NICOLA SLEE is widely recognised as a theologian and poet, and has been a formative influence on students at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham for more than 20 years. This collection of lectures, articles, sermons, reflective and meditative writing, and poetry claims attention both for the quality of the individual pieces that it includes, and for its articulation of a larger programme. The organisation of the book is a demonstration of what feminist practical theology is, and what it does. It speaks not only to researchers in this field, but also to those who have not yet joined the conversation.
Slee’s inaugural lecture on taking up the Queen’s Chair in Feminist Practical Theology in the Faculty of Religion and Theology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 2017 sets the compass. Here, she shows that what feminist practical theology offers to the investment of practical theology in “ordinary believers’ faith lives” is attention to “neglected voices” and voices drowned out by a dominant set of interests. Further sections illustrate feminist practical theology’s distinctive contribution to liturgy and prayer, spirituality, theological poetics, the practices of teaching, writing, reading, and research, and, finally, the business of imagining God.
Here, the skilful deployment of ethnographic and autoethnographic methods makes the research tools of practical theology a graceful counterpart to reflection that is personal and unsparingly honest. Discussion of the writing task illuminates its joys and the sense of failure which can overwhelm a project
Slee is acutely perceptive about the painful emergence of women’s theological voices out of academic environments in which they were taught to think like men. She is able to commend rigour in reading and writing, while also insisting on the spiritual dimension of these practices: they are to be lived in, not opportunistically engaged in for further ends. One of the most searing pieces in the volume is an essay written after a visit to Srebrenica with a group of women leaders from a number of faith groups and professions. Slee describes the force of her own emotions during encounters with survivors of brutal war crimes, accompanied by a strong sense of the obligation to “bear witness”.
In the final section of the book, three essays and a sermon reimagine the gendered identity of Christ, asking what it would have been like for Christ to come as a girl, meditating on Edwina Sandys’s Christa (Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York), dwelling with the idea of the “crucified Christa”, and turning finally to the neglected but vital spiritual wisdom and energy of old women. This is not writing for the faint-hearted; but those who dare to approach these controversial and emotive questions through Slee’s nuanced, intelligent, and generous treatment will find themselves in the hands of an expert guide.
Dr Bridget Nichols is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
Fragments for Fractured Times: What feminist practical theology brings to the table
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