Feminism and Analytic Philosophy of Religion
Abstract and Keywords
The relation between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist thought has to date been a strained one. To the extent that most analytic philosophers of religion have attended to feminist theory or feminist theology at all, their acknowledgment has generally gone no further than a belated concession to the use of gender-inclusive language. More substantial issues raised by feminist philosophy or theology have in large part been ignored in the standard literature. Although there have been certain notable exceptions to this “rule,” it is undeniable that analytic philosophy of religion remains predominantly “gender blind” in its thinking, and thus, no doubt unsurprisingly, when feminist thinkers have troubled to comment on the discipline, their criticisms have tended to be severe. This article primarily aims to probe the reasons for the mutual incomprehension between the disciplines of analytic philosophy of religion and feminist thought, and to chart—and assess—the feminist criticisms leveled against analytic philosophy of religion for what is claimed to be its covert “masculinist” bias.
The relation between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist thought has to date been a strained one. To the extent that most analytic philosophers of religion have attended to feminist theory or feminist theology at all, their acknowledgment has generally gone no further than a belated concession to the use of gender-inclusive language. More substantial issues raised by feminist philosophy or theology have in large part been ignored in the standard literature. Although there have been certain notable exceptions to this “rule,” it is undeniable that analytic philosophy of religion remains predominantly “gender blind” in its thinking, and thus, no doubt unsurprisingly, when feminist thinkers have troubled to comment on the discipline, their criticisms have tended to be severe.
The primary purpose of this chapter, then, is to probe the reasons for the mutual incomprehension between the disciplines of analytic philosophy of religion and feminist thought, and to chart—and assess—the feminist criticisms leveled against analytic philosophy of religion for what is claimed to be its covert “masculinist” bias.1 Although there is now a burgeoning literature in the genre of “feminist philosophy of religion,”.2 most of the woman scholars involved have no truck with analytic philosophy of religion at all, and are primarily engaged with French feminist thought, or American pragmatism, or both. But as the focus of (p. 495) this chapter is the potential interchange between feminist thought and analytic philosophy of religion, I shall concentrate on the two feminist thinkers who have recently devoted book-length accounts to a critique of analytic philosophy of religion: Pamela Sue Anderson (1998) and Grace Jantzen (1998). Some of their criticisms overlap, but they are by no means in agreement about what, if anything, can be salvaged from the project of analytic philosophy of religion as far as future feminist work is concerned. A critical comparison of their views will thus prove instructive in highlighting what the prospects are for a rapprochement between feminist thought and analytic philosophy of religion. As we shall see, much depends here on whether analytic philosophers of religion are already prejudiced from the outset against post-Kantian continental traditions of philosophy, psycholinguistics, and social theory. A complete refusal to learn from these traditions will certainly also prevent fruitful interaction with feminist thought.
The second, and much shorter, purpose of this chapter is more speculative. It is to suggest some ways in which future philosophy of religion in the analytic tradition might usefully—and indeed, creatively—take up the task of responding to the challenges of such feminist critique without altogether abandoning its own most cherished goals. Because such qualities as clarity, logical incisiveness, generalizable philosophical persuasiveness, and a commitment to a realist theory of truth are commonly deemed prime desiderata by analytic philosophers of religion, it will be clear following our discussion below that feminists who are unreservedly committed to French psycholinguistic feminist theory are unlikely to be persuaded of a possible accord between the disciplines. For Jantzen, especially, such highly vaunted characteristics of analytic philosophy of religion as clarity and rational persuasiveness are themselves prime manifestations of “phallocentric” thought (of the “male,” “symbolic” realm, in Jacques Lacan's terms), and hence intrinsically demeaning to the project of feminist revision. That there is nonetheless a remaining possibility of mutual enrichment between feminist thought and analytic philosophy of religion, on rather different theoretical presumptions, it will be the purpose of the final part of this chapter to suggest. Anderson also suggests some possibility of positive mediation, which we shall duly note; my own suggestions will probe a little further. In short, I show that imprecise judgments on the possible positive interactions between analytic philosophy of religion and feminism are to be avoided: it is the particular form of feminist theoretical or theological commitment that is the crucial variable, along with the willingness of analytic philosophy of religion to broaden its consideration about what could “count” as relevant to its task.
Let us now turn, first, to an analysis and comparative critique of the work of Jantzen and Anderson.
