Abigail Favale speaks on new position at McGrath and perspectives on gender and feminism.

Abigail Favale, a prominent Catholic contributor to contemporary discussions on gender and feminism moved to South Bend with her family this summer. Formerly the Dean of Humanities and Professor of English at George Fox University, Favale commenced her position in Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life in July of this year. 

Favale’s position is not associated with a specific department; rather, she is a Professor of the Practice through McGrath. Currently, she advises a student in the Program of Liberal Studies on her thesis and teaches a directed readings course for another undergraduate. In the summer of 2023, Favale will lead and produce courses for Notre Dame’s Masters of Arts in Theology program, and she will teach undergraduate courses in the future. 

When speaking about her decision to come to Notre Dame in an interview with the Rover, she shared: “I want to be able to bring my insider expertise of gender, gender studies, and feminist studies … to help Catholics navigate those conversations that are becoming increasingly important.”

In the past, however, Favale had a different perspective: “before I became Catholic, I was a very staunch progressive.” Since her conversion, her outlook has become more nuanced: “I still hold some progressive beliefs. But I also now hold some beliefs that in the American scheme would be more conservative.” Favale said, “I get pushback from both right-wing Catholics on my feminist perspective, and then I get pushback from progressives on my perspectives on gender … But I also see a lot of fruitful conversations happening, too, which is encouraging.”

In between obtaining her BA in philosophy from George Fox and her PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, she acquired a Masters in Letters degree in the field of Women, Writing, and Gender, also from St Andrews. 

Favale praised McGrath for its efforts “to not get sucked into culture war rhetoric on things,” and she emphasized that she aims “to approach the topics [she] write[s] about from a Catholic perspective and not a perspective that’s filtered through American polarities.” She mentioned that she “avoid[s] an us/them framework” and constantly endeavors “to find the truth in opposing perspectives.”

In her position at McGrath, Favale produces resources on gender, feminism, and women’s issues from a Catholic perspective. Favale indicated that she “get[s] emails, weekly from parents, from dioceses, from parishes, from schools” seeking her guidance. She explained that she is making these resources for Catholic schools and churches, starting with “an expert guide on gender theory for the Office of Life and Human Dignity” (she does not currently have her own program within McGrath but is collaborating with those already present, including continuing her work of several years with Church Life Journal).

In reference to her “Catholic Feminism” Favale shared that “it’s actually … the controversy about gender and specifically the question of what it means to be a woman that has helped me realize that we do need some kind of Catholic feminism that focuses on defending the dignity of women in society.” 

Favale explained that, as Edith Stein held, “the original order between men and women … is disrupted into a dynamic of domination after the Fall. And through the grace of Christ, we can enter a redemptive order between the sexes.” Favale indicated that Catholic feminism responds to this fractured dynamic and other matters in society, such as its desire to distance womanhood from “the concrete reality of femaleness.” In contrast to the prevalent contemporary view on gender, she contends: “whatever I might think or feel about myself, there are bodily realities that I have to deal with that I don’t have control over. And that’s true for all women.” She also maintains that Catholic feminism can address the physical objectification of women in society. 

Favale believes that “there’s a lot of potential for developing programming that forms female leaders in the Church and develops the Church’s theology of women.” She mentioned Pope Francis’s assertion “that we need a deeper theology of woman” in a 2013 interview. Despite hearing these words prior to her conversion to Catholicism, she shared: “I almost had this leap of the heart that was like, ‘I want to be a part of that!’”

Favale’s recently published book, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory is available from Ignatius Press. She has also written about her conversion to Catholicism after her experiences of evangelicalism and secular feminism in her book, Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion.

Kathryn Bowers is a sophomore who is majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. Email her at kbowers2@nd.edu to learn about her high school experience at a non-religious all-girls school in Texas.

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