Studia Swedenborgiana

Vol. 13 June,  2003 Number 1 

Distinguishably One: Envisioning a Confluence of Feminist and Swedenborgian Theology

by Kimberly M. Hinrichs

Christian feminism in the twenty-first century has assumed a creatively dynamic tension of finding new voice and new hope within a tradition which historically has not shared its values.  This tension has energized feminist theologians to reveal the voices of women in the Bible, to uncover the lost stories of women in the church, and to re-articulate the meaning of the Christian story for female hearers today.  Christian feminists are people who discern where their tradition has not supported women and yet who nonetheless continue to find their faith meaningful and the traditions which have formed them to be valuable.  Thus, a new voice is heard and a new project begun: to interpret Christianity in a way that advocates the full humanity of women.

            Most Swedenborgians have been influenced, challenged and changed by the feminist movement.  The General Convention of the Swedenborgian Church ordained its first female minister in 1975, and since then several other women have been ordained and are leading successful ministries.  Lay women also have had increasingly influential leadership roles in the church over the past several decades.  There is no doubt that the worship services, ministries, theology, church life and ways of doing business as a denomination have changed in response to the ways that women and their roles have changed, and by extension, the ways that men and their roles have changed.

            And yet, there has been relatively little dialog between Swedenborgian and feminist theology.  The history of the Swedenborgian Church includes some leaders who opposed the women's suffrage movement, some who opposed the ordination of women, and many others who have harmfully distorted a spiritual understanding of women's experience.  In the Swedenborgian branch known as the General Church of the New Jerusalem, the ordination of women is still prohibited.[1]  But since feminist thought has asserted its rightful place in society, law, business, academia and theology, I suggest it is time for it to take its place within Swedenborgianism as well.

            This article is an effort to bring Swedenborgian theology into dialog with feminist theology with the hope of articulating a Swedenborgian theology that can conscientiously speak to women's experience.  By its very nature, feminism questions the assumptions by which we all live, men and women.  It seeks to bring humanity into greater health and wholeness by building a world founded on principles of partnership and relationship rather than on dominance and power.  My conviction is that such a project is as liberating for men as it is for women, and as such it is not a concern for women only, a special-interest issue to which men can turn a blind eye. 

I share Rosemary Radford Ruether's belief that "whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of women must be presumed not to reflect the divine or an authentic relation to the divine, or to reflect the authentic nature of things, or to be the message or work of an authentic redeemer or a community of redemption."[2]  Conversely, whatever does affirm the full humanity of women and men reflects the divine authentically as well.

I believe that Swedenborgian theology inherently values the spiritual health and wholeness of all people, and as such it naturally holds the same core values as feminist theology.  However, there are ways in which Swedenborg's writings do not support the full humanity of women, and there are ways our tradition has been handed down to us which have not—and to this day are not—redemptive for women.  I believe that the theology of our church is and should be empowering to all.  It should allow a framework for individuals to express themselves in ways that allow them to live their full humanity. 

This article is an attempt to identify both the barriers and opportunities within the Swedenborgian tradition toward building a Swedenborgian feminism.  In this project I rely primarily on the work of Rosemary Radford Ruether as a lens through which to view the values of feminist theology.  Ruether was an early pioneer of the feminist theology movement and remains a foremost scholar in the field.  Considering the significant work that other feminist theologians have produced and how it might be juxtaposed with Swedenborgian thought is another project outside the boundaries of this article.  After discussing the notion of "reconstruction," I will offer a brief outline of the feminist movement in society, theology and spirituality.  Then, in Part One II will offer some feminist critiques to the Swedenborgian theology and tradition.  In Part III I will name some of the ways Swedenborgian theology is naturally harmonious with feminist values, and I will propose several approaches toward constructing a Swedenborgian feminism.  What follows is not a full treatment but merely a sketch.  It is offered as the first word, not the last word, of a Swedenborgian dialog on feminist theology.


Part I: Laying the Groundwork

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

            Moving toward a Swedenborgian feminist theology requires a deconstruction of traditional Swedenborgian theology.  However, as a committed person of faith within this tradition, I cannot engage in deconstruction without at the same time engaging in reconstruction.  But according to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, "Reconstruction signifies taking a theory apart and putting it back together again in a new form in order to attain more fully the goal it has set for itself."[3]  As Habermas states, the true goal of reconstruction should be that through it, one may arrive at an embodiment of the principles that is actually more true to its original goal than previous assumptions allowed.  My conviction is that the core values of Swedenborgian theology are redemptive and liberating for women.  However, these inherent principles have not been emphasized and proclaimed in the way that Swedenborgian theology has traditionally been expressed.  Conversely, what has been explicitly proclaimed has often not been constructive for the development of women's fullest potential.  What I propose, therefore, is an inquiry into the Swedenborgian tradition which is at the same time loving and critical, with the hope that through this process we may arrive more fully at embracing true Swedenborgian theology itself.


The Feminist Project in Theology and Spirituality: Some Background

            Some might argue that as long as there have been women, there has been a women's movement.  Women have always been involved in the creation and sustenance of culture.  However, Western culture has its roots in a social structure which is patriarchal in nature—that is, a culture in which males have had authority over females.   We see this culture portrayed in the oldest stories of the Bible.  Males own property and are eligible for citizenship; marriage contracts are negotiated between fathers and sons-in-law; social laws dictate that inheritance pass down through male family lineage; the leaders of society are male; males speak and are spoken to; males are usually named and are usually the protagonists of stories; God is male.  For most of Western history, males have been the agents of history and women have been the managers of the domestic sphere.  Prevented from being educated, owning property or business, consumed with the all-encompassing demands of subsistence, and lacking access to systems of recognition and publication, by and large women's voices and lives have not been part of the historical record of our culture. 

The modern feminist movement in the United States began in the mid-nineteenth century and crystallized around the issue of a woman's right to vote.  In a country founded on the ideal of "equality" among individuals, it is startling to realize that the battle for women's suffrage was fought for some seventy years and was not actually won until 1920.  In 1923, a bill was introduced into Congress which proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee the equal rights of women[4].  It later became known as the Equal Rights Amendment, and to this day it has still not been ratified by the necessary two-thirds of U.S. state legislatures in order to become law[5].  However, the twentieth century brought great changes for women.  World War II ironically opened up the workforce for women as so many men were called up for duty overseas and labor was needed to support the war effort at home.  The great gains and improvements in technology over the twentieth century served as a major force of liberation for women, whose lives became more and more freed from the time-consuming demands of domestic chores.  The modern feminist movement ignited in the 1960s in conjunction with the civil rights movement. The "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s allowed women and men to begin to question traditional gender roles and the institution of marriage itself.  A landmark event occurred with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, which by legalizing abortion sanctioned the ability for a woman to have control over her reproductive life.  At the turn of the twenty-first century there is increasing discussion of sexual identity and a growing acceptance of sexualities which move beyond the heterosexual norm.  This shift further questions and challenges traditional expectations for women and men.  Today, women have still not achieved equality with men in positions of leadership in our society.  The women's movement has complexified to address issues related to sexuality, race and class, ecology, non-violence and the very notion of power itself.   Many women are no longer seeking to win equality with men, but instead to change the very assumptions we live with which perpetuate models of dominance and submission. 