Although Jantzen's book appeared a few months after Anderson's, it will be more illuminating pedagogically to treat it first in this comparison of the two. As will quickly emerge, Jantzen's book is the more radical of the two in its sweepingly (p. 496) critical account of the practices and goals of analytic philosophy of religion, and because Anderson's position is decidedly more eirenic in comparison, it will be useful to clarify how she softens the divide. Anderson's book fell into Jantzen's hands only as she was writing the final version of her introduction, and she (perhaps slightly defensively) describes Anderson as having a “quite different” “approach” (1998, 2). My own judgment is that Anderson's initial “approach” (especially her use of French feminist materials) is remarkably similar to Jantzen's, but her chosen form of feminist epistemology, and thus her practical conclusions and proposals, are markedly different. Let us now explain why this is so.
Jantzen's Critique of Analytic Philosophy of Religion
A simple account of Jantzen's book is not easy, since she discusses a great deal of diverse literature and her central themes only emerge, cumulatively, throughout the book. Nonetheless, a brief résumé of her core thesis might go as follows. At the outset she claims to be writing her book to “find [her] own [sc. feminist] voice in the philosophy of religion” (Jantzen 1998, 1), and simultaneously to build a “bridge” between analytic and continental traditions in philosophy of religion (4). But the reader rapidly begins to wonder whether the “bridge” metaphor is somewhat disingenuous. Once the key categories of French psycholinguistics have been introduced, it becomes clear that Jantzen sees modern Western thought in general, and analytic philosophy of religion in particular, as hopelessly in thrall to a “masculinist imaginary”—a “symbolic” order (to use the terminology of Lacan) that is obsessed with death and incapable of delivering the liberative vision of God that would allow women to “flourish.” This large-scale thesis undergirds Jantzen's whole book and imparts to it a deep pessimism about the cramping restrictions of the existing status quo in Anglo-American philosophy. Right from the start, it is hard to see how Jantzen actually could build a “bridge” between her position and that of analytic philosophy of religion, for the latter, according to her, hides under its “cool, guarded, ostensibly neutral” approach a “modern,” “Protestant,” and “scientific” obsession with “truth” and “belief” that can lead only to “patriarchal necrophilia” (18, 20–23). The only solution to this state of affairs is for women to construct for themselves (with explicit debt to Feuerbach and to the French feminist Luce Irigaray) a new so-called feminine imaginary. This must be a vision of the divine that will sustain women's interests and release them from the “masculine symbolic,” which, from the moment of their very entry into language, has enslaved them in “masculinist” modes of thinking.
Why exactly is the interest in “truth” in analytic philosophy of religion associated with “masculinism,” and especially with death? And why is any language system thought of as intrinsically tainted by such “masculinism”? The answer lies in the theoretical underpinnings provided by French post-Freudian psycholinguistics, especially in Luce Irigaray's feminist adjustment of Lacan's contrast of the so-called symbolic and semiotic realms. As Jantzen explains (1998, ch. 1), Lacan's understanding of the “symbolic” realm explains the child's entry into language (and thence into civilization and culture), and the achievement thereby of a conscious “subjectivity”; in the case of the male child, this is associated, according to Lacan, with a crucial repression of his desire for the mother and a more or less unconscious identification with “phallocentric” goals: order, control, “system,” and “truth.” The “semiotic” realm, in contrast, is that which disturbingly interrupts the “male” or “phallocentric” thought-forms of the “symbolic” and brings a disruptive reminiscence of identification with the maternal. (It is often expressed in poetry, art, or music that defies “order,” or it may be theorized in psychoanalytic or cultural theory.)
