic nun. Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, professor of theology, 1981-91; Fordham University, Bronx, NY, distinguished professor of theology, 1991—.
MEMBER: Catholic Theological Society of America (president, 1996-97), American Academy of Religion, College Theology Society, American Theological Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grawemeyer Award in Religion, University of Louisville, and Crossroad Women's Studies Award, both 1992, for She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse; annual award, U.S. Catholic, 1994; Excellence in the Study of Religion Award, American Academy of Religion, 1999, for Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints; University Medal, Siena Heights University, 1999; Sacred Universe Award, SpiritEarth, 1999; Loyola Mellon Award in the Humanities, Loyola University—Chicago, 2000; Elizabeth Seton Medal, Mount St. Joseph College, 2000; honorary doctorates from St. Mary's College, 1992, Maryknoll School of Theology, 1994, Chicago Theological Union, 1997, Siena College, 1998, Le Moyne College, 1999, St. Joseph College—New York, 2001, and Manhattan College, 2002.
Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 1990.
She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 1992.
Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, Paulist Press (Ramsey, NJ), 1993.
(With Susan Rakoczy) Who Do You Say That I Am? Introducing Contemporary Christology, Cluster Publications (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa), 1997.
Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints, Continuum (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor and contributor) The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 2002.
Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, Continuum (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to books and to scholarly journals and religious magazines, including Theological Studies, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Horizons: Journal of the College Theology Society, and Concilium: International Journal of Theology.
Johnson's books have been translated into German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, and Korean.
SIDELIGHTS: Feminist theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in theology from the Catholic University of America, and she served on that school's faculty for ten years before going on to Fordham University. Johnson is the author of a number of volumes, including her groundbreaking She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. In a review for Christian Century, Amy Plantinga Pauw wrote that Johnson "is conversant with the full spectrum of contemporary feminism and Christian thought, but it is her knowledge of the breadth of Roman Catholic tradition that is most striking. . . . In constructing her feminist discourse, she draws on distinctively Catholic resources, ranging from the Sophia traditions in Sirach and the Book of Wisdom to the transcendental and liberation themes of twentieth-century Catholicism." She Who Is won several awards and was translated into a number of languages. Like her first book, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology, She Who Is has been incorporated into courses at both Catholic schools and secular universities, including Harvard and Columbia.
Christian Century's Monica K. Hellwig reviewed Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints, commenting that Johnson, "considers the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints from a feminist perspective, and discovers that, though this doctrine has played a large role in liturgy, creedal affirmations, devotional practices, and Christian art, it has received little theological attention. She finds this an advantage, since it enables her to analyze the practice of saint-making and saint-reverencing without having to wrestle with entrenched theological interpretations."
Johnson notes that nearly all canonized saints are male, and many of them are of an elevated social class. She also notes that of the few saints who were female, only a small number were married. There is also an absence of references to strong independent women in the liturgical reading of stories from the bible.
Robert P. Imbelli reviewed the volume in Commonweal, writing that "whether or not the reality of the communion sanctorum has been so neglected in theology as to merit her description of it as 'a sleeping symbol,' there is no doubt but that its creative reappropriation is desirable, indeed imperative in a culture often marked more by fragmentation and disconnection than communion. Friends of God and Prophets is just such a faith-filled and critical reappropriation that seeks to disclose the symbol's 'liberating meaning for today.'" Imbelli continued, noting that Johnson "aims to amplify the symbol's scope, extending it in ways that are explicitly egalitarian, ecumenical, and even ecological. . . . Feminist insights and scholarship help propel this expansion toward greater inclusivity and equality."
Johnson addressed nearly 4,000 Catholics who attended the November 3-5, 2000, meeting of the annual Call to Action convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She said in part that women have been "denied equality with men in access to sacred ties, places, actions, and even identity. . . . Women have been consistently robbed of our full dignity as friends of God and prophets" because of "theories like Augustine's, who claimed a man taken alone was fully in the image of God, but a woman was fully in the image of God only when taken together with man who is her head; or philosophies like Aquinas's which argued that women are misbegotten males with weak minds and defective wills." Johnson went on to describe women of all races and cultures, performing the tasks that make life possible, women who are victimized and women who are strong and defiant. "All," Johnson said, "are friends of God and prophets through the grace of Holy Wisdom."
In reviewing Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, Sally Cunneen wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that Johnson "is up front about her aim: to 'articulate a theology of Mary that will promote the flourishing of women and thereby all the relationships and communities of which they are a part.' This includes the church, of course, and makes the book necessary reading for men as for women."
Johnson concentrates on Mary's humanity and the reality of her life. She notes that although Mary has been idealized through the ages by male interpreters, this may have done more harm than good. As Johnson writes, Mary was of the artisan or peasant class and did not have the benefit of either status or education. Hers was a life of toil. Johnson also touches on Mary's virgin status and writes that "divine and human fatherhood are not necessarily mutually exclusive." Cunneen wrote that Johnson "observes fruitfully that the Immaculate Conception is really about the presence of grace, not the absence of sin."
Nancy Hawkins commented in America that "probably no other figure in Christianity is more misunderstood, misconstrued, and misinterpreted than Mary. At the same time, she is deeply revered. The numerous layers of historical nuancing make it difficult to find the true Miriam of Nazareth, a Jewess who lived in Roman-occupied Galilee during the first century. It is Johnson's quest to free this Jewish woman from the various projections and misconceptions placed upon her over the centuries."
Johnson is editor of The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, a collection of essays from the women who participated in a series of lectures refereed by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, former editor of Commonweal. William Cleary wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that Johnson's contribution, "Imaging God, Embodying Christ: Women As a Sign of the Times," "is stunning." Cleary said, "I suspect that women who no longer take the church seriously do so because it does not take them seriously. In that survey of women's opinions collected by Marcy Kaptur in preparation for her powerful chapter—and printed in the book after her speech—someone named Mary Lee Gladieux says it best: 'The Catholic Church needs to do what it won't do—recognize women as full and equal partners with men—and anything else is not worth discussing.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, June 9, 2003, Nancy Hawkins, review of Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p. 22.
Christian Century, November 17, 1993, Amy Plantinga Pauw, review of She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, p. 1159; January 20, 1999, Monica K. Hellwig, review of Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints, p. 61.
Commonweal, October 23, 1998, Robert P. Imbelli, review of Friends of God and Prophets, p. 24.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, David I. Fulton, review of Truly Our Sister, p. 128.
National Catholic Reporter, October 16, 1998, Pamela Schaeffer, review of Friends of God and Prophets, p. 32; November 17, 2000, Tom Roberts, "Theologian Calls for Recognition of Holiness in Women," p. 7; May 23, 2003, Sally Cunneen, review of Truly Our Sister, p. 22; December 26, 2003, William Cleary, review of The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, p. 18.
Theological Studies, June, 1999, Michael J. Himes, review of Friends of God and Prophets, p. 377; March, 2004, Anthony J. Tambasco, review of Truly Our Sister, p. 198.
U.S. Catholic, April, 2002, review of She Who Is, p. 36.