Throughout history, human beings have tried to understand what it means to be female and male, and what it means to be in relationship to ourselves and to each other.  Women and men are different, there is no denying it.  We are in a process of understanding just how we are different, and what difference it makes to how we live our lives and to how we approach God.

Feminist theology began in the 1960s, strongly influenced by the secular feminist movement and by liberation theology.  Liberation theology had its founding in that same decade with the Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez.  His work sought to articulate the Christian message through his own context as a Latin American Roman Catholic.  He argued that the economic and political dependence of Latin America itself conditioned his understanding of Christian theology.  In doing so he offered a challenge to traditional Christian theologians who had always interpreted God, humanity and Christ from an Anglo-European perspective.  Liberation theology made visible this persistent yet invisible contextualizing of Christian theology, and at the same time it offered a radically new interpretation of Christian theology—one whose voice came out of and spoke to a particular people living in a particular context.  Liberation theology emphasizes the prophetic voices of liberation from oppression in the Bible, as well as the radical acts of liberation of Jesus himself.[6]

One of the significant results of the work of liberation theologians was that other people in other contexts began to ask how they might find their own voices as well in the Christian story.  In concert with the women's movement, feminist theology began to take shape.  Feminist theology is multi-faceted and resists generalization.  It encompasses a wide diversity of voices, agendas and debates.  Some feminist theologians seek to work within the Christian tradition to redefine a system of thought that is empowering to women.  Others have found Christianity to be so infused with patriarchy as to be no longer redemptive for women.  Still others seek to use feminist theology in living community which is informed by, but not limited to, traditional theology.[7]  This article is allied with those in the first category—Christian feminists who both retain the meaningfulness of the tradition and who at the same time seek to reform it.

Christian feminism may be seen to have the following characteristics.[8]  It involves a consciousness and critique of misogyny wherever it occurs in the Bible and in theology.  It identifies these traditions as non-redemptive for women and thus as non-normative for all people.  It involves a critique of androcentrism, i.e., the assumption that the normative human being is male, which renders the female as invisible.  Rosemary Radford Ruether writes,

"The uniqueness of feminist theology lies not in its use of the criterion of experience but rather in its use of women's experience, which has been almost entirely shut out of theological reflection in the past.  The use of women's experience in feminist theology, therefore, explodes as a critical force, exposing classical theology, including its codified traditions, as based on male experience rather than on universal human experience.  Feminist theology makes the sociology of theological knowledge visible, no longer hidden behind mystifications of objectified divine and universal authority."[9]


Feminist theology is also concerned with seeking out an alternative tradition to what has usually been assumed.  Feminist theologians seek to uncover and confirm the actual participation of women in the history of Christianity.  In addition, they seek theological viewpoints and images from history that incorporate the female.  If Christian feminist theologians are concerned with the "deconstruction" of traditional Christian theology, they are also committed to the "reconstruction" of theological symbols and the history of the tradition by re-interpreting and re-claiming theology, worship, female images of the divine and women's leadership in the church.  Swedenborgian feminist theologians might consider adopting some of these same principles and goals with which to approach the Swedenborgian tradition, with the conviction that by affirming Swedenborgian theology as redemptive for women, we more successfully embrace the deep tenets and values of Swedenborgianism itself. 

Feminist spirituality is a separate but related area of study to feminist theology which has come into being in the last couple of decades.  In general, feminist spirituality is concerned with how and in what ways women approach God, understand themselves as spiritual beings, and live their faith.  Sandra Schneiders defines feminist spirituality this way: "[it is] the reclaiming by women of the reality and power, designated by the term 'spirit' and the effort to reintegrate spirit and body, heaven and earth, culture and nature, eternity and time, public and private, political and personal, in short, all those hierarchized dichotomous dualisms whose root is the split between spirit and body and whose primary incarnation is the split between male and female."[10]  As we can see, women's spirituality, like feminist theology, is almost by definition counter-cultural.  It notices the ways traditional theology and spirituality do not work for women and seeks to change the tradition—in ways that can be quite far-reaching—in order to affirm the health and wholeness of women's experience.  The by-product of feminist theology and spirituality is that by deconstructing traditional assumptions, it also deconstructs traditionally restrictive roles for men, and it paves the way for both women and men to live in greater freedom and wholeness.


Part II.  Feminist Theology & Swedenborg: The Challenges

            In bringing together feminist and Swedenborgian theology, I would first like to identify several potential points of disagreement or tension.  In Part Three I will similarly point out several points of consonance, and will identify opportunities for constructing a Swedenborgian feminism.  The first step in reconstruction, however, is to regard one's tradition with a critical consciousness, and it is in this spirit that I now pose some challenges to Swedenborgian theology.


1. Swedenborg's Androcentrism

The vast majority of Swedenborg's writings are equally applicable to—and equally redemptive for— women as men.  However, there are passages within Swedenborg's writings which do not assert the full equality of women.  While he was an extraordinary visionary and theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg was also a man who was conditioned by the 18th-century context in which he lived.  It was a context in which men were educated and held positions of leadership, and in which women were rarely educated and were mainly occupied with the domestic sphere of life.  Swedenborg was unable to distinguish, at times, between the social reality of the gender divisions of his time and the spiritual reality of gender difference.  Particularly in his book Conjugial Love, Swedenborg extrapolates the differences he perceives between men and women into essential, timeless spiritual qualities in a way that I believe can have unfortunate consequences for contemporary women and men.

Two illustrative passages from the writings will clarify.  In Conjugial Love, Swedenborg explains that the two essential qualities of the divine, love and wisdom, exist in women and men respectively.  Men possess rational and moral wisdom, knowledge and intelligence.  He enumerates all the various specialty skills, professional skills and academic disciplines through which men's wisdom can be developed.  Men also possess moral wisdom, through such qualities of character as temperance, benevolence, alacrity, intrepiditity, love of religion, truth, faith, justice and judgment.  Women possess similar qualities as well, but are unable to embody them fully except through conjunction with their husbands.  Swedenborg writes,

"The conjunction of the wife with the rational wisdom of the man is from within, because this wisdom is peculiar to the understanding of men, and ascends into a light in which women are not, which is the reason why women do not speak from this wisdom, but in the company of men when such matters are discussed are silent and only listen.  That nevertheless these things are with wives, from within, is manifest from their listening, and from the fact that inwardly they recognize them and favor what they hear and have heard from their husbands."[11]


This passage clearly contains sentiments that are not in accord with modern attitudes about the role of women.  Today, rather than believing that women need to access specific knowledge or character traits from union with their husbands, we see that women may access the full range of human and spiritual wisdom as individuals in their own right.  Women are able to be independent, strong, unmarried, and by all means vocal.