Once this basic psycholinguistic gender binary between symbolic and semiotic is taken as given, it takes a feminist critique, provided most notably by Irigaray (1985a, 1985b), to point out that “feminine subjectivity” is fatally occluded by the dominance of the “symbolic” in this theory. For as in Freud, so also in Lacan, woman is fundamentally defined as “lack” (of the penis in Freud, of “phallocentric” consciousness in Lacan). And if the normative entry into independent personhood is conceived of as “male,” and the repression of the maternal presumed to be a necessity of such growth, how could the theory possibly accommodate an adequate account of “feminine” personhood? If a young woman follows the directives of the “symbolic,” she can at best achieve a false “equality” with men on their own terms; her own distinctive subjectivity will remain undeveloped and unacknowledged. For Irigaray, Lacan's “Law (or Name) of the Father” is assumed to be so deeply inscribed into Western culture that, despite pervasive secularism, it still summons the authoritative power of a male “God.” Jantzen adds to this insight her insistence that the “Law of the Father” is also death-obsessed: “necrophilia” is intrinsically bound in with the “Law of the Father,” since it ceaselessly seeks to conquer, master and subdue the “other”. The same goes, mutatis mutandis, for the quest for “truth,” which, for Jantzen, equally assumes this competitive and destructive attitude. Only a different, “feminine imaginary” can provide a God who does not repress, but sustains, women's “flourishing.”
It is Jantzen's claim from early on in her book that analytic philosophy of religion, specifically, is incapable of acknowledging the existence of the “Rule of the Father” to which it is nonetheless enslaved (1998, 24). Even when an analytic philosopher of religion occasionally mentions the significance of the “unconscious” (a rare enough event in itself),3 there is a “deafening silence,” she says, about the relation of this realm to questions of gender and the problem of (p. 498) women's subjectivity. Jantzen applies at this point the pragmatist criterion of what is “helpful” to further women's goals. Women must rejoice in their “natality” rather than becoming absorbed in questions of death, judgment, and afterlife. They must develop what Irigaray has called a “sensible transcendental,” that is, a new vision of the divine which does not abstract from the earthly and physical but rejoices in them. Indeed, the ultimate solution for Jantzen is for women to see themselves as “becoming divine,” a projective and imaginative task that she links (at the end of her book) with process thought and a pantheistic metaphysics (ch. 11).
These are the central themes in Jantzen's work, and together form what we might call the “bookends” of Becoming Divine (1998, chs. 1 and 11). As Jantzen herself recapitulates the core thesis of the book in chapter 11 (254): “The central contentionhas been that it is urgently necessary for feminists to work towards a new religious symbolic focused on natality and flourishing rather than death, a symbolic which will lovingly enable natals, women and men, to become subjects, and the earth on which we live to bloom.” But the intervening chapters of the book greatly complexify the picture and allow Jantzen to draw on a wide range of continental heroes and heroines from post-Kantian philosophy, social theory, and feminist thought. Interestingly, Jantzen has little time for the work of the pioneering feminist theologians (Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Daphne Hampson, for instance), whom she regards as making philosophically naïve appeals to “women's experience” as privatized and generically female, and as failing to acknowledge the “irreducibly diverse” nature of the many variables in women's lives (race, class, sexual orientation, and so on; see Jantzen 1998, ch. 5). Indeed, besides the French feminists Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, and the German American ethicist Hannah Arendt, it is noteworthy that Jantzen's main intellectual heroes are all male: Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and Michel Foucault, while the “enemy” is represented repeatedly as analytic philosophy of religion and its major male exponents (Richard Swinburne, Paul Helm, Alvin Plantinga, Brian Davies, Vincent Brümmer, D. Z. Phillips, and John Hick are all singled out for trenchant criticism, despite their own many differences of opinion). Because much of the force of Jantzen's book depends on how one reads this further disjunctive binary (between male continental social theory/philosophy and male analytic philosophy of religion), we need to examine it in a little more detail in order to assess the success and consistency of Jantzen's proposal. What we shall find here is that the occasional calls made by Jantzen—in the spirit of Derrida—to overcome all disjunctive binaries (Jantzen 1998 62, chs. 3 and 11), are seemingly rendered merely rhetorical by the relentless force of her dismissal of the analytic school. Likewise, the more eirenic moments when Jantzen calls for some kind of “fusion or healing of the rift between semiotic and symbolic” (203) ring rather hollow given the repetitive fury commonly manifested by her against the “symbolic” realm tout court. Let us now scrutinize these (p. 499) paradoxical dimensions of the book a little further, and in so doing relate a number of important subthemes in Jantzen that have bearing on our assessment of the possibility of any future fruitful interaction between feminism and analytic philosophy of religion.
