Catia Confortini is Associate Professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College. Her book entitled Intelligent Compassion: Feminist Critical Methodology in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom examines the evolving and gendered understandings of peace in the longest-living and arguably most influential international women’s peace organization in the world. Her research interests focus on the contribution of women’s peace activism to peace studies as an academic field and as a practice. In March 2019 she sat down with the Center’s Mitch Bogen to discuss her deep and hopeful commitments in the intertwined worlds of peace, justice, and feminism.
Moral and Intellectual Roots
When you spoke at the 2018 Ikeda Forum I really liked hearing about your journey to your current life as a scholar concerned with peace and justice. If I recall, you were raised in a small town in Italy, and your parents had lived through fascism and the war.
What have you carried forward from that experience that has informed your life and career?
Unlike this generation of young people in America, who have lived all their lives with war, for me, war was not part of my life. But it was brought into my life through my father and my mother telling what happened to them during the war and what life was like in our village during that time. My mother was just a child when the war happened, so she did not remember a lot. But my father was 15 when the war started in Italy and 18 when it ended, and he told us countless stories when my sisters and I were growing up. There are still stories that I carry with me, and I often tell my students about them. For the southern part of Italy, the war really ended in 1943, because the Allied forces had liberated that area from Nazi occupation, but then they were stuck for two years. During those years of 1943 to 1945, our area in the north was controlled by the Salò Republic, the Nazi puppet government of Mussolini. During this time, the Nazis would enter into houses and they even occupied a farm in my extended family. And they had a radio station. My father told us stories about how these young Nazi soldiers, just 18 or 19 years old like he was, were running their radio station out of his cousin’s house, and they would teach him and the other local youth German words, and they would even play soccer together, right? Even though they were an occupying force, there were still those moments of friendship and youthfulness.
And he remembered seeing American planes dropping the bombs in 1945 when the Allied forces finally arrived to defeat the Nazis. He vividly described how when the bombs are dropped they don’t fall straight down but fall at an angle because of the momentum of the plane. He remembers seeing the bombs drop on one of the farms that the Nazis had occupied, and that was where one of the friends he had made was stationed, and that boy died in that bombing. He was just 18, my father remembers his name, and he still wonders at age 92 whether the boy’s mother ever knew that he died and where.
Another story is how he was helping a priest in the parish, who was part of the resistance to the occupation. So the priest was hiding the weapons and the rifles somewhere. The kids around there were quite young so they weren’t allowed to fire them, but were helping the partisans. As the war was ending, the Nazis were fleeing, and the partisans were tracking down any remaining Nazis. They found two who were hiding, and one was killed immediately and the other was injured. And one of the partisans instead of taking the injured German soldier as a prisoner of war, he took the butt of his rifle and smashed his head.
And these stories were so vivid for my father, and for him … war is so … there is nothing good in war, right? He would tell us how the war dehumanized everybody — the good guys, the bad guys, everybody. He told us those categories get so blurred in war, because everybody gets dehumanized. There is nothing good in war itself. But there are moments in which you can still see humanity in each other, when you don’t behave toward each other as enemies, even if you are enemies. And that was the case with my father’s friendship with the young German soldier. Sorry! This was really long! But these are the stories I remember since I was little.
Thank you for those, Catia. The other element that was so interesting to me was that here you are now at Wellesley, and you work in peace and justice and with feminist issues, but you emerged from the Catholic Church, which we think of as one of the most patriarchal institutions possible. Yet we know that within it there were progressive or feminist aspects you encountered.
Could you talk about those tensions and what you learned?
I think my first encounter with Catholic nuns as subversive feminists within the Church was in Ireland when I was studying abroad. So I would go to church, because that’s what I was taught to do on Sunday, you go to church; but the church was run by nuns. They gave the communion out. Sometimes there wasn’t even a priest actually there! Probably they blessed the hosts before, but they weren’t actually leading these services. Then every week, the nuns would hold these discussions, these teas. And that’s when I saw a very different kind of Catholic church: one where women were leading, one where women were questioning how the stories of the Gospel were handed out to us, how those stories had downplayed the very important role that women played.