            Swedenborg's Spiritual Diary is a work that is not included in the canon of his theological works, but it does provide invaluable insight into Swedenborg's emotional and psychological state of mind.  It is also a reminder of Swedenborg's culturally conditioned perspective.  Included in the Spiritual Diary is one of Swedenborg's strongest statements about women.

"Women who think in the way men do on religious subjects, and talk much about them, and still more if they preach in meetings, do away with the feminine nature, which is affectional; owing to which they must be with married men: they also become material, so that affection perishes and their interiors are closed.  They also begin to develop a tendency, as regards the thoughts, to take up with crazes; which takes place because the affection, being then destroyed, causes the intellectual to be crazy.  In outward form, indeed, they are still able to appear like other women.  In a word, they become sensual in the last degree.  Woman belongs to the home; and she [becomes] of a different nature where [she engages in] preaching."[12]


It is obvious that this passage is harmful to women and that it contains sentiments that are long out-of-date with our culture.  Today we encourage women's leadership, believing that their public voices are powerful and necessary.  We do not see a division between affection and intellect.  Perhaps the best response to this passage comes from Dorothea Harvey, the first ordained female minister in the General Convention of Swedenborgian Churches.  In 1973, when told by a male minister that he did not intend to vote for her ordination because it would make her crazy (quoting the above passage), Dorothea responded that he needn't worry because her intention was to preach like a woman, not like a man![13] 

We need to acknowledge that Swedenborg's time was very different from ours, and that he understood women very differently from the way we do now.  When we read Swedenborg we must keep his cultural context in mind.


2. Masculine Language for the Divine

            One of the basic projects feminists have undertaken for decades is the move away from signifiers within our language that males are the normative humans, and that by referring to males one can be assumed to be referring to females as well.  Thus in  contemporary English  publications it is no longer conventional to use "he" and "him" as universal personal pronouns.  In religion, too, the move toward inclusive language in worship and theology has been going on for decades.

            In the Standard Edition of Swedenborg's theological writings, we read Swedenborg in an English translation which used the first person male pronoun throughout, as was the convention at the time of its translation.  This can easily give the reader the impression that Swedenborg's writings are androcentric.  In Swedenborg's original Latin text, however, he uses the gender-neutral word homo when referring to persons generally and only employs the word vir when referring specifically to a male.  We are beginning to read Swedenborg completely differently as the New Century Edition translations are being published.  In these editions we can read the text in its original gender-neutral style.  Translation scholar Jonathan Rose has stated that to read Swedenborg in the original Latin is to uncover a beauty and poetry that does not come through previous translations, and which, to Rose, speak to a "feminine" quality of the writings.[14]  It is encouraging to remember this quality of Swedenborg's original Latin which for the most part was not gender-specific.

            Another issue related to masculine language for the divine exists in the Swedenborgian tradition: the use of the word "Lord."  "Lord" is an ancient word for the divine, originating with the biblical Hebrew "Adonai" as a form of addressing the God whose name could not be spoken aloud in ancient Jewish religion.  Swedenborg uses the term extensively in his writings, and in his distinctive usage he combines its meaning to refer to God and Jesus Christ at once.  As such, it is a very meaningful term for Swedenborgians and it is commonplace in many Swedenborgians' everyday conversations about spirituality.   

While this term may rightly continue to carry significant spiritual meaning for people, the word "Lord" also carries with it problematic connotations for others.  The word "Lord" is rooted in an antiquated social class system in which  one superior male being had dominion over others.  It was a time in which social systems were strictly hierarchical and power frequently was used inappropriately.  The notion of justice for all was not upheld, if even it was ever conceived.  God's power indicates a divine plan for human creation (divine providence), an intimate and caring love for all humans, and the gift of human free will so that we may come to know God through our own volition.  This "power" speaks both to the essential reality of existence as well as to the fact that God's love loves creation.  In God's relationship with humanity, what reigns supreme is God's love and care for his "subjects," and in this way it actually represents an inversion of the typical master/servant relationship.  In short, power of God's love is distinctly different than the power of a Lord over his servants.  In the present context, we may ask whether we wish to encourage the representation of the relationship between God and human beings in a way that may not be the best description of Swedenborgian theological understanding of this relationship. 

            In step with moving away from male-centered language should also be the effort to include more female-oriented language and imagery in our spirituality and worship.  By doing so we might move toward a conscientious reflection that human beings have been made in the image of God, female and male.  In this way we can move toward a point where all people might find themselves reflected and empowered in our spirituality and worship.


3. The Heterosexism of the Conjugial Love Ideal

            Swedenborg's book Conjugial Love reflects some of the most dynamic and central concepts of Swedenborgian theology, and yet it also contains some of the most perplexing and complicated issues related to women.  In this section and the next, I present two of the greatest challenges within Conjugial Love to Swedenborgian feminist theology.  The first is the concept of conjugial love between a man and a woman.

            In Conjugial Love, Swedenborg describes the spiritual marriage between a man and a woman as the highest form of spiritual evolution. 

"¡¦the conjugial of one man with one wife is the precious treasure of human life, and the repository of the Christian religion¡¦ because the quality of a man's life is such as is the quality of this love in him, for this makes the inmost of his life, for it is the life of wisdom cohabitating with its love, and of love cohabitating with its wisdom, and is therefore the life of the delights of both.  In a word, man is a living soul through this love.  Hence it is that the conjugial love of one man with one wife is called the precious treasure of human life."[15]


According to Swedenborg, this conjugial love between a man and a woman holds such a high place in spiritual reality because through this lived experience one may experience the conjunction of the two essential qualities of the divine— love and wisdom.

            It is a strength of the Swedenborgian tradition that in the conjugial love concept, Swedenborgian spirituality is able to speak to marriage as a component of spiritual growth.  However, it is also important to recognize that the conjugial love concept as described by Swedenborg refers specifically to heterosexual marriage relationships.  There is a danger in holding up the ideal of conjugial love as a pinnacle of spiritual development for several reasons.  One is that it can make single people and gay and lesbian people feel that some kind of inner sanctum of spirituality is by definition inaccessible to them.  Many people choose not to unite with the opposite sex, and yet they lead fulfilling lives.  Our theology needs to affirm homosexuality as a true expression of God's creation and love.  It also needs to encourage spiritual wholeness for all those who are not married.  Second, to uphold marriage love as an ideal can be profoundly confusing for married people themselves whose marriages do not function as spiritually transcendent.  Such an ideal can make most ordinary people feel that they have failed miserably if their marriages are not a source of deep spirituality as Swedenborg might propose.  Third, the ideal of conjugial love may perpetuate the age-old belief that a woman is not complete until united with a man.  To a lesser degree, the converse can also be limiting—that a man is not complete until married to a woman.  We need to be aware of these potential dangers in perpetuating the conjugial love ideal in the twenty-first century, and to speak and teach about these ideas with extreme sensitivity and reflection.


