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Issue Date:  June 3, 2005

Books from NCR authors

By Rosemary Radford Ruether
University of California Press, 358 pages, $27.50

In the 1950s NCR columnist Rosemary Ruether began to study goddesses of the ancient Near East and Greece. At the time, she was introduced to theories that ancient societies had originally been matriarchal and had “fallen” into patriarchy. In the 1970s she developed a class for the Harvard Divinity School based on a thesis, popular among feminists, that the archaeological discovery of figurines depicting female forms was proof of such woman-dominated societies. To her surprise, the students in the class -- almost all of them feminist women -- did not think the figurines expressed a positive view of women at all but thought that the fat, faceless, large-breasted female forms were exploitative and repellent. Their reaction, says Ruether, “made me aware that both of these responses are projections from our modern context and that neither view may have much to do with what the creators of these images actually had in mind.”

Goddesses traces female imagery of the divine throughout human civilization, starting with a critique of how feminist anthropologists have interpreted prehistoric relics to create the “pre-patriarchy” theory. The book then moves through Jewish and Christian treatments of feminine imagery (or the suppression thereof) and more modern feminist-oriented religions, such as the brand of Wicca practiced by Margaret Starhawk. “My hope is to further an alliance among the many forms of religious feminism, while recognizing that we are all reinterpreting ancient traditions and imagery whose ancient meaning is partly lost to us,” Ruether writes.

By Deborah Halter
The Crossroad Publishing Company, 300 pages, $24.95

Deborah Halter, a frequent NCR contributor, writes of The Papal “No”: “This book … is intended for anyone who wishes to understand Rome’s refusal to ordain women to the priesthood, but who lacks the theological background, access to academic works, or the vast amount of time necessary for extensive research.”

Her accessible compendium provides a summary and discussion of the major Vatican documents surrounding women’s ordination and the reaction to those documents by theologians, educators, bishops and lay people, mostly proceeding chronologically through the years since Vatican II. Along the way, The Papal “No” touches on canon law, the Vatican’s theology of women in general, a history of ordination in the Christian church and various events on the women’s ordination timeline, such as the 1970 ordination of Ludmila Javorová as a Roman Catholic priest in communist-controlled Czechoslovakia.

At the end of the book, Halter includes an appendix of 12 documents referenced in the book, such as the 1967 Inter Insigniores (“Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood”) and the 2002 “Decree on the Attempted Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women.”

After each chapter, Halter includes a reflection on the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who she says longed to be a priest throughout her life.

Edited by Neve Gordon
Lexington Books, 310 pages, $30

In his introduction to From the Margins of Globalization, Neve Gordon, NCR columnist and lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, reflects on how U.S. politics today marginalizes the discourse about human rights. The discussion, he says, must move back to the center. At the same time, human rights advocates themselves must “oppose hierarchical power relations” and thus remain on the margins of established governments in order to preserve their integrity.

This volume, part of the series Global Encounters: Studies in Comparative Political Theory, assembles nine essays by leading intellectuals and human rights activists on topics such as development and economic rights; globalization and the rights of stateless people; health rights, migrant workers and women’s health. Contributors include Etienne Balibar, professor of moral and political philosophy at the University of Nanterre, France; Mohammed Khatami, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Audrey Macklin, a former member of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board; and many others.

By Richard Thieme
Syngress Publishing, 336 pages, $29.95

This collection from Syngress publishing offers 144 of Richard Thieme’s “Islands in the Clickstream” columns that appeared on the Web between 1996 and 2004. After spending periods of his life as an English literature teacher and an Episcopal priest, Thieme was approached by a group of professional engineers to write a column about the Internet. The column soon was being accessed by thousands of readers. “Editing them into a printed book,” he cautions, “was translation from one medium to another. … I encourage readers to be mindful that the originals showed up on a monitor, glowing in the middle of the night, and reader and writer alike often felt each other’s presence through the spooky wires.”

Thieme, an occasional NCR contributor, provides an eclectic assortment of columns that draw from his experiences as a preacher, father and traveler and speculate on how human beings are being transformed by their interactions with technology. We are now living, he writes, in a “rich transitional time, when everything is obviously morphing.”

-- Antonia Ryan

National Catholic Reporter, June 3, 2005

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