Fortress Press

Radical Wisdom: A Feminist Mystical Theology

Radical Wisdom

A Feminist Mystical Theology

Beverly J. Lanzetta (Author)


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Lanzetta illuminates the transformative potential of the classical tradition of women mystics, especially in light of contemporary violence against women around the world.

Focusing on the contemplative process as women's journey from oppression to liberation, Lanzetta draws especially on the mysticism of Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. She lays out the contemplative techniques used by mystics to achieve their highest spiritual potential and also investigates how unjust social and political conditions afflict women's souls.

Lanzetta identifies a specific historical female mystical path (the via feminina) and draws contemporary conclusions for how women might understand their bodies, their rights, and their ethics.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800636982
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 272
  • Publication Date April 18, 2005


"Lanzetta's Radical Wisdom is a feminist revisioning of mysticism. Going beyond both the positive and the negative paths of the mystical journey, Lanzetta proposes a 'via feminina' that can heal the deep spiritual wounds of patriarchy and transform women's inner and outer humanity in holistic relation to others — men and women, God and the cosmos."
— Rosemary Radford Ruether, Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

"There is a classic statement in the wisdom of the spiritual life that if you need a spiritual guide, the guide will appear. Such a guide is Beverly Lanzetta and her wisdom is richly contained in her present book.. She knows profoundly what she calls the 'via feminina' in its classical form in Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich and how it appears in the spirituality of women in our time. She writes with penetrating depth and with firm yet sensitive authority. Her wisdom illumines the way of both women and men to become companions on their mutual spiritual journey in the present and into the future."
— Ewert Cousins, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Fordham University, general editor of World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest (Twenty-five volume series)

"Via Feminina is a beautifully written, original and luminous study of women's mystical experience in the Christian tradition. Lanzetta's engaged, open-hearted response to these mystics is refreshing and encouraging. It reflects her deep conviction that their vision of God, the soul, and the world has the power to challenge and transform us even now. A compelling and significant work."
— Douglas Burton-Christie Professor, Christian Spirituality Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

"Radical Wisdom presents challenging perspectives on feminism and mysticism that are refreshingly new and daring. While many feminist theologians have written on women's struggle with a male God and patriarchal religious language, Beverly Lanzetta's meditative study explores with deep sensitivity and and urgent social concern the innermost spiritual oppression of women's souls and bodies. Drawing on her intimate knowledge of classical mystical texts, especially Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila, but also John of the Cross, and using the insights of her own experience of many years' teaching and spiritual direction, Lanzetta attempts to draw a new map of an active mystical spirituality which can energise women's struggles for spiritual equality and agency. Some of Lanzetta's readings of Teresa are startlingly new and empowering, and so is her bold conception of a world ethic of spiritual rights. Her vision of the organic wholeness and spiritual unity of humanity can strengthen a profoundly ecological spirituality, and her feminist mystical theology grounded in radical wisdom provides a much needed spiritual dynamic to the ongoing social struggles for peace, equality, and justice in the contemporary world."
— Ursula King, Professor Emerita, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Member of the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bristol Professorial Research Associate, Centre for Gender and Religions Research, SOAS, University of London

Study Guide

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Table of Contents

    Prologue: Low Places Where Grace Flows In

    Part One: Theory and Historical Background

  1. Via Feminina and the Un-saying of "Woman"
  2. Feminism and Mysticism: Foundations
  3. Goddesses, Mother Jesus, and the Feminine Divine
  4. Contemplative Feminism: Transforming the Spiritual Journey

    Part Two: Women Mystics of Medieval Europe

  5. Women Mystics and a Feminism of the Inner Way
  6. Julian and Teresa as Cartographers of the Soul
  7. The Soul of Woman and the Dark Night of the Feminine
  8. Subversion in Contemplation: Resistance, Resilency, and Dignification

    Part Three: Embodied and Engaged Contemplation

  9. Women's Body as Mystical Text
  10. Seeing Through God's Eyes: Women's Spiritual Rights
  11. Love of the World: An Ethic of Ultimate Concern

    Epilogue: Hymn to Hagia Sophia