4. The Conjugial Principle as a Gendered Concept

            The conjugial principle can refer to the union of a man and a woman, but it functions much more importantly as a broad metaphysical concept in Swedenborgian thought.  In this sense, it refers to the conjunction of love with wisdom, of the spiritual with the natural, of God with humanity, and as such is perhaps the most basic underlying concept of Swedenborgian theology.  Calvin Turley writes, "as a symbol, the conjugial principle points to the creative energy inherent within all of God's 'bringing into being,' the Divine Motive for the existence of the universe."[16]  The conjugial principle is a central and dynamic concept which, as we will see in Part III, contains many opportunities for feminist reconstruction.  However, there is one aspect of the traditional interpretation of the conjugial principle which warrants special attention.

            In Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg describes the conjunction of love and wisdom as a basic and essential characteristic of creation.  In Conjugial Love, a book which specifically addresses sexuality, Swedenborg extrapolates these two qualities of the divine as corresponding to the two genders.  He writes,

"The distinction [between masculine and feminine] essentially consists in the fact that in the male the inmost is love and its clothing is wisdom, or what is the same, he is love veiled over with wisdom; and that in the female the inmost is that wisdom of the male, and its clothing is the love therefrom.  But this love is feminine love and is given by the Lord to the wife through the wisdom of the husband; and the former love is masculine love, and is the love of growing wise, and is given by the Lord to the husband according to his reception of wisdom.  It is from this that the male is the wisdom of love, and the female is the love of that wisdom."[17]


This passage presents a number of problematic issues.  In it we find Swedenborg's basic description that men represent love in the interior and wisdom on the exterior.  Their wisdom is given to them directly from God.  Women, on the other hand, represent their husband's wisdom on the interior and the love of their husband's wisdom on the exterior.  It is very interesting to note that Swedenborg, who was so fond of scientifically ordered categories, describes an un-balanced system when referring to gender.  A balanced system might ascribe the two qualities of the divine in reverse order to each gender.  However, Swedenborg avoids this formulation in order to insist that women's spiritual qualities are dependent on their husbands.

            In Swedenborgian culture, this understanding of gender has had far-reaching implications.  Passages like these have been read historically by Swedenborgians to justify the opposition to women's suffrage and ordination.  In everyday parlance among Swedenborgians of all ecclesiastical branches, one hears common reference to the idea that men represent wisdom and women represent love.  The issue of gender is a complex and controversial subject, a Pandora's Box which I do not wish to break open in this article.  However, we need to ask ourselves whether it helps or hinders women to believe that femininity is primarily associated with love, affection and care.  Does it help or hinder men to believe that masculinity is primarily associated with wisdom, understanding and intellectual acuity?  My belief is that these categories of human experience should not be associated in any way with gender.  As males and females, we are all complex human beings who have at our disposal a vast range of emotions and abilities.  Ruether refers to the criticism of gender complementarity theories such as Swedenborg's when she writes, "feminists have sought to define an enlarged understanding of the human that unites all human qualities in a transformed whole and to define journeys of growth into wholeness for women and men by which each can reclaim those lost parts of themselves that have been assigned to the other sex."[18]  However, Ruether also acknowledges the fundamentally treacherous issues surrounding gender studies when she continues, "But questions of how women are different¡¦from men, while at the same time being equal and possessing the same humanness as a basis for equal rights in society, continue to plague feminist anthropology."[19]  A Swedenborgian feminist theology needs to carefully consider questions of gender in the current context.  We need to speak of Swedenborg's concepts of gender with sensitivity, understanding that while they may function as empowering to some, they may function also as limiting to others.


5. The Hierarchy of Theological Concepts

            While feminists in general seek to transcend structures of dominance and oppression in society and tradition, some have extended this concern to the very structure of theological categories themselves.  They point out that traditional Christian theology begins with God the Father who presides over Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This Trinitarian God-head is then seen to have dominion over human beings, who in turn have dominion over animals and the earth.  Systematic theologies which encompass human nature, evil, sin and salvation are then constructed out of these basic assumptions about the imbalance of power in core theological concepts.  Ruether states, "[feminist theology] must question the model of hierarchy that starts with non-material spirit (God) as the source of the chain of being and continues down to nonspiritual 'matter' as the bottom of the chain of being and the most inferior, valueless, and dominated point in the chain of command."[20]  Ruether proposes that it is theologies such as these which lie at the root of the perceived split between spirit and body which has persisted in Christianity for centuries.  Feminists have seen a link between this dualistic conceptualization of existence and the oppression of women, since women have traditionally been linked with the natural rather than the transcendent.

            As Swedenborgians, we may give some thought as to whether to accept this feminist critique of hierarchalized theological categories.  Regardless, it does pose some thought-provoking challenges.  Swedenborgian theology is supremely hierarchical, with the Divine being the essence and form which flows into all inert matter and gives it life.  This theological concept can reinforce the belief that not only is the spiritual completely superior to the natural, but that the natural lacks fundamental integrity.  This belief, in turn, can serve to place higher value on those experiences which are intellectual, mystical and transcendent, and less value to the kinds of knowledge we may hold within our bodies and to our physical experience of life in general.  To denigrate the natural is to justify oppressive behavior toward forms of creation that are perceived as "lower" than the spiritual.  There can be a lack of understanding of the fundamental integrity of the ecological interdependence of our existence on earth, and this can result in a dismissal or ignorance of ecological concerns.  In addition, this kind of hierarchy can justify an ignorance of the information, cycles and wisdom that the human body naturally carries within it and which, if tapped, can be an importance source of self-knowledge for women in particular.  The critique of hierarchized theological concepts is one which Swedenborgian feminists may wish to examine more carefully in the future in order to speak to the revelatory aspects of the physical dimensions of our existence.               


6. The Limitations of Spiritual Exegesis

            Christian feminists everywhere work within the ongoing tension of trying to transform a tradition whose central source of authority—the Bible—is unmistakably patriarchal in character.  Thus, biblical hermeneutics are a core concern.  Most modern Christian feminists have resolved the tension by asserting that the central theme of the Bible is its prophetic message.  This prophetic message, found in both testaments and embodied profoundly in the acts of Jesus, proclaims the coming of a new age which will transcend and replace the current systems of oppression and injustice.  This reading of the Bible is understood as normative, the standard against which all other readings are to be based, and leads to a foundational affirmation of what some feminist theologians call "the radical impulse of biblical faith."[21]  In other words, true biblical faith is understood to be nothing other than one which supports the end of oppression for all people.  This belief found powerful expression in the civil rights movement and operates today as a source of empowerment for "marginalized" Christian communities all over the world.

