Re-imagining Symbols

  • Carol P. Christ


Reflecting on his career as a philosopher, Charles Hartshorne acknowledged that “a purely philosophical religion has serious limitations. There have to be symbols.”1 Philosophical reflection expresses and shapes understanding, but it is through symbols— including images, prayers, songs, dances, movements, meditations, and rituals—that the insights of the mind become part of the feelings of the body and can be shared in community. Hartshorne agreed with feminists that a process understanding of the divine in the world cannot be expressed using traditional symbols of God as a dominating male other. When a feminist process paradigm makes it clear that the body and the changing world, relationship and interconnection have been undervalued in classical theism in part because they have been identified with the female side of the classical dualisms, it becomes apparent that re-imagining the divine as female is necessary. Precisely because femaleness has been identified with the body, nature, and relationship, female images of divinity have the metaphoric power to break the hold on the human imagination of traditional images of God as a dominant male living in a heaven separate from this earth.2 At the same time, female images for divine power should not be limited to expressing the stereotypically feminine side of divinity, for divine power is ultimately unified.


Female Body Ethical Action Female Image Process Understanding Religious Symbol 
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  1. 4.
    This view of archetypal psychologist Carl Jung, Psychological Reflections, ed. Jolande Jacobi (New York: Harper & Row, 1961)Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    This literature is widespread; see, for example, Susan Cady, Marian Ronan, and Hal Taussig, Sophia: The Future of Feminist Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986)Google Scholar
  3. Maria Pilar Aquino and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, eds., In the Power of Wisdom: Feminist Spiritualities of Struggle (London: SCM Press, 2000)Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    For a critique of the Sophia traditions, see Pamela J. Milne, “Voicing Embodied Evil: Gynophobic Images of Women in Post-Exilic Biblical and Intertestamental Text,” Feminist Theology 30 (May 2002), 61–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 10.
    See Sharanda Sugirtharajah, “Hinduism and Feminism: Some Concerns,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 18/2 (Fall 2002), 103–1Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    See Luisah Teish, Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    See Kay Turner, Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999).Google Scholar
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    See the introduction. “Morning Blessing” by Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996 [Boston: Beacon Press, 1999]), 10Google Scholar
  9. 27.
    I learned the Moon Salutation Meditation from Laura Cornell, used with permission of Laura Cornell. See her The Moon Salutation: Expression of the Feminine in Body, Psyche, Spirit (Oakland, CA: Yogeshwari Publications, 2000)Google Scholar

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© Carol P. Christ 2003

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  • Carol P. Christ

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