The 'Julia Gillard' of theology

When Julia Gillard last week became Australia's first female Prime Minister, there was general acknowledgement that feminist history was being made. But attention on her gender was in the background, and there was certainly no discussion about her fitness for the job as a woman. This signifies community acceptance that it is right and proper for a woman to take on this role.

In a similar vein, Val Webb, who is featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV, is very comfortable and confident speaking as a theologian. She represents a growing acceptance of the female voice in the realm of Christian theology which, until very recently, was dominated by ordained men. Though women are still in the minority, increasingly they are stepping up and making themselves heard.

Webb's interview was recorded at the Common Dreams conference for religious progressives held in April at St Kilda Town Hall in Melbourne. She talks about our troubled modern times providing an opportunity for renewal of religion, the need for all believers to start 'doing' their own theology, and a new openness in recognising revelation in other religions. (Continues below)

Webb has had a multi-facetted career straddling science, business administration, the arts and theology. She was born and brought up in Brisbane in a Presbyterian home, and is now a member of the Uniting Church. Her first degree was in microbiology from the University of Queensland, and after graduating she worked as a researcher in this field.

For most of the last 30 years she has lived in Rochester, Minnesota, USA, where her husband was an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic. She owned and operated an art gallery in Rochester, as well as working as an artist.

Back in Brisbane in the 1980s she led the Communications and Public Relations department at the Wesley Hospital. She began courses in religious studies at the University of Queensland, and completed her PhD in theology at Luther Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota after her family returned to live in America.

She has taught religious studies at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College in the USA and at Whitley College in Melbourne, and has published half a dozen books including In Defense of Doubt and Why We're Equal: Introducing Feminist Theology.

Her latest book, Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, won the 'general religion' category of the USA Best Books Awards in 2007. Her next book, Stepping Out With the Sacred: Human Attempts to Engage the Divine, is due to be released at the end of 2010.

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Julia Gillard, Val Webb, Feminist Theology



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Existing comments

Food for thought and reflection
Seems like a lot better line of thinking

GAJ | 02 July 2010  

This topic is of great interest to the Church, and to me as a member of its body of Christ. We have been challenged to the core by questions of the abuse of sex and power. Now is the time to implement changes which are meaningful and effective in promoting propriety. However the main message I took away from World Youth Day's Mass in 2008 was that the priesthood of the laity must be renewed. I sat in a crowd of amazing people, yet there was no liturgical space for me to greet or meet any of them! We must take back the power that we are inclined to give to Church authority and ask the Church to be responsible with us for creating authentic human community.

Louise Jeffree, Kellyville | 02 July 2010  

There will be no true message of love and forgiveness in the name of Jesus in our catholic faith until women are given an equal status with men. The theology of Patriarchy is dying and the church is dying with it. We need to embrace each other in love and true justice. This means that women have as much right to be leaders as men do.

Peter Igoe-Taylor | 02 July 2010  


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