It is important, first, to explicate in greater detail why Jantzen associates analytic philosophy of religion specifically with “necrophilic” imagination. As we have seen, the very commitment to truth and clarity tars the discipline with the “male,” “symbolic” brush at the outset, as far as Jantzen is concerned; the first thing we need to examine is why she presumes that analytic philosophers of religion necessarily fall into male idolatry by claiming “the God's-eye view.” But Jantzen has other objections to the concerns and thought-forms of analytic philosophy of religion, which are related to the charge of necrophilia. Five (other) such objections appear paramount in Becoming Divine, according to my reading: Jantzen's profound distrust of evidentialism (including her analysis of what she sees as question-begging appeals to “religious experience”); her identification of a recurrent mind-body split in analytic philosophy of religion (which she thinks involves a fatal occlusion of “desire”); her charge of a covert identification of the male subject with God (which leads on, rather oddly, to a radical critique of “analogy”); her claim of an unhealthy obsession with “salvation” and life after death; and finally, her accusation of an equally morbid interest in theodicy and the problem of evil. Many of these charges are entwined with one another in a way that makes them difficult to disentangle, but a brief examination of each in turn will draw out the further subthemes of the book before we attempt an assessment.
First, Jantzen's appeal (1998, 205) to Thomas Nagel's (1986) celebrated dictum about the “God's-eye view” being nothing but the “view from nowhere”4 indicates her strong commitment to dissolving the realism-antirealism binary and replacing it with criteria of “justice” and “trustworthiness” (1998, ch. 9). Likewise (ch. 10), “ontotheology,” as critiqued by Heidegger, must be replaced by primary ethical concerns for the “other”; yet Levinas' ethical “first philosophy” also must be adjusted—with the help of Arendt's stress on action and community—to acknowledge how gendered “otherness” can easily be forgotten. This pragmatist and ethical “turn” supposedly rebuts the epistemological realism of most analytic philosophy of religion by a quick rejoinder of false consciousness: any claim to such privileged access to the “real” must be playing “God” from the platform of the “male symbolic”—“the phallus as universal signifier” (Jantzen 1998, 204). It would appear, then, that “Any claim to objective (let alone universal) truthwould have to be abandoned in favour of a respectful pluralism” (214). But here Jantzen wavers; she has to acknowledge that not all epistemological “standpoints” are equally valid (else we would have to be “respectful,” likewise, to the perspectives “that slavery is acceptable” or “that lesbians should be killed”). Yet Jantzen refuses—and here is an important contrast with Anderson, which we shall explore (p. 500) later—to adopt the well-known feminist “standpoint epistemology” of Nancy Hartsock (1983) and Sandra Harding (1993), and claim a greater “objectivity” for the perspectives of the oppressed (Jantzen 1998, 121–27; 215). Because, for Jantzen, any claim to “truth” or “objectivity” is tainted by “phallocentrism,” it can thus only serve the deathly agonistics of “male” power. This leaves her in a sticky position epistemologically, which she seeks to alleviate by appeal to the intrinsic pragmatic worth of “struggle” (215), the admission of an irreducible plurality of “perspectives,” and the need for discernment on the basis of the criteria of “justice” and communal “trustworthiness.” Whether Jantzen can ultimately avoid all appeals to “truth,” metaphysical or otherwise, is a question to which we shall return. But certainly, it is her avowal, in the spirit of Foucault, that such claims invariably hide devious attempts at power-mastery.
Notable, too, is Jantzen's complete disdain for the strategies of apophatic discourse, which one might have expected her to employ as a feminist riposte to “literal” truth claims about the divine from some analytic philosophers. But as she has discussed more extensively in previous work (Jantzen 1995), so here again: she denounces “darkness mysticism” in the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius as yet another elitist “male” ploy to establish the hegemony of the intellect and to prevent women's voices being heard at the apex of the “ecclesiastical hierarchy” (1998, 174–75).
