Gender and Religions Research Centre Seminar Series
Department of the Study of Religions, SOAS
Rm 336, 13:00-14:30
Friday, 4th May 2001
Sian Taylder, University of Weymouth
'Towards a Marian Theology of Sexual Liberation?'
The role of the Virgin Mary and the subject of female sexuality remain
contentious issues in contemporary Catholic theology. Orthodoxy would have
it that the two are wholly incompatible and indeed traditional
interpretations of the Virgin Mary are used to inculcate and reinforce
values of the ‘essential’ feminine – chastity, purity and obedience.
However, feminist theology acknowledges the contested imagery of the Virgin
and its appropriation by both the traditional/conservative political right
and those in the radical church. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in
Latin America, a continent conquered under the banner of the Virgin but
which now, through liberation theology, understands Mary as ‘Mother of God,
Mother of the Poor’. Many liberationists reject the concept of Mary’s
virginity, her regal imagery and the folkloric mysticism with which her
devotion has become imbued. The Church itself gives out mixed messages on
the role of Mary in contemporary Catholicism. The Second Vatican Council
attempted to rationalise belief and play down devotions to Mary and the
saints. Within the ‘popular’ church, however, particularly in Latin America,
Marian devotion remains a central tenet of Catholic faith throughout the
Church. Indeed, in Latin America Mary has eclipsed God the Father, his son
Jesus the Christ, the Holy Spirit and the rest of the communion of Saints as
the most important Catholic spiritual force for the popular masses.
This paper will argue that although both the Second Vatican Council and the
evolution of liberation theologies have been of undeniable benefit to women,
they can also be criticised as fundamentally androcentric in construct.
Their attempts at rationalising faith, ritual and liturgy have resulted in
the destruction of the intimate religious space and popular folklore shared
by many women in their marian devotion. Might it be possible, therefore, to
strip Mary of the negative qualities that patriarchy and misogyny have
assigned her and still retain those which have made her an intimate friend
to women, simultaneously as sister, mother and Queen? Is it possible to
reinterpret Mary’s virginity along the lines of Elisabeth A Johnson’s claim
that the virgin birth actually subverts patriarchy? Are mystical and
supernatural religious experiences inherently anti-feminist? Linking
medieval body theology and Latin American/Caribbean feminist theology, this
paper suggests that a Mariology of Sexual Liberation might lead to is a
deeper understanding of sexuality, one that is intimate and sensual, even
erotic, yet rejects the commodification and reduction of sex to nothing more
than a base element of capitalist reproduction. It also rejects the duality
of sexual experience as being either heterosexual or homosexual, suggesting
that both compulsory heterosexism and the ‘queering’ of the Church are
equally misguided. Reclaiming Mariology from androcentrism does not
automatically mean dismantling the popular culture that has been
accumulated, rather it is about redefining the relationship between the
sacred and profane.
All are welcome!
For more information contact Sian Hawthorne (tel: 020 7 898 4784; email:
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