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Summary Article: Daly, Mary (1929-)
from Encyclopedia of Philosophers on Religion

Born into an Irish-Catholic family in Schenectady, New York, Daly received her elementary, secondary, and undergraduate education at Catholic schools. With a few exceptions, Daly found the nuns and priests teaching her less than inspiring, and the atmosphere of these schools extremely oppressive of women. The desire to study Catholic philosophy, which she had felt already during her high school years, received little impetus from the "incompetent" priests who taught philosophy at the college and seemed openly contemptuous of women’s intellects. Several years of study at the Catholic University of America for an M.A. in English, and a few more at St. Mary’s College (Notre Dame) in successful pursuit of a Ph.D. in religion, proved somewhat better, and through exposure to the writings of Thomas Aquinas, helped cultivate a "philosophical habitus." But when, after a short stint of teaching theology and philosophy at Cardinal Cushing College in Boston, she applied to Catholic University for the sake of pursuing a "better" doctorate in theology, she was ignored, and had to look abroad.

She was admitted to the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), where after six wonderful years of study, teaching, and travel, she achieved doctorates in both theology and philosophy, writing her dissertation in the latter field on Jacques Maritain’s ideas about the "Natural Knowledge of God." An unofficial visit to Rome during the Second Vatican Council and experiencing an exhilarating sense of hope despite all the "cardinalate pomposity" and patriarchal posturing accelerated her work on the book a British publisher had earlier invited her to write on women and the church. Its eventual publication (entitled: The Church and the Second Sex) triggered a long battle with the Jesuit-run Boston College where she had been employed to teach theology upon her return from Europe.

Threats of termination and denial of promotion and tenure met with nationwide protests in her support. But subsequent publications (e.g., Beyond God the Father and Pure Lust) and lectures at various universities (not to mention her openly Lesbian admissions) hardened the opposition of academic and ecclesiastical administrators and inclined her to take an indefinite leave of absence from formal teaching, to abandon all hope of purging the institutional church of its "degrading and vampiric" treatment of women, and to devote her time and energy to spinning a "postchristian feminist" web of memories and prophecies.

Daly on Religion. Since all being is derived from participation in ultimate reality, the ongoing struggle of women toward self-transcendence must also involve the pursuit of ultimate transcendence. Toward that end, the patriarchal idolization of God as the Father who explains everything, dictates all morality, and judges everyone in the end, will have to be destroyed. A demonic front for the projection of male superiority, it obstructs not only women, but all humans, from realizing their potential as images of a God whom they perceive from the shock of their own nonbeing and self-affirmation—not as a mere Noun that passively receives the contents of the lost self but as dynamic Being, an intransitive Verb of Verbs, so to speak, that eternally confronts nonbeing by recreating Itself and all things ever anew.

To live, move and have their own being in a God so perceived, women and others will also have to reinterpret the myth of the fall of Adam and Eve. In its original, patriarchal context this story was used to justify a sexual caste system, stereotyping women as the source of evil. It should be read rather as a veiled prophecy of the fall of liberated women into a new kind of adulthood. There is also a need to move beyond Christolatry, with its masculine symbolism for the divine incarnation, toward an increased awareness of the power of Being in all persons. Myths about Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, that revive an earlier belief in the Great Goddess, might actually help in that regard. By emphasizing Mary’s freedom from male domination they obliquely point to the Second Coming of women and the New Being of the Antichrist. In the meantime, women will need to break the submissive silence imposed upon them by traditional morality, join together in an antichurchly Cosmic Covenant, and work courageously toward transforming a culture of rapism into one of reciprocity between the Earth, all her creatures, and the Eternal Thou, who, as the Final Cause, causes not by conflict but by the attraction of Being personal.

  • Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.
  • Daly, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
  • Daly, Mary. "God is a Verb." Ms. (December 1974): 58-62; 96-98.
  • Daly, Mary. Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
  • Daly, Mary. "Radical Feminism, Radical Religion." In Women and Religion. edited by Elizabeth, Clark and Herbert, Richardson. New York: Harper and Row, 1977. 259-71.
  • Moore, Brooke Noel, and Bruder, Kenneth. Philosophy: The Power of Ideas. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2001. 372-75.
© 2008 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

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