And it was at that time that I was babysitting for a professor, and he and his wife had an extensive library, and one of the books I found was called Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. It was by a Catholic feminist theologian, a German — I think she was the first woman to lead a Catholic divinity school in Germany. I don’t remember her name now*, but this book was a true revelation to me. She traces the history of the Church and how it changed from being this really transformative and egalitarian and justice-based church, to one dominated by men who had an obsession with sex — from St. Paul to St. Augustine and beyond. But it was Augustine who was a really big thing for her, if I remember correctly. Understanding this meant that the stories I had been told — that priests were men and not women because Christ decided it had to be so, and who are you to question Christ? Or that priests couldn’t marry because that was the way it was and because Christ decided it had to be so, and who are you to question? — it meant that all of that went right out the window! What?! It just blew my mind open. That way of learning to question just became ingrained in me.
You know, that sort of was my experience. When I moved here to go to Harvard Divinity School, I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I realize it now, that I was there to construct an alternate history of Christianity, to learn that there never has been just one way to do this thing, certainly more ways than I had been taught as a child. But speaking of alternative ways of conceiving of the faith, you also mentioned the influence of liberation theology, which was a powerful movement, I think mostly in Latin America in the 80s, but which also was vigorously opposed by a large portion of the Church leadership. Can you talk about that and what you learned?
So liberation theology actually was born earlier than the 80s, under John XXIII and to some extent Paul VI his successor. I don’t know if those popes were in favor of it, or to what extent they supported it, but there really was not the resistance that came with John Paul II in the 80s.
And John Paul II, with his very anti-Communist obsession — understandably because he was coming from Communist Poland — really brought to the papacy this fear of Communism that extended to liberation theology. But what was really important for me in this regard started once again in Ireland. I took a class on international relations, I think it was called International Human Rights, and my research paper was on US policies toward Latin America. As part of that I read a book by Penny Lernoux called Cry of the People, where she recounts the experiences of people under dictatorships in Latin America, and how the US helped propel and support these dictators. And there was another very influential book for me. It was by Robert Johansen, called The National Interest and the Human Interest. In it he looked at US policies in various cases — one of them was Latin America — and he proposed that the national interest constructed as military interest really was against human wellbeing. And he asked, What would a foreign policy based on the values of human rights and human wellbeing look like if we really cared for people?
And liberation theology was also revelatory for me in conjunction with feminism, because liberation theology also tells the story of a Christ who comes to the poorest of the poor and says, “You are worthy,” and who says, “I reveal myself to you,” and who in fact revealed himself to women first — there is the story of Mary of Magdala who is the first to whom the resurrected Christ appears, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe who appears to Juan Diego, a young indigenous peasant near Mexico City. These show Christ revealing himself to the small, to the marginalized. And with this act comes the idea that the marginalized have wisdom and knowledge that we the privileged don’t have — not that they have all of the wisdom and knowledge — but really those stories are about the reversal of power and authority structures. I mean, it’s part of the same thing as feminism, right? Women have been marginalized and have been taught — and to some degree internalized — that they had no right or enough knowledge to speak, which is the same as it has been for the poor, for indigenous people, for people of color. It appeared to me quite parallel.
In liberation theology, the mantra is “the preferential option for the poor.” That means that God and Christ look favorably upon the poor and that salvation is not salvation as the Catholic Church has told us, which is that if you are good in this life — if you don’t commit many sins, primarily sex sins, because the Church is obsessed with sex — then you will go to heaven in the future. But liberation theology is committed to making a “kingdom of God” on earth by creating justice now, and that was also very appealing to me.
I’d like to go further into feminism now. Let’s start with the way feminism is perceived. Why do so many people get angry about feminism? Are they misunderstanding something? Or is it that they have a worldview that is so at odds with what feminism presents?
[Chuckling] Well, the uncharitable way to think about it is that it’s projection. They are angry because they are fearful, and they project their own fear onto what feminism actually is. I think it was Gloria Steinem back in the 70s, in the Second Wave, who said that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” And in a sense, if we took that notion and really looked around in the world, we see that women are often not treated as people, either in the small things or in the big things. Furthermore, anything that is associated with women, even symbolically, is not as valued as other things. So even peace is seen as a “sissy” thing to do. It’s very feminized. Whereas the “real guys,” the rational ones, are pursuing war. They have the nukes! And that is a very gendered way of seeing things. So I think that this “radical notion” is very threatening to the status quo, because if we were really thinking about transforming the world, and making everything that is associated with the feminine and women to be valued equally, then we would see a different world. But it’s hard.