            While Swedenborgians can certainly support the prophetic reading of the Bible, we do not naturally begin with it.  Our hermeneutic is based on Swedenborg's spiritual reading of the Bible in which we uncover a layer of meaning behind the literal sense of the text through the language of correspondences.  In this way we read the Bible on multiple levels: as the story of the individual spiritual growth or regeneration process; as the glorification process of Jesus Christ; as the spiritual history of the world.  When Swedenborgians read the Bible, we tend to ask what spiritual wisdom it contains which can help people grow closer to God.  We may need to ask whether our hermeneutic tends to speak to the individual more so than to communities, and we may need to ask what effect our hermeneutic has in speaking to marginalized groups. 

For feminists in particular, spiritual readings of the Bible which bypass the literal sense of misogynist passages can be seen as irresponsible.  For a woman to read the story of the rape of Dinah and then to hear that it signifies the conjunction of truth with an affection for truth[22] is a dismissal of the fact of violence against women and by implication, a dismissal of the spiritual value of the woman in the story, the women who are hearers of it, and all women.  For women who might themselves be survivors of sexual abuse (approximately one in three women are[23]), a spiritual reading of these kinds of passages could push them clearly away from their spiritual growth and recovery process rather than toward it.  Interpretations of misogynist texts must always include an admission of the impermissible violation they describe.  Is there room within a Swedenborgian biblical hermeneutic to find the prophetic voice?  Might we encourage a multi-layered reading of biblical passages which would include correspondential meaning with meaning derived from the literal sense?  As we will see in Part III, I think these and other resources from our tradition will allow us to embrace a wider Swedenborgian hermeneutic.


Part III.  Reconstruction: Opportunities for Building a Swedenborgian Feminism

            Now that we have posed some challenges to Swedenborgian theology in the spirit of deconstruction, it is time to turn our attention toward the reconstructive project.  I hold the conviction that the core values of Swedenborgian theology are naturally harmonious with feminist theology.  In order to bring our tradition more fully into dialog with feminist theology, we need to identify and articulate those values.  Below I suggest five approaches toward constructing a truly Swedenborgian feminism.


1. Understanding Emanuel Swedenborg in Context

            Basic to doing twenty-first-century Swedenborgian theology should be a conscious effort to understand Swedenborg in the eighteenth-century context in which he lived.  Acknowledging this context allows us to understand Swedenborg's writings through the filter of his time and opens the door for us to see ourselves as equally culturally conditioned.  With this perspective we can then adopt a discerning consciousness when deciding how to use Swedenborg's writings in modern-day contexts for theology and ministry.  In adopting the role of interpreter of Swedenborg's writings, we may empower ourselves to continue to preach and teach on Swedenborg's writings, and we may also give ourselves the ability to leave behind those aspects of Swedenborg's work that proscribe women's roles, pass over women's experience, or in short do not affirm the full humanity of women.  As interpreters of Swedenborg we acknowledge that Swedenborg did not have the last word on all things, for all time.  He was not omniscient and his theology does not speak to all human conditions.  We do, however, have the ability to give Swedenborg's revelation ongoing new life as we interpret it for new and ever-changing contexts for the purpose of drawing people closer to God.

            Understanding Swedenborg in context also means understanding the conventions he transcended in his own work and their importance.  One intriguing aspect of Swedenborg's character was that he was simultaneously a scientist, a mystic and a theologian.  Surviving today are Swedenborg's spiritual diaries, dream journals, and portions of his theological writings which contain "memorable relations," or descriptions of his experiences in the spiritual world.  Jonathan Rose refers to the memorable relations when he writes, "in the chronology of the Writings, a poetical, right-brained, feminine side of the Writings asserts itself more and more over time."[24]  These present a unique and almost unselfconscious combination of the scientific and spiritual which is rare today and which can serve as a model for how we might incorporate these two very distinct aspects of our epistemology.  Instead of separating out the "intellectual" from the "mystical," Swedenborg naturally combined these two ways of knowing in a way that showed that each is  valid, real and important.  These multiple ways of knowing would be celebrated by proponents of women's spirituality today who seek to integrate the many different layers of cognition, self-knowledge and transcendence that we all experience in our journeys toward God.

            Another realization that comes with acknowledging Swedenborg's cultural context is the degree to which his ideas were bold and sweeping challenges to the Lutheran faith of his time.  Christianity today has naturally evolved in some quarters to adopt many of the same values that Swedenborg held.  However, in his time, his ideas were radical.  We can appreciate and embrace the prophetic voice of Swedenborg himself if we understand his context.

            A final note about context goes back to the controversial book Conjugial Love.  This book in particular demands to be read in context.  In this way, we might better understand the points Swedenborg was trying to convey about sexuality and morality, about gender and about romantic love.  What's more, if we examine Conjugial Love in context we might better appreciate its radical voice, for to reckon head-on with issues of sexuality, spirituality and theology in 18th-century Sweden was to be ground-breaking indeed.  Swedenborg addressed these issues with a perspective that was far ahead of his time.  Though we may find that we no longer wish to adopt his specific pronouncements about sexual behavior (the fact that it is permissible for a married man to take a mistress, for example), we may wish to carry on his legacy of acknowledging human sexuality as part of our God-given nature and as an essential element of our lives as spiritual beings.


2. A Re-Interpretation of the Conjugial Principle

            I believe that Swedenborgian feminism needs to carefully reconsider some of the concepts from Conjugial Love which seem to have carried on a life of their own within our tradition.  Central to a Swedenborgian feminist theology, I suggest, should be a re-interpretation of the conjugial principle.  I propose that this re-interpretation begin with four constructive approaches: 1) a reconsideration of Swedenborg's descriptions of gender; 2) an affirmation of the conjugial principle as basic to all life; 3) an understanding of the conjunction of goodness and truth as a prophetic impulse toward wholeness; and 4) an acceptance of the androgyny of God.

            As we have seen above, Swedenborg believed there was a correspondence between the two essential aspects of God and the two genders, with men corresponding in general to wisdom and women corresponding in general to love.  Swedenborg's confluence of gender with spirituality has some clear merit.  In essence, it affirms our need as human beings for the male and the female as well as our need for each other.  No matter what our marital state or sexual orientation, we all need the opposite gender.  However, I believe that Swedenborg's descriptions of gender are too strict and too limiting for healthy individuals.  We need to free up our understanding of what women and men can be.  We need to understand gender as not just corresponding to biology, but as existing in creative, dynamic interplay within all of us.  To be sure, some women and men find a reality of spiritual marriage in the natural world, but it does us all a disservice if we hold this strict heterosexual ideal of marriage as normative.  What is normative is not the union of the male and female per se, but the conjunction of two essential parts of a whole—love and wisdom, esse and existere—which have been split apart.

