Young Women Imaging God
This dissertation considers adolescent girls and what they need from an all-girls’ Catholic school that will prepare them, not just for college and career, but for life in a world that marginalizes girls and women. More than simply trying to make a case for single-sex schooling for girls, it suggests that the single-sex school is an important site for conversations about what it means for adolescent girls to be adolescent girls. This project names the patriarchal forces that marginalize girls and calls for a pedagogical approach that is rooted in the theological affirmation that adolescent girls are created in the image of God and called to exercise a prophetic imagination. Chapter one introduces the history of all-girls’ Catholic secondary schools, a history rooted in the story of women’s religious orders and the ministries of these women religious as educators at a time when the education of girls was not valued. Today’s all-girls’ Catholic schools are informed by this history and the Catholic Church’s commitment to honoring the dignity of each student, thus grounding a commitment to a caring and liberative educational approach. Chapter two argues that contemporary adolescent girls, including those who attend these all-girls’ Catholic secondary schools, are growing up in a cultural milieu that makes them vulnerable to the effects of the conflicting and impossible expectations to which girls and women are held. Chapter three investigates the imago Dei symbol as a theological foundation for fighting this toxic cultural milieu. Taking a cue from feminist theologians who have explored embodiment and relationality as central expressions of the imago Dei, this chapter proposes that creating communities of God’s hesed (loving-kindness) and resisting injustice are two ways that the imago Dei symbol can be expressed so as to best include adolescent girls. Chapter four suggests that, in order to realize this goal of affirming the imago Dei in adolescent girls by creating communities of God’s hesed and resistance to injustice, a feminist prophetic imagination is needed. Drawing on Walter Brueggemann’s identification of the prophetic imagination as the twinned process of denouncing the oppressive forces of the dominant culture and announcing a new and more just way of being in the world, it proposes a feminist prophetic imagination that engages in a feminist critique of the cultural milieu that girls experience and the construction of communities based in hesed and resistance to injustice. Chapter five takes up the pedagogical challenges of teaching with and for a feminist prophetic imagination. The liberative pedagogy of Paulo Freire and the caring pedagogy of Nel Noddings provide the resources for educating adolescent girls to participate in communities of God’s hesed and in practices of resistance to injustice. Chapter six returns to the concrete situation of all-girls’ Catholic secondary schools and imagines how these schools can speak to a commitment to educating for a feminist prophetic imagination in their mission and reflects on how a feminist prophetic imagination can be expressed and formalized in all Catholic schools.