They sound like questions out of the 1970s: Should God still be called “father”? Does attributing fatherhood to God for centuries undermine the legitimacy of religious institutions and practices? Does this attribution valorize patriarchy in religious cultures as in secular cultures, with all the abuses and pathologies that entails? In light of religiously-sanctioned misogyny, must fatherhood images be abandoned or transformed?
Those were among the questions that prompted feminist theologian Mary Daly to pen her 1972 book Beyond God the Father, representing a high water mark in the interrogation of divine fatherhood. They are questions that arise in a specific context: Christianity in the United States and Europe. But what does it mean to ask anew about divine fatherhood in a context of secularity, and in a global context shaped by varied religious traditions? Patriarchy is not only a problem of 1970s Christian North America; its articulation in and across religious traditions, and in post-religious cultures, is perhaps equally or even more invidious.
We invited scholars from varied disciplinary backgrounds, with varied regional and religious expertise, to reflect on what it means to treat fathers as God-like and what it means to treat God as father-like. Are there unexpected ways that linking together gods and fathers—for example, through domestic violence at the family level, racial or colonial paternalism at the social level, and anthropomorphism at the theological level—produces specific pathological forms? What can the religious critique of idolatry learn from feminist theory and practice, and what is gained or lost when feminist critiques of patriarchy adopt a secular idiom? Are the erotics of divine fatherhood—from purity balls to lecherous “mentors” to Beyoncé’s ambiguous “Daddy”—amplified or deformed when divinity is repressed?
In short, the essays in this forum ponder: What would it mean to go “Beyond God the Father,” to again invoke Mary Daly’s title, in an ostensibly secular, post-Christian cultural context? Moreover, they query whether Daly’s imperative is relevant in cultural or religious contexts not (only) shaped by the legacy of Christianity. Motivated by the moral imperative to expose and disrupt the injustices that patriarchy entails, the essays that follow open lines of inquiry that we hope will be taken up broadly by scholars of religion and secularity.