            Other Swedenborgian writers have also spoken to this notion of the male and female referring to qualities within individuals.  Dorothea Harvey writes, "'Male' and 'Female' are symbols for the love and wisdom in all human beings and entities.  The man and the woman partners are the effigies or symbols of the fact that no person, no aspect of reality, can exist that is not a living combination of love and wisdom.  Thus, each man and each woman is a 'marriage' of wisdom and love."[25]  Harvey suggests that the notion of spiritual marriage be best understood as occurring within each one of us rather than (or in addition to) between a man and a woman.  James Lawrence refers to the same idea when he writes, "since both masculine and feminine principles already exist within our individual psychic structure as a necessary inner soil for merging with another person, the possibilities within the conjugial attraction dynamic are considerably wider than the broad center (heterosexuality) has frequently assumed."[26]  Thus, I suggest that one way the conjugial principle between female and male be reconsidered is as operative within individuals.

            The second component of re-interpreting the conjugial principle is to affirm the notion of relationship as central to our existence.  The conjugial principle is the union of goodness and truth; of the spiritual with the natural; of God with creation; of ourselves with those around us.  As such it forms the basis of our reality, the underlying dynamism which brings creation into being.  It is an affirmation that the purpose of each one of our individual lives is to love—to love God, to love others, to love ourselves, and to love God's creation.  It is basic to each one of us.  As Swedenborg wrote, "divine love cannot fail to be and to be manifested in others whom it loves and who love it." [27]  And elsewhere: "there is therefore, from creation, implanted in each the love of conjunction into one."[28] 

The conjugial principle asserts that relationship is central to existence, but it should not be seen as limited to a relationship between one male and one female.  The conjugial principle has a much wider scope of meaning.  We can see the importance of freeing the conjugial principle from a strict male-female interpretation and into a more cosmic concept in these words from Calvin Turley:

"The conjugial principle of dynamic, creative interrelatedness and relationship is not limited to any one, single definition or expression of commitment between persons.  It is not limited in its expression to any one specifically defined means of genital relating; nor is it limited to any one specific purpose of procreation.  Rather, the Divine Conjugial is a symbol of the very essence of life, the unitive process which can and does manifest itself in a multitude of varieties which we can only dimly perceive and before which we stand in humble awe."[29] 


Seen in this way, the conjugial principle asserts that love is the central motif of Christian theology.  Linell Cady evidences how a modern feminist theologian might be seen as advocating core Swedenborgian values when she writes,

"According to this vision [of the centrality of inter-relational divine love], the divine is not a being that exists and is unified but is, rather, the unifying of being.  It is a symbol for directional, integrative processes in life that depend upon moral struggles to give and receive love.  The divine spirit of love motivates and empowers humans to see more clearly and to act more justly by identifying the self with that which lies beyond its narrow borders."[30]


The conjugial principle also reminds us of the inter-connectedness of all things, including human beings, animals, the earth and the spiritual world.  The interrelation of being is an important concept to most feminists, and it is one which Swedenborgians can naturally draw out from their own tradition. 

A third way in which we might re-interpret the conjugial principle is to consider it as a prophetic impulse toward wholeness which may function as a vehicle for empowerment for women and for men.  Swedenborg boldly proclaims that our destiny is to become angels in heaven.  To put it another way, we are meant to be spiritually whole.  One way that we may find this wholeness is to embody the union of love and wisdom in ourselves.  If one or the other is lacking, we will become imbalanced and spiritually unhealthy.  Swedenborg writes, "the first of the goals toward which the Lord's divine providence works is that we should be engaged in what is good and what is true together.  That is our 'good' and our love and that is our truth and our wisdom, because that is what makes us human and images of the Lord."[31]  In pastoral situations involving women's spirituality, we may encourage women to ask whether love and truth are being fully expressed in the situation with which they are wrestling.  Perhaps shining the light of truth more fully may empower a woman to move toward spiritual health; perhaps it will be accessing or expressing the warmth of love.  We may consider how the conjugial principle in itself might function as a valuable tool for spiritual growth.

            The fourth way in which the conjugial principle might be expressed for contemporary contexts is to acknowledge that it reflects the androgyny of God.  As an embodiment of love and wisdom, or female and male as Swedenborg would suggest, God in its very essence encompasses both genders.  Dorothea Harvey writes, "[Swedenborg's] description of creation out of God's own loving suggest a feminine model, just as his emphasis on both love and wisdom in all persons and all entities suggests his awareness of the feminine as well as the masculine aspect of the ultimate reality, God."[32]  Swedenborg himself describes this principle when he writes, "every angel actually is her or his love and wisdom; and love together with wisdom is human in form because God, who is love itself and wisdom itself, is human."[33]  People who become regenerated embody the conjunction of love and wisdom because God's very essence expresses the conjunction of love and wisdom accommodated to human form.  This human form which God reflects and to which God is in continual relationship carries with it both female and male qualities.


3. The Integration of the Spiritual and the Natural

            One of the primary concerns of feminist theologians is to reunite the traditional split between mind and body, or spirit and matter, which has persisted in Christian theology for centuries and which has resulted in the oppression of women and the de-valuing of women's experience.[34]  Feminist theology opposes the categorizing of the spiritual as separate from the natural on the grounds that such dualistic thinking bifurcates the individual into distinct parts that do not reflect the interrelatedness of natural human existence.

            Though Swedenborg had never heard this concern of modern feminists, he proposed a theological perspective which naturally speaks to integration.  Swedenborg believed that the divine was not complete unless actualized in form.  God's very being (esse) needed creation (existere) in order to be fully God.  Seen in this way, the body—and the entire created world—can be understood as the actualization of God.  In effect, Swedenborg proposes that disembodied existence is defective existence.  It follows then that body and spirit are so intertwined and interdependent as to be nearly indistinguishable from one another.  Swedenborg writes, "there is the same kind of correspondence between the pulse and the breathing of our spirit and the pulse and the breathing of our body.  The mind¡¦ is our spirit; so when the correspondence between these two activities ceases, there is a separation—death." [35]  The body needs the spirit in order to be the body; and the spirit needs the body in order to have life in the natural world.  This sounds remarkably like a contemporary feminist when she writes, "Spirit and matter are not dichotomized but are the inside and outside of the same thing."[36]  In short, our only experience of the spiritual is through our bodies.  Attention to this dynamic has led to an interest in embodied spirituality for some feminist theologians.  Rebecca Chopp explains,

"The value of embodiment stresses attentiveness to, but not a romanticization of the body.  The body can hurt and be hurt, it can curtail our activities and limit our thought and even our prayers; it forms our world.  The value of embodiment means that we attend to all bodies in their differences and that we attend to embodiment as a locus of God."[37] 


A Swedenborgian feminism can embrace Swedenborg's descriptions of the complete integration of body and spirit, spiritual and natural, sensual and spiritual.  This provides a natural platform for Swedenborgians to attend to ecological concerns, women's health, human sexuality, and the multiplicity of paths to revelation. 


4. Regeneration and Free Will as Agents of Empowerment

            One of the most meaningful concepts to Swedenborgians today is regeneration.  By this we mean the life-long (and eternal) process of spiritual growth into which we are born and on which we journey toward God.  If our ultimate goal is to become angels in heaven, our lives in this natural plane consist in the process of getting there.  Much more than a solitary individual spiritual process, regeneration only occurs when a person takes spiritual truths into action and life in the real world.   The regeneration process unites wisdom and love in the form of an affection for truth and the embodiment of it in action.  According to Swedenborg, the embodiment of one's faith in actual living is the goal of a life of faith.