You mentioned Gloria Steinem as part of Second Wave feminism. Can you talk a bit about the waves? I think we’re in the Fourth Wave now, right? How would you present the waves in a simple schematic?
Well, I’m not really a good feminist historian, so I might not present it just right! And I also think waves are a little bit of a misnomer because they coexist with each other at certain junctures. But for me, the First Wave is about getting the right to vote, getting all the quote-unquote liberal rights, the civic rights.
So going back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Yes. The Second Wave is the radical feminist wave, where they are starting to think about doing away with patriarchy, and not only about achieving civic equality, but looking at the glass ceiling, and unequal salaries, and sexual rights, and sexual reproductive rights …
And the role of the woman within the home.
Yes, and the role of the woman within the home, absolutely; questioning the family as a patriarchal structure. The Third Wave I see moving more toward intersectionality, looking at how different categories of oppression intersect with each other, and that it is not only about gender, but it is also about race, about class, and how these intersections produce different experiences for people that are gendered or racialized differently. For example, the Sisterhood Is Global motto of the international women’s movement was criticized by Black feminists who said, sure, the sisterhood is global if you are a white woman, but the reality is that we have different experiences, and we have even experienced racism within the feminist movement.
I think the Fourth Wave is really looking at a more fluid understanding of gender, not really thinking only about women, or about gender as a binary, but about people with differently gendered experiences and performances — learning a lot from queer theory really. It is also thinking more about transnational connections — and this was also present in the Third Wave, but more so now — and more about being conscious of how experiences of women in different parts of the world are linked to one another, and how, as we were saying before, women and feminists in the US can be complicit in the oppression of women elsewhere. But it also looks at how feminist activism can end the realization of this complicity and imbalance, and how transnational feminism can help bridge those gaps and give women different ways of relating to one another. This is how I see the Fourth Wave, but it is really still emerging, and young people really are taking the lead on that.
When you said the waves overlap or coexist that got me thinking that while we are in the Fourth Wave, for a good many women and men, you still have to go through the other processes depending on where you are starting from. Perhaps you are in a community or situation where the Second Wave issues are still front and center.
Well, for me that is another critique of the first, second, and third waves, because I don’t think they are an evolution. I think they respond to the times. So, for some women voting isn’t that important, but they want to put food on the table, or they want to be able to own land. Or for women here, we’re not even at the basic point of not suffering from domestic violence. I see the waves as expanding our ideas of what feminist interventions are needed, but not necessarily suggesting that we are all in the same place. It’s not that, oh we have achieved this one so now let’s move to this one, then to this one, then to this one. For one person that first one was never relevant. I’m thinking of trans communities in the US; they vote, but freedom from violence is very important to them, and different forms of recognition are important to them as well. And another concern might be what kind of experiences do they share with trans people elsewhere? Actually, when I was recently in India I visited with several transgender activists there. And they share a lot of similarities with trans people here, even in their contexts where their political or economic rights are very differently configured.
So it seems like maybe the waves don’t necessarily represent evolutions but greater inclusiveness.
Yeah, I think so.
Feminism is almost like the air I breathe.
Here’s another lens for discussing feminism. What is feminism for you as a lived experience, not reading a book, but as you go about your life as a woman and as a — I believe you are a mother and a spouse, right?
[chuckles] Yes, I live in a patriarchal family! No. Um, it’s a difficult question, because feminism is almost like the air I breathe. You know how in meditation, you have to focus on your breath, right? Or, rather, one way to meditate is to focus on your breath, and be present in that moment, and feel the breath coming in and out. And that’s kind of how feminism is for me. On the one hand it is needed, because if I don’t have that breath, I don’t survive. And on the other hand it’s kind of difficult to focus on it every day. Because the world is not made for feminism or for thinking in feminist terms! And if you lived your life focusing on patriarchy at every moment you would live very angrily, because how can you not be when oppression is everywhere? The same goes with other forms of oppression.
