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Summer Series: Reads of My Life

We continue our summer series in which members of the Spectrum community share the 3-5 books that shaped them the most.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique:

I wanted to know more about feminism in my senior year of college and looked up several articles about the movement in the twentieth century. Betty Friedan’s landmark book kept showing up in the articles, so I purchased a copy at a local bookstore. Friedan’s critique of “the problem that has no name” and her insight into gender inequality captivated me. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in a few hours. Today, I look back at Friedan with a more critical eye and see her tendency to over-generalize by focusing on middle-class white women. However, this book changed my life by providing a springboard into gender studies.

Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes:

This book introduced me to process theology and challenged me to re-imagine God from a feminist perspective. Christ’s interpretation of Charles Hartshorne’s critique of classical theism helped me see how much my understanding of God affects my sense of self, provided a countercultural vision of community, and explained God as deeply involved with the world. I didn’t relate at all to Christ’s experience with goddess religion. But her book is important to me on a philosophical level because it introduced me to an entirely new way of thinking, process theology, and philosophers and theologians like Charles Hartshorne, Alfred North Whitehead, and John B. Cobb, Jr.

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble:

This book launched my doctoral career. I read Judith Butler several years ago when I took a course on “Theology of the Body.” My final paper about Butler’s ideas in Gender Trouble was, roughly, something along these lines: social intelligibility/representation (identity) is simultaneously subject-formation and the genesis of a subject is an infinite regress of difference, never a temporal point of origin, but always a becoming. This paper became the thesis project for my first MA degree and I later had the opportunity to present it at a John Templeton conference that same year. My primary professor asked me to consider entering a doctoral program to study under him and continue writing about identity, the body, and ethics. Which is exactly what I’m doing now. Gender Trouble was, indeed, life changing even though I don’t “consume” Butler’s thought as readily as I did that first year.

Johann Baptist Metz, A Passion for God:

This book influenced me as a theologian and, specifically, the way I write about history and human suffering. Metz is a German theologian who broke with his mentor Karl Rahner and transcendental theology when he began to advance a political theology rooted in praxis, attention to the suffering of others, and the themes of memory, solidarity, and narrative. The historical project of Christianity is one in which human beings attempt to become subjects of their own histories and theologians strive to talk about a single historical narrative that merges the history of salvation and world history. Those who theorize history and attempt to understand or systematize events can do so in such a way that they “relieve” our individual and collective consciences of guilt stemming from events that cause suffering (e.g., Auschwitz). The task tries to make sense of history, but some events can only go so far as stupefying our consciences. Metz’s book challenges me to be disturbed by negative history and egregious events that cannot—should not—merely be put into conceptual terms and theorized. The connection between the theme of history and liberation is that theologians and Christians should challenge themselves to not talk about people, places, and events in conceptual terms only because this is subject-less history—”erasing” individuals as victims of history. The memory of Jesus Christ is a “dangerous memory” because it is so counter to the tendency to ponder but not follow in the same risks Jesus took and, if taken seriously, this memory challenges Christians against settling into “comfortable” mindsets. Any mindset that tunes out the presence of danger against the horizon of death and suffering, and renders harmless the apocalyptic overtones of New Testament narratives, fails to take seriously an important extra-canonical statement taken from the Gospel of Thomas that quotes Jesus, “Whoever is close to me, is close to the fire; whoever is far from me, is far from the Kingdom.”[1] This causes me to believe that Christians should ask what we can do for justice to happen in the present, more so, to ask how we are implicated within systems or situations that cause injustice. Metz suggests that memories deepens our questions. Elie Wiesel was once asked, “And why do you pray to God when you know that no on can understand his answers?” He answered, “So that I might have the power to ask the right questions.”[2] These memories interrupt systems of thought and tear apart overarching theories because certain collective memories don’t make sense. Instead, they move us to question. To ask, what do we do now? How do we act? How do we live as Christians in such a world?


Trisha Famisaran is a graduate of La Sierra University and is studying philosophy and theology at the Claremont Graduate University.


[1] Gospel of Thomas.

[2] Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy (New York: Noonday Press, 1988), 15.


Next up, Tom Zwemer. If you’d like to participate, email your books and brief reflections to alexander at spectrummagazine dot org

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