Summer 2010

Experience, Feminism, and the Need for Christian Witnesses

Margaret H. McCarthy

“Christian witness begins, if you will, with a kind of ocular evidence of something else.”



The category of experience, which was unleashed in a particular way by Christian revelation,1 has not shown itself to be unproblematic. A particular case in point is the experience to which a dominant thread of feminism resorts: “women’s experience.” This “experi- ence” shows with particular force the subjectivism toward which the category can tend (as it often comes back to haunt the very objective revelation on which it largely depends). It is understandable, therefore, that one might look suspiciously at the category itself and seek to curtail its relevance. Taking another direction, however, we propose to probe experience more deeply, especially on its “flip side,” that of the “witness,” so as to understand more clearly what is in play in the drama of experience for the subject who undergoes it (or resists it, as the case may be), as well as for the subject who conveys it (or not, as the case may be).


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1. On the “special nature of Christianity’s claim to truth” and its necessary relation to freedom, see Joseph Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 55–58. Note that the German word for experience is Erfahrung (from fahren, to travel), which implies movement (freedom) for the kind of knowing that experience grants. De Lubac, moreover, notes the important observation made first by St. Augustine that, in the credal formula “credo in Deum,” the choice of the accusative case implies “a search, an advance, a movement of the soul . . . a personal impulse and . . . adherence” (Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986], 35).