And so, I confront it wherever I can, but also with an eye at keeping a level of sanity, good humor, and kindness. I want to look into the future with hope. And that’s why I concentrate on my work as educator — of my students and of my son — and as an activist. For example, I want to focus on raising my son to be aware of the basic things. How if you have a girlfriend, you need to understand consent and share equally in the house caring labor. How it’s okay to approach gender and sex with playfulness and fluidity. How not to be a passive spectator of the media, with its sexualized and demeaning images of women. Since he was little, my husband and I explained to him why certain horrifically violent and misogynist video games were not allowed in our house. And as a teacher at Wellesley, I want to focus on helping students figure out how to be better, more inclusive, more thoughtful feminists, and not just the kind of feminist that wants to get to the top of masculinized institutions without at least attempting to change them. Or without questioning the system itself in which those institutions are embedded and that is founded on patriarchal values.
Is Peacebuilding Feminist?
As I was preparing for this interview, and engaging with all the ways peace work is inherently feminist work, I began to wonder what drew me, someone who never really thought in feminist terms, to the work. Here are a few factors: there was anti-authoritarianism, coming out of Emerson; there was a spiritual sense, inspired by King and Gandhi and others, that ends don’t justify means, that the way and the goal are one; there was a sense that war amounts to a giant mistake, or worse, is “a racket”; and then there was my dislike for stereotypical masculinity. This last relates to feminism. But do the others overlap with what we would call a feminist perspective?
I think they do. I mean for me, and I don’t want to claim my feminist perspective as the feminist perspective. It’s just mine. I think they do … I do agree they do overlap with the issue of masculinity. Feminists look not only at men and women and the continuum of gendered expression, but also at masculinities and femininities. What “we” value in society is not femininity and is not a masculinity that defies the norm of that kind of CEO authoritarian, or of that rational decision maker, the “getting things done” person. We don’t value any other alternatives; those other kinds of masculinities are subordinated, compared to what feminists call the hegemonic masculinity, which at different times and in different places changes. So in that sense, yes. And this also pertains to the concepts associated with those. So if peace is associated with femininity, then it is devalued compared to war. Or, making decisions based on empathy or the kinds of emotions associated with femininity, are also devalued. Whereas the “rational” thing to do is valued — notwithstanding that actually rationality often masks emotions like anger or aggression; these are sometimes hidden within the “rational being” or within the ideal of rationality. So on a symbolic level that links to what you were saying.
So war is often presented as the rational choice, and the strong choice, and in our society these qualities tend to override the kinds of qualities I cited above as important to me.
Yes. And I think that on a more practical level, I would say that where you came from was slightly different from where I came from. Both of us in a way started from our religious or spiritual experiences and perspectives, but I came to peace through feminism, not directly from my Catholicism. I came from the experience and knowledge of injustice as a woman, and also from what I learned about injustice from liberation theology. So for me peace since the beginning was not the absence of war, but rather the presence of justice. And of course this idea is found in Martin Luther King as well, and his reading and experience of Christianity; this is something he famously spoke of.
Yes, very much so.
But MLK never paid any attention to women, really. Or not in a serious way. Women for him were helpers in the cause — even though they made so many of the actions that he led possible, from the bus boycott to whatever, right? So the question of justice, even in the peace movement, has always excluded women. And that for me was central to becoming a pacifist. Actually, I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist. I would call myself an anti-war feminist. Because I’m not opposed to all wars in the abstract. Carol Cohn and Sara Ruddick have said it beautifully, actually**: I’m opposed to war as a system, but I’m not ready to condemn every single war either. So I don’t know whether I would oppose certain wars to end certain injustices, but I cannot do it either lightly or in the abstract, and I have always to be mindful of each war’s embeddedness into this system, and of the deeply costly nature of that system.
When I think about that, perhaps it would be a variation on “the preferential option for the poor.” It seems to me that in our society we have a preferential option for war.
So if I’m not a pacifist exactly, I would like people to stop and think more when war is proposed. And I would love to see things change so that our preferential option is for peace. Which brings me to my next question: What is your take on the phenomenon of “the woman warrior”? It seems like progress that the military is filled now with women performing all functions. How does this sit within your conception of feminism and peacebuilding?
