Grace Marion Jantzen (1948-2006) was a Lesbian theologian and philosopher who addressed the violence implicit in Western society, especially in religion. Much of the dynamic of violence, she wrote, comes from an understanding of Christianity as a system obsessed with men, death, and resurrection while misrepresenting, ignoring, and even erasing women, life, birth, and the here-and-now. She is an intellectual and spiritual icon in feminist and LGBT communities.
Because she was Lesbian, Jantzen was able to do her critical analyses from implicit folk ethics of the LGBT community concerning tolerance, diversity, the body, sexuality, rejection of dogmatic thought, and nonviolence in ways that Straight philosophers could not. Jantzen also based much of her work on the writings of Michel Foucault, another LGBT icon who wrote from his lived experiences as a man oppressed because of his sexuality.
Julian of Norwich
Jantzen analyzed the works of Christian mystics, tracing how power and gender were understood within the context of encounter with the Divine. In particular, she was fascinated with Julian of Norwich, the 13th century English mystic who had 16 visions of Jesus when she was at the point of death from an illness. Julian spoke of Christ as a loving savior, implying that all would be saved because God’s love is greater than the sinfulness of humankind. Julian also portrayed Jesus-as-Mother Who feeds humanity with His blood. “All is well,” Jesus told her, “and all will be well,” a message that contradicted the pervasive Christian emphasis on damnation and the inherent depravity of humanity.
Julian of Norwich’s understanding of Jesus-as-Mother was not unique in Roman Catholic folk theology. One symbol for God in the Middle Ages was the female pelican feeding her young with her blood. This symbol is still current in Roman Catholic and Anglican iconography. What made Julian different was in the way she emphasized Jesus’ Motherhood over other, more patriarchal, descriptions.
Jantzen offered the term natality, a focus on birth as well as death, as a remedy to the “necrophilia” or death obsession of patriarchal Western constructs of reality. In her book, Grace Jantzen, Elaine Graham says the following about Jantzen’s philosophy:
at the heart of her work was a concern for the way in which a preoccupation with death and violence had distorted the Western cultural imagination, with corresponding pathological implications. She argued that the central symbolic of necrophilia – a morbid obsession with death, as much by its neurotic avoidance and displacement as its explicit veneration – infused virtually every aspect of Western thought. in particular, she regarded christianity’s veneration of a transcendent, disembodied, dispassionate God, its institutionalisation of a desire for other-worldly salvation as flight from immanent, material existence, serving as a major buttress to the ‘moral imaginary’ of death. Grace saw the exposure of the religious roots of violence as essential if Western culture was to come to a new understanding: a purely secular conception of culture, in which religion is ‘bracketed out’ of the public realm, would be incapable of addressing and rooting out the causes of the Western condition. Furthermore, the culture of death and violence was, in her view, implicitly but thoroughly gendered. an androcentric culture which defined its own exemplary understandings of virtue and human destiny around the assumption of violence and individualism as the norm, would inevitably determine such norms via the negation and subordination of their opposites – women, the feminine, nature – which represented to such a necrophilic culture the threat of contingency, embodiment and finitude.
Elaine L. Graham, Elaine L. Grace Jantzen 2009 Farnham UK: Ashgate. 2009.
Jantzen, Grace. Julian of Norwich. 1987.
Jantzen. Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion. 1989.
Jantzen. Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism. 1995.
Jantzen. Foundations of Violence. 2004.