The remaining cluster of objections to analytic philosophy of religion, identified above, are wielded by Jantzen as other parts of her argument unfold. The penchant among some philosophers of religion (but by no means all) toward “evidentialism” is discussed by Jantzen (1998, ch. 4) as a foil to her thesis that “desire” is repressed in the discourses of analytic philosophy. To seek to “justify” religious beliefs by “evidences,” she argues, is ostensibly a quest for objective “rationality” but actually hides a desire to project one's own image into the divine: “A deconstructive reading of thisdiscoursereveals that although the insistence on evidence is meant as a denial or repression of desire and projection, these elements are always already operative” (77). Richard Swinburne (1979) and Paul Helm (1994), especially, receive harsh criticism for failing to note the lessons of Nietzsche and Feuerbach on power and projection; Swinburne's and Helm's concern about the weighing of “evidences” ignores their own projective desire for divine power and fatally “constructs desire as rationality's other” (Jantzen 1998, 81). Jantzen, in contrast, marshalls the aid of Feuerbach and Irigaray to insist that the “path of desire” is a necessary means to women “becoming divine” and to ousting the “male symbolic” in favor of a new “feminine imaginary.” As we have already seen, however, a naïve appeal to (female) “religious experience” is to be avoided here, according to Jantzen, since it can already be part of a false objectification and privatization of religious piety, which merely plays back into the hands of the “male symbolic.”5
Unsurprisingly, we find Jantzen also launching an attack on analytic philos (p. 501) ophy of religion's presumed tendency to a mind-body dualism, and its failure to acknowledge gendered difference, as part of her theory about the discipline's occlusion of “desire” (1998, 31–34). Once again, as elsewhere in this book, Jantzen does not stop to comment on the great variety of views within analytic philosophy of religion on the mind-body issue and other matters, and her wide sweeps of judgment about the Christian tradition's views of the “self” (from Augustine to Descartes) also do not recount the internal complexity of this history. She admits (31) that “The intensity with which embodiment, gender and the unconscious are wilfully ignored and repressed in much Anglo-American philosophy of religion, and the anxiety such repression bespeaks, would be a significant study in itself,” which she cannot here explore in detail. Her discussion (in the same chapter) of the purported identification of the “male” philosophical subject with God in analytic philosophy of religion is equally brief: three very different scholars (Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, and Vincent Brümmer) are taken to task for an “unproblematic” assumption that “God isa relatively straightforward analogate of a human person” (29). The criticism has a point, especially in the case of Swinburne's earlier work.6 but, as we shall see, Jantzen will not have recourse to a sliding scale of “analogy” to help either her or those whom she accuses off the hook of the “literal” identification between the human and the divine.
It is in fact somewhat later in Jantzen's book, in connection with her critique of the apophatic, that she launches her attack on “analogical” speech for God (1998, 173–77). Again, one cannot help wondering whether this ploy is in her own best feminist interests; for might one not think that a nuanced account of how God profoundly differs from humans—ontologically, and thus also in our mode of linguistic apprehension—would help the deconstruction of “male” idolatry? But in fact, for Jantzen, the appeal to “analogical” speech can only be subject to the same hermeneutic of suspicion that attended her dismissal of “negative theology.” Her (frankly, eccentric) reading of “analogy” in Thomas Aquinas and his various modern followers starts with the assertion that “the doctrine of analogy[shows] how the masculinist imaginary[forecloses] the divine horizon by trying to pin down the sense and reference of words about God” (175, my emphasis). She goes on to assert, even more oddly, that “philosophers of religion who appeal to analogy” fail to notice Thomas's “debt to Pseudo-Dionysius.” Whether or not this is true, it would not help them, according to Jantzen, if they did notice the debt, since she has already claimed to reveal the fatal “masculinism” in Dionysius's own valorization of “men's minds” (177).7
Jantzen's final criticisms of analytic philosophers of religion circle back, more explicitly, to the question of necrophilia. In her discussion of “salvation” in philosophy of religion, Jantzen claims that the doctrine is central to Christian, especially Protestant, thought, precisely because it is “embedded in an imaginary of death” (1998, 159). “Patriarchal” interests in “salvific” individual rewards and punishments repress the material and the maternal, she claims, and should be con (p. 502) trasted with a feminist focus on natality. Her attack here on John Hick (1973, 1976) for his well-known interests in “salvation” in the context of world religions seems a little strained granted Hick's own “liberal” reduction of metaphysical belief structures to ethical or pragmatist alternatives, a ploy that Jantzen herself endorses (see 1998, 168–69). More predictable, doubtless, are Jantzen's objections to the way that the problem of evil has classically been handled in analytic philosophy of religion. As we might expect, she finds the emphasis on the “free will defence,” and especially the “higher order goods theory,” morally repugnant as strategies of theodicy; the “conundrum” of the problem of evil “does not arise,” she avers, “unless the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness are explicitly accepted as those of the God of the western onto-theological tradition” (260). Only, in other words, if “God” looks suspiciously like the male moral agent of the “symbolic” consciousness will the arguments fall out as they do: “By making [the problem of evil] an intellectual problem to be solved, concentration on the adequacyof the preferred solution can take up all the time and energy that could otherwise be devoted to doing something about the suffering itself” (260).