Well a lot of the early critique was, and some people still critique feminist peace researchers on this basis, that “you” think all women are peaceful. Well, no. I know very well that … I just think women are human! And because we are human we are peaceful and not peaceful. We can kill and commit horrible crimes. I’m ambivalent on the issue of women in the military, or women in any very patriarchal institution. If I’m ambivalent about women in the military, I’m also ambivalent about women on Wall Street. Not quite to the same degree, but …. And the reason I’m ambivalent is that there is some research that shows, in effect, that a critical mass of women in an institution starts transforming that institution (for example, that when you see more women in government, then measures that are good for women — like better parental leave policies, child care laws, etc. — are implemented). But we don’t know enough yet about how far those changes go — in fact what we often see is that the institution changes the women — unless you go in really, really determined and have a strategy to change the institution and there is the critical mass. I would love to see our military, instead of waging war, do infrastructure projects and more delivery of aid with the equipment they have, with the logistical capacity they have. Hey, I wish women could lead the military in doing that, but I don’t think that’s going to happen — women just become more militarized in the system, just like men.
And it’s also bigger than the military, given how militarized our society is, based on values of the military that are masculinist values; which is not to say that men have those values. They are masculinist values. And the same goes for Wall Street. Or anywhere, really. We value the things that characterize a certain kind of man — the strong, the violent, the ones practicing a certain kind of rationality, the ones not led by emotions (though as I said, anger and aggression are emotions). So, I’m ambivalent. On the one hand, I want them there, I want trans people in the military, because, why not, if it’s just a matter of equality. But as a feminist peace person, I am just against the military as an institution as it exists now.
Thinking and Feeling, Questioning and Listening
Your book-length study of WILPF (the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) took the title Intelligent Compassion. That reminded me of a phrase that we use here, imaginative empathy, something Mr. Ikeda speaks of. What can you tell us about intelligent compassion?
It comes from a quotation from the president of WILPF, Dorothy Hutchinson. She talked about intelligent compassion as a virtue she interpreted coming from Jane Addams, one of the founders of WILPF. For her, we have to employ this imaginative identification, this imaginative empathy with those suffering from unjust policies resulting from various institutions, but must also use our intelligence to see why that is the case, to see where the injustice actually is coming from. I thought that was a good summary of the ethos of WILPF, and also the methodology of WILPF.
The way WILPF operated in the years I studied was to analyze the causes of war, the roots of war and injustice, and to make them known, to talk with one another, and to reach out to others to see whether what “we” understand as the roots may be in fact otherwise. Their challenge was: How we can expand our understanding more, to include voices that are not part of the decision making structure of WILPF? And how can we then truly listen to those voices to hear what they have to tell us about the causes of war and injustice? But they also knew they needed to engage in some self-reflection about where they were as women in WILPF, as persons of a certain privilege and position, to see where their possible blind spots were, using the tools of intelligent compassion.
So, if I understand, the intelligence part relates both to analytical understanding of our situation, how we got here, structurally and socially, but also to the act of self analysis and reflection, so that the process is both outward and inward.
Right now there is a backlash against empathy, saying it represents nothing more than a feeling, or an excess of feeling. But for me empathy also includes the intellectual act of trying to see from another’s perspective, or at least trying to understand why someone acts or believes as they do, even if it wouldn’t be your choice. I feel like the lack of empathy for someone like, say Colin Kaepernick, stemmed from people only relying on their feelings in a reactionary way and also from not asking themselves if his actions are in fact quite reasonable given his status as a Black man concerned with justice in America — even if you don’t “agree” with those actions.
Well, for many people, empathy is indeed a very feminized feeling, and they think that because it’s a feeling it’s a bad thing. Or they think that it’s a wishy-washy or a sissy thing, or whatever negative gender stereotype applies. I do think there is actually a more legitimate question, or skepticism, that should be raised about empathy if it is defined as only or primarily being about feelings. Can you really put yourself in someone else’s shoes emotionally — or practically for that matter? And is that a tad arrogant — to think you could know what someone is feeling if you’ve never lived it? And that’s where the intelligence comes in, or the self-reflection comes in. Because, I cannot really imagine what it means to live in the war, like my father did. I cannot possibly imagine. But I can have a vivid picture as he painted it for me, which he did. And he could tell me the stories again and again, so much so that it became part of my upbringing and even my sense of self. But that’s a very different thing than to say that I know what he felt like.
