Cooey, Paula Marie
COOEY, Paula Marie
Born 21 March 1945, Hays, Kansas
Daughter of Edward Wilton and Polly Miller Cooey, Jr.; married Philip C. Nichols Jr.; children: Benjamin
Paula Cooey's writings during her distinguished academic career have ranged from her systematic analysis of Jonathan Edwards, a colonial American Puritan preacher, on nature and destiny, to works of feminist theory that focus on the significance of the body in the context of religious experience, law, and domestic abuse. Most recently she has published a highly readable and generally accessible book in which she takes a look at the American family in the late 20th century. In her creative and sensitive themes, she has used current social theory and critique, cognitive psychology, contemporary fiction and arts, and women's accounts of religious experience. Cooey, who writes and speaks passionately about things that concern her, began writing as a primary means of thinking when she was seven years old. At that time, she wrote her first short story and began to keep a journal. She once claimed the greatest limitation and the greatest strength of the body of her written work are one and the same: its experimental quality. This is reflected not only in the content and the topics but also in her writing style and her choice of words and images.
Born in 1945 in Georgia, she received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Georgia (1968), continuing doctoral work there in comparative literature. She transferred to the Harvard Divinity School, where she received a Master of Theological Studies in 1974. In 1981 she received a Ph.D. in the study of religion from Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. After serving one year as a full-time visiting instructor at Connecticut College in 1979-80 and as a part-time instructor at the University of Massachusetts, Harbor Campus, in 1980-81, Cooey joined the faculty of Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, in August 1981. During her 18 years at Trinity, she was promoted through the ranks to become professor of religion in 1993. In 1999 she was appointed the Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Christian Theology and Culture at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota.
One often finds variations of the word "transformation" in her writings. From the first publication, Jonathan Edwards on Nature and Destiny: A Systematic Analysis (1985), which was based on her doctoral dissertation, she wrote, "Grace is the only word I know that captures both the commonness and the specialness of reality. It takes human misery and sorrow seriously and transforms them." The subtitle of the edited volume After Patriarchy (1991), on which she worked with William R. Eakin and Jay B. McDaniel, was Feminist Transformations of the World Religions. In her essay in this volume, "The Redemption of the Body," she wrote, "The body provides a source of seemingly never-ending conflict and a locus for social and environmental violence…. A post-patriarchal understanding of incarnation must be committed to a redemption of the body. In so doing, it must recognize that the transfiguration of pain begins with giving voice or bearing witness to injustice with a view to healing and nurture."
Again, in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Relationship as Feminist Values (1987, edited by Cooey, Sharon A. Farmer, and Mary Ellen Ross), in Cooey's essay, "Woman's Body, Language, and Value," she sees women's toughest choice in the extent to which they assume responsibility for what they value, "for our acts of valuing ultimately define our identities." She discusses indiscriminate love and concludes, "Whereas to love indiscriminately perpetuates women's subordination to men as definitive of woman's identity as 'woman' in a negative sense, to love with integrity is to participate in a revolution in value that transforms identity in ways yet to be imagined."
Cooey's book on the American family in the late 20th century, Family, Freedom & Faith: Building Community Today (1996), deals with the public discussion of family life. She discusses human religious and political diversity as well as private stories of domestic violence, believing "the connecting point is family values." She proposes a constructive theological position that supports concern for family life in the context of secularity, religious and political diversity, and social justice, and she specifically addresses ways that confessing and civic communities can identify avenues "that empower more and more people … to take charge of and to contribute responsibly to the communal processes that govern their lives."
In addition to her books, Cooey has written more than 20 scholarly articles and essays, numerous book reviews, and various other writings, such as "Transformations of Humanistic Studies in the 21st Century" in Religious Studies News (1998) and "The Messiness of Dying," in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (1999). With her commitment to scholarship, research, and writing, Cooey also devotes enormous time and energy to the teaching of undergraduate students. She is a creative and highly respected teacher, always seeking new ways to communicate with students. She received the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching and Campus Leadership in 1991; was codirector of the Southwest Regional American Academy of Religion Workshop on Teaching for Junior Faculty, funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Lilly Endowment (1994-96); and was the Trinity University nominee for the CASE award for outstanding teaching (1988).
She actively participates in professional organizations, serving in leadership roles in almost every group. These include the American Academy of Religion, the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the American Association of University Professors. In addition, she frequently presents papers, gives endowed lectures, and addresses diverse groups nationally and internationally. Referring to herself as an "itinerant teacher," she speaks and teaches in churches and in various community and civic settings.
Truly involved with her roots and her family, she frequently notes the intellectual, editorial, and personal contributions and support offered by her spouse, Philip Nichols, and her son, Benjamin. She also speaks of her grandparents and parents. In 1985 she poignantly described her grandparents, Mary Isabelle and Ora Irl Miller, who "helped me to see grace at work in the Bible and nature…. Together with Ora, [Mary] taught me to garden, milk cows, feed chickens, and candle eggs. With them I touched soil, held up earthworms for scrutiny, looked for rainbows on the Georgia horizon, and watched tornadoes cross the Oklahoma plains" (from Jonathan Edwards on Nature and Destiny). Later she would write in Family, Freedom, and Faith (1996), "Not a perfect family…. Our private stories, as opposed to our public faces, are sometimes stories of near defeat, temporary defeat, and finally the small triumphs that build slowly into survival and partial healing."
Religious Imagination and the Body: A Feminist Analysis (1994). Contributed to, among others: Created in the Image: Religious Values and the Shaping of Identity (audio & videocassette, 1994). Imagining Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard R. Niebuhr (1995). Dictionary of Feminist Theologies (1996).Horizons in Feminist Theology: Identity, Tradition, and Norms (1997). Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion (1998). No Easy Task: Dilemmas Confronting Contemporary Mothers (1999). The Liberating Spirit of Truth (1999).
Modern Theology (January 1993).
—LOIS A. BOYD