Once again denouncing such purportedly “masculinist” presumptions, Jantzen feels free to move on at the end of her book to enunciate her own explicitly “pantheistic” projection of the “feminine divine.” Although she has drawn heavily on the thought of Feuerbach, Heidegger, Derrida, and Levinas in the course of her book, she finally finds all these—her male “pantheon” of continental heroes—inadequate when it comes to the “Western” masculinist “dread of death” (Jantzen 1998, 129), in which, she claims, even these scholars share. Some help, however, is provided by the French feminist Julia Kristeva, whose analysis of the transgressive potential of the “semiotic”—expressed in poetry, music, childbirth, or Mariology—suggests ways of escaping the dominating power of the “male imaginary” and the “change of Gestalt to an imaginary of natality” (Jantzen 1998, 200).8 Finally, Jantzen hangs her hope on the possibility of such a redefinition of the divine.
This detailed account of Jantzen's argument has indicated how complex and rich is her network of appeals to continental philosophy and feminist theory, but also how deep is her resistance to the discourses of analytic philosophy of religion. Can that discipline represent anything but a whipping boy for Jantzen? That is the question we must face as we now attempt a brief assessment of her book. In doing this, we shall point forward to those themes that Pamela Sue Anderson will treat rather differently, themes that will have crucial implications for our interest in a possible future rapprochement between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist theory.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Jantzen's book, first, is the ambivalence one detects in her adherence to the Lacanian theory of the male symbolic and to Irigaray's and Kristeva's critical enunciation of the same theme. There are times when Jantzen announces the Rule of the Father as if there were no hope of shifting (p. 503) its influence, at one point (1998, 217) declaring it impossible even for good-hearted feminist women to escape its power and linguistic constraints altogether: “We speak in our fathers' tongue.” Because the pessimistic theory of language as intrinsically phallocentric is so general as to fall foul of the Popperian principle of empirical nonfalsifiability, Jantzen rests her whole case on a dangerously fragile fundament. Yet her own blanket dismissal of “empiricism” would presumably disallow any investigation of this matter according to evidences. But what if we were to challenge the theory of the repressive masculinism of all systems of language? Would we not merely underline or reinscribe the mutual incomprehension of discourses that currently exists between analytic philosophy of religion and French feminist psycholinguistics? But it is precisely that incomprehension that we seek to overcome, and Jantzen, ironically, does little to help us here. Indeed, she herself shows considerable indecision about the extent to which even the tactics of French feminism can indicate a liberating escape route from Lacan's binaries of the regnant symbolic and the marginalized semiotic. At times, as we noted above, she speaks of a hope for a “fusion”—some sort of sublation of the linguistic (and gender) binary that so exercises and afflicts Western culture; when following Kristeva's leads on the creativity of semiotic expression, she will voice a hope that “women can and do become speaking subjects” (Jantzen 1998, 203). At other times, she writes as if the heavy hand of masculinism is a cultural given that is simply immovable.
The same indecision affects Jantzen's attitudes to binaries in general. Following Derrida (Jantzen 1998, ch. 11), she would ostensibly seek to up-end and subvert the binaries of symbolic/semiotic, male/female, or death/life. Yet her own argument is curiously ambiguous on this front, at times generalizing incautiously about the male symbolic, while simultaneously insisting on a deconstruction of generalizing claims about women; at times accusing the entire Western religious tradition of an obsession with death, while also refusing the possibility that life and death might need to be considered together in a religion committed to the doctrines of incarnation and resurrection (life through death). If only natality is acceptable for Jantzen, and death suppressed, has she not precisely recapitulated the binary she is seeking to overcome?