            Regeneration is only possible because humans have free will—that is, the power to choose good or evil.  Over and over again, we are given choices to make between these two poles, in subtler and grosser degree.  Regeneration involves consistently choosing the good—moving toward God with full, conscious intentionality.  The concept of free will is a reminder of the opportunity each human being has to shape her in response to God.  The regeneration process can belong to no one else but the individual.

            With the concept of regeneration, Swedenborgian theology affirms the value, worth and particularity of each human life.  Each person is a creation of God who, if she  chooses it, journeys toward returning the love by which she was created back to God.  It is an essential and highly personal project.  The notion of free will speaks to the ability each person has to make choices that will influence his or her life.  As such, I believe the concepts of regeneration and free will can be claimed by Swedenborgian feminists as sources of empowerment.  Regeneration can function as an affirmation of the innate wisdom and power that women possess, and it can act as a source of motivation for women to move forward toward greater wholeness.  It is a reminder that violence, oppression, depression and other destructive forces that affect women are not women's destiny.  Rather, the destiny of all women and men is to live in spiritual wholeness.


5. A Wider Swedenborgian Biblical Hermeneutic

            In Part II I suggested that reading the Bible solely in the language of correspondences can have harmful consequences to women.  A spiritual reading may bypass the need to wrestle with difficult passages on the literal level.  However, Swedenborgian biblical hermeneutics offer compelling resources for accessing spirituality and for speaking about the spiritual growth process.  A Swedenborgian feminism should embrace these methods for interpreting scripture within the tradition, and yet it also should allow for more.  Swedenborgian biblical interpreters and preachers should own their ability to access a wide range of resources for making the Bible accessible to and meaningful for contemporary people.  We have the ability to express Swedenborg's ongoing revelation.

            Modern biblical criticism has produced  masses of works on the interpretation of scripture.  The method Swedenborgians use for reading scripture, generally referred to as spiritual exegesis, bears some similarities to methods once employed widely in the ancient and medieval periods but is seldom discussed in academia today.  Because of this there has been almost no dialog between Swedenborgians and biblical scholars.  Ironically, however, the postmodern climate and the concerns of thinkers such as feminist theologians are opening up traditional academic disciplines to new vistas and new ways of understanding spirituality, which may bring them into much closer affinity with Swedenborgianism.  Swedenborgian interpreters may wish to access a methodology which would draw from a broader range of biblical interpretation and theology and which would be consonant with core Swedenborgian values.  In this way we might be able to enlarge the vision of the tradition by inviting inspiration from other thinkers in ways that would ultimately strengthen Swedenborgianism as we move into a dynamic future.



            In this article I have attempted to provide a basis for a Swedenborgian feminist theology.  I have outlined the feminist movement and proposed that the Swedenborgian tradition could be influenced by it in fruitful and inspiring ways.  I have offered several points of feminist critique to Swedenborgianism and then proposed several approaches toward constructing a Swedenborgian feminism.  My assumption is that feminism is just one aspect of a much larger movement toward greater spiritual wholeness for all people, and because of this I see Swedenborgian feminism as having as much importance for men as for women.  Another of my assumptions is that Swedenborgian theology naturally operates for the spiritual health and wholeness of all people, and therefore it inherently holds the same core values as feminist theology.  This article seeks to uncover and affirm those naturally-held values, but it is only a beginning.  My hope is that dialog on these issues will continue.

            The feminist movement has made great strides, as have the academic disciplines of theology and spirituality.  In the current context, Swedenborgians concerned with feminism may find themselves wrestling with several questions.  What are the spiritual realities of gender difference?  The biological differences between the sexes are a given.  We seem to be moving toward a place where we acknowledge that there are also spiritual differences between the sexes.  Did Swedenborg go far enough in understanding them?  As humans, we all share a common experience in our relationship to God, and yet each of those relationships is also unique and specific.  Our individuality leads each of us to experience God differently.  How can we even begin to speak of "women's" spirituality when we can never imagine speaking for all women?  Another question refers to the very notion of gender itself.  To Swedenborg, speaking of the "masculine" and the "feminine" were useful categories.  But what do the terms "masculinity" and "femininity" really mean?  Are they fixed or fluid categories?  Are they useful to us in growing towards whole, human, spiritual beings?  These are complex questions which have no simple answers, but we need to continue to engage them.

            Swedenborgian feminism for the twenty-first century needs to embrace its role in the ongoing revelation of Emanuel Swedenborg.  We are participants in a living tradition which continually strives to better the spiritual lives of people living today.  We should not see this tradition as having ended with Swedenborg.  We can continue the revelatory project of defining what is spiritually meaningful and true within the Swedenborgian tradition.  When responding to theological questions, we need not always begin, "Swedenborg says¡¦," but can instead say, "As a Swedenborgian, I believe¡¦."

            The ultimate goal of feminist theology and Swedenborgian faith is that we express our full humanity as spiritually natural beings.  We are complex people, and the multi-faceted aspects of our humanity do not always fit into neat categories.  Our lives and expressions will necessarily take different forms.  As men and women, we should be free to grow into our regenerated selfhood without having stereotypes, expectations or limitations imposed on us because of our gender. 

            In speaking of the essential interrelatedness Swedenborg describes in love and wisdom and in essence (esse) and form (existere), George Dole has described them as "distinguishably one."  This term speaks to such a complete inter-relatedness of being that while its elements are distinguishable, they are functionally inseparable.  With the title of this article, I suggest that we might arrive at viewing Swedenborgian and feminist theology as distinguishably one.  Though they are separate thought systems with origins in very different times and places, they yet share mutual values and goals.  By uniting Swedenborgian and feminist theology we might discover an enhanced and strengthened expression of the core values of each.  By embracing this union we might be better able to help ourselves and others reach for the angelic destiny that divine providence envisions for us.





Boulding, Elise.  The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time.  Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1976.


Bush, George and James Buss, trans. The Spiritual Diary of Emanuel Swedenborg: Being the Record During Twenty Years of His Supernatural Experience. Five volumes. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1978. First published in Latin in Stuttgart and Tubingen, 1843-1845.


Cady, Linell E. "Relational Love: A Feminist Christian Vision," in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Relationship as Feminist Values, eds. Paula M. Cooey, Sharon A. Farmer, Mary Ellen Ross. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.


Chittister, Joan D. Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.


Chopp, Rebecca S. "Feminist and Womanist Theologies," in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed., ed. David F. Ford. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.


Deckland, Barbara Sinclair.  The Women's Movement: Political, Socioeconomic and Psychological Issues.  New York: Harper & Row, 1975.


Francis, Roberta W. "The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment." Equal Rights Amendment Web Site, 2003, accessed April 28, 2003. Available from


Lawrence, James F. "Risking on the Side of Compassion." The Messenger, November 1996.