Here’s another way to think about empathy. When I was forty, I had breast cancer, and experienced the trifecta: surgery, radiation, chemo. And I had a seven-year-old kid that started acting out at school. And if someone would say to me, I know what you are going through, I would think, no you don’t! And I couldn’t even really know what people with other kinds of cancer in my cancer support group were going through exactly, but we could draw on and share experiences, because we were all suffering. We all were having our own struggles. I think that if we emphasized a shared sense of humanity, that we all have our struggles, then you could say, yes, if you were in Colin Kaepernick’s position it would be reasonable to act that way. You aren’t in his shoes, but you can, with some self reflection and empathy, know that that course of action is reasonable. In fact you find how you can be in solidarity with the struggle, even if it’s not precisely the same as your own.
It’s interesting that the intelligence aspect includes each person understanding the limits of what they can really know or assume about someone else.
Yes, I love that idea.
Intelligent compassion got me thinking about other frameworks for doing the work. When Betty Reardon worked with us last year on nuclear abolition she emphasized the concept of what she calls alternative thinking, which is something she sees as central to Daisaku Ikeda’s work on that issue. One example would be to divorce ourselves from that pervasive way of thinking that says that the challenge of abolition is simply too big and too hopeless. Do you talk about alternative thinking with students?
All the time. Because they come in with the idea that the world is as it is. No. The world is what we make of it. The world has been made. The world we have now is not the same as it was ten years ago. Cynthia Enloe, who lives here in Cambridge, says that feminism, if anything, teaches you that what is called natural, is not. You should always question what you are taught to think of as “natural” or “unchangeable.” Every institution has been created, and from the time of its creation, it has changed. So we can change it. My students, when they come in, with all the things that they take for granted … I tell them: I hope you come out of this class asking questions. I don’t want to give you any answers. I want to give you the tools to be able to ask the right questions. And to question authority. Even mine. Question my authority! You might be successful, sometimes not! But I think it’s important to not take anything for granted, to not accept answers that say, “It has always been this way, and that’s the way the world works.” No. The world has worked in many different ways, and is working in different ways in different parts of our planet now. So why can’t we change it?
Before we close, could you talk about whether there have been any figures in particular that have inspired you on your path?
I don’t want to do a disservice to anyone, but the moment that changed my life and made me want to pursue peace studies was when I read that book that I talked about earlier, The National Interest and the Human Interest. I read it in Ireland. Then, two years later, I visited the University of Notre Dame with the person who became my husband, because he was going there. So I dropped him off on campus, and I was touring the university, and I saw the name of the person who wrote that book among the faculty at Notre Dame. I didn’t know much at all about the US. And I wasn’t planning to come live in this country. I just had a boyfriend! But I saw the name Robert Johansen and that he was teaching at the Peace Studies Institute at Notre Dame. And I was like, I want to study here. I don’t know what they are studying, but that’s what I want to study — all because he wrote this book. And that’s how I ended up there. So I think that for me, Bob is a person that has literally changed the course of my life. I didn’t even know that peace studies existed at that point.
So you did study with him then.
Yes, I did. I went to pursue Peace Studies at Notre Dame – with him. And we are still in touch. It was totally serendipitous. I want to say that he’s not a feminist! In fact, I argue with him, because he still doesn’t get it [laughs], but that’s okay! He tries to be open to it, but he doesn’t read that much feminism. That’s my pet peeve with him, but that’s okay. He’s a person that really changed my life. He is a Church of the Brethren person.
If he’s not a feminist, what is the part of his work and his message that you took away?
Well, the work is as I mentioned earlier. He gave me a glimpse of what an alternative-thinking foreign policy, one based on human interest, could be. The other thing, on a very personal level … I don’t know if it’s because he came from an Anabaptist tradition, a pacifist church, or because it’s his personality, but he was the first professor … let me back up. The Italian Academy is very patriarchal and very authoritarian and very hierarchical as well … and he was the first professor I had where I could sit … I remember going into his office, and he would ask me a question and really truly listen. And, you know, I think there are very few people who know how to listen; really, really truly listen to what you are saying, to devote to you their entire attention and be in the moment. He was one of them. And he is a model for me for the way I want to be with my students, though I don’t always live up to that ideal.
* Uta Ranke-Heinemann (born 1927) is a German theologian, academic, and author. She holds the (nondenominational) chair of History of Religion at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, her birthplace. In 1969, became the first woman to hold a chair of theology at a German university, Essen University.