Pierce, Carol, David Wagner, and Bill Page.  A Male/Female Continuum: Paths to Colleagueship.  Expanded edition. Laconia, New Hampshire: New Dynamics Publications, 1988.


Rose, Jonathan, "Feminine and Masculine Issues in the Language, Content and Style of the Writings," in Connections II: Offerings from the New Church Women's Symposium, eds. Sarah J. Headsten, Kara Johns Tennis. Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, 1995.


Ruether, Rosemary Radford. "Of One Humanity," Sojourners, January, 1984.


———————————. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1983. Reprint, 1993.


———————————. Women and Redemption: A Theological History.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.


Schneiders, Sandra M. "Feminist Spirituality: Christian Alternative or Alternative to Christianity?" in Women's Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development. Second ed. New York: Paulist Press, 1996.


Skinner, Alice, ed.  Rooted in Spirit: A Harvest of Women's Wisdom.  West Chester, Pennsylvania: Chrysalis Books, 1999.


"Some Basic Statistics on Rape and Sexual  Assault." Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit Web Site, London Metropolitan University, 2003, accessed May 30, 2003. Available from


Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia, trans. John Clowes. West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.  First published in Latin, 8 volumes, London, 1749-1756.


—————————. Angelic Wisdom about Divine Love and about Divine Wisdom, trans. George F. Dole (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003.  First published in Latin in London, 1763.


———————————. Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence, trans. George F. Dole (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003. Originally published in Latin in Amsterdam, 1764.


—————————. The Delights of Wisdom Pertaining to Conjugial Love. West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.  First published in Latin in Amsterdam, 1768.


Taylor, Roslyn. "Marriage Love: Hurts and Confusions. Voice: A Newsletter for Caritas. Volume 2, October 2001.


Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks and Engel, Mary Potter.  Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside.  Harper San Francisco, 1990.


Turley, Calvin E. "The Conjugial Principle and Human Sexuality," Unpublished manuscript, 1979.  Swedenborgian Library and Archives, Berkeley, California.


Wake, Wilma. The Twelve Steps of A.A.: Developing a Swedenborgian Feminist-Liberation Theological Framework for Women's Utilization of the Steps.  D. Min. Thesis, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1994. Swedenborgian Library and Archives, Berkeley, California.


—————. Wings & Roots: The New Age and Emanuel Swedenborg in Dialog. San Francisco: J. Appleseed & Co., 1999.


Wyland, Ruth.  "The Empowerment of Women."  Unpublished transcript of four seminars delivered in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, 1993.  Swedenborgian Library and Archives, Berkeley, California.


[1] The other major Swedenborgian denomination, located in Great Britain and known as the General Conference of the New Jerusalem, ordained its first female minister in 1999.

[2] Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983; reprint 1993), 19.

[3] Quoted in Charles Davis, What Is Living, What is Dead in Christianity Today?  Breaking the Liberal-Conservative Deadlock, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986).

[4] Barbara Sinclair Deckland.  The Women's Movement: Political, Socioeconomic and Psychological Issues.  (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).

[5] Roberta W. Francis, "The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment," (Equal Rights Amendment Web Site, 2003, accessed April 28, 2003); available from

[6] Mary Potter Engel and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, "Making the Connections Among Liberation Theologies Around the World," in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside (HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 6.

[7] Rebecca S. Chopp, "Feminist and Womanist Theologies," in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed., ed. David F. Ford (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 400.

[8] Rosemary Radford Ruether, "What is Feminist Theology? Why Should We Do It?" Class discussion, Swedenborgian Contexting Seminar, Feburary 27, 2003.  Swedenborgian House of Studies, Berkeley, California.

[9] Ruether, Ibid., 13.

[10] Sandra M. Schneiders, "Feminist Spirituality: Christian Alternative or Alternative to Christianity?" in Women's Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development, Second ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 1996), 32.

[11] Emanuel Swedenborg, The Delights of Wisdom Pertaining to Conjugial Love, trans. Samuel Warren (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.  First published in Latin, Amsterdam, 1768), ¡×165.

[12] The Spiritual Diary of Emanuel Swedenborg: Being the Record During Twenty Years of His Supernatural Experience, five volumes, trans. George Bush and James Buss (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1978. First published in Latin in Stuttgart and Tubingen, 1843-1845), ¡×5936.

[13] Wilma Wake, Wings & Roots: The New Age and Emanuel Swedenborg in Dialog (San Francisco: J. Appleseed & Co., 1999), 48.

[14] Jonathan Rose, "Feminine and Masculine Issues in the Language, Content and Style of the Writings," in Connections II: Offerings from the New Church Women's Symposium, eds. Sarah J. Headsten, Kara Johns Tennis (Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, 1995), 60.

[15] Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, ¡×457.

[16] Calvin E. Turley, "The Conjugial Principle and Human Sexuality," unpublished manuscript, 1979.  Swedenborgian Library and Archives, Berkeley, California.

[17] Emanuel Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, ¡×32.

[18] Rosemary Radford Ruether, Women and Redemption: A Theological History, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 9.

[19] Ibid., 10.

[20] Ruether, Sexism & God-Talk, 85.

[21] Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Of One Humanity," Sojourners (January 1984), 18.

[22] Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, trans. John Clowes (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.  First published in Latin, 8 volumes, London, 1749-1756), ¡×4433.

[23] "Some Basic Statistics on Rape and Sexual Assault" (Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit Web Site, London Metropolitan University, 2003, accessed May 30, 2003); available from

[24] Rose, Ibid.

[25] Dorothea Harvey, "Swedenborg and Women's Spirituality" in Rooted in Spirit: A Harvest of Women's Wisdom, ed. Alice Skinner (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Chrysalis Books, 1999), 10.

[26] James F. Lawrence, "Risking on the Side of Compassion" The Messenger (November 1996).

[27] Emanuel Swedenborg, Angelic Wisdom about Divine Love and about Divine Wisdom, trans. George F. Dole (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003. First published in Latin, Amsterdam, 1763), ¡×48.

[28] Emanuel Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, ¡×32.

[29] Turley, Ibid.

[30] Linell E. Cady, "Relational Love: A Feminist Christian Vision," in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Relationship as Feminist Values, eds. Paula M. Cooey, Sharon A. Farmer, Mary Ellen Ross (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 144.

[31] Emanuel Swedenborg, Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence, trans. George F. Dole (West Chester, Pennsylvania: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003. Originally published in Latin in Amsterdam, 1764), ¡×16.

[32] Harvey, Ibid., 11.

[33] Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, ¡×179.

[34] See Rosemary Radford Ruether's chapter entitled, "Woman, Body and Nature: Sexism and the Theology of Creation" in Sexism and God-Talk for a more detailed explanation of this issue.

[35] Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, ¡×390.

[36] Ruether, Sexism & God-Talk, 85.

[37] Chopp, Ibid., 395.