In sum, if the Lacanian view of language is as repressive as Jantzen would have it, and Irigaray's and Kristeva's solutions for adjustment are inadequate, then a more confident, mediating, and robust strategy for cultural escape from the symbolic is needed than Jantzen appears to provide. This, indeed, is the final irony of her poststructuralist commitment: if the symbolic is as pervasive and as powerful as she avers, there is seemingly little hope for feminism except to withdraw into an alternative sectarian world. Jantzen's last chapter on process thought, and the world as “God's body,” represents views she came to hold long ago (see Jantzen 1984), before her interest in deconstruction and French feminism developed; it is somewhat hard to see how these older interests cohere with the new (p. 504) theoretical perspective: how exactly does process thought relate to the semiotic, or indeed escape the taint of making realist claims? Jantzen brushes this objection away by claiming that the realism/nonrealism debate is a stale and unproductive one. Yet her new commitment (with Irigaray) to a Feuerbacherian form of “projectionism,” in which women themselves “become divine,” disposes of a transcendent divinity and of realist truth-claims in a way that is unlikely to satisfy many Christian believers spiritually and may cause them to worry about new forms of “feminine” idolatry. Her answer to such critics can only be that they are suffering from the delusions of masculinism—and so the circularity of the argument repeats itself.
Jantzen's further claim that all appeals to truth or rationality smack of feminist false consciousness and necrophilic obsession seems self-defeating granted that she herself makes many “truth” claims, en passant, in her book. For instance, as we have already noted, her commitment to pantheistic process thought is definitely recommendatory and “realist” in tone, and her view that women are universally marginalized and repressed is not, surely, expressed as a mere relativistic “perspective.” Further, her insistence that there is no God's-eye view (even for “God”?) has all the paradoxicality of a passionate conviction voiced by one who has ostensibly disclaimed all truths. But even Jantzen admits at one point that the claims of truth cannot be evaded altogether (1998, 127); it is to be doubted whether her substitution of “justice” can altogether escape continuing (if somewhat covert) “truth” claims as well.9 Similarly, it is hard to see how her ethical commitments to natality and flourishing can ultimately evade the taint of some sort of belief; Jantzen's attempt to overcome “intellect” with ethics thus looks suspiciously like another unsublated binary. This is why, finally, her position on feminist “standpoint epistemology,” already discussed, also seems open to question: if all perspectives are “partial” (126–27), how can one appropriately reckon one more partial than another? Does not the Foucauldian charge of self-interest merely boomerang back on the feminist critic? To this crucial point we shall return in our discussion of Anderson's work, whose position on standpoint epistemology is importantly different from Jantzen's.
Finally, we must mention the awkwardness of the part played by the “enemy”—analytic philosophy of religion—in Jantzen's work. As we mentioned at the outset, Jantzen is ostensibly set on a mediating exercise to bring analytic philosophy of religion to its senses, as it were, and to instruct it in the insights of continental and feminist philosophy. But in fact, for the most part, the discipline does indeed play the part of whipping boy in Jantzen's text, and, being larded with blame, is therefore hardly able to contribute anything to the future way forward in philosophy of religion that Jantzen announces.
One of the effects of this scapegoating ploy is that Jantzen finds it difficult to acknowledge that “analytic philosophy of religion” is by now itself a highly diverse discourse; her “identikit” caricature of the disembodied “man of reason,” repres (p. 505) sive of feeling, anxiety, and gender consciousness, may well fit some authors in the field, but really cannot any longer be applied to all. Indeed, there is an increasing consciousness of post-Kantian continental philosophy in the guild of Anglo-American analytic philosophy of religion, which one would expect Jantzen to applaud. Moreover, her vehemence against Protestant thought, more generally, only occasionally stops to acknowledge that “Reformed epistemology” has of late disavowed itself of many of the features of evidentialism and foundationalism that Jantzen particularly abhors. And as for the varieties of Thomism that are now represented in the field, Jantzen has little to say of them at all. Her own rejection of analogy and apophaticism tends to make her read Thomists, negatively, as covert evidentialists or honorary Protestants, and her irritation at the discipline of philosophy of religion as a whole allows only grudging acknowledgment that Wittgensteinians like D. Z. Phillips, liberals like John Hick, or scholars like William Wainwright, who have investigated the significance of “affectivity” for rational judgment, might occasionally be saying something rather akin to her own pronouncements.10 In sum, Jantzen's rhetorical strategy of “castigation by lumping” where analytic philosophy of religion is concerned makes her occasional suggestions that the way forward lies in an expansion of rationality, rather than its rejection (1998, 69), look half-hearted and undeveloped. More commonly, one senses that Jantzen wants no more truck with the “male” discipline at all, and may thereby have permanently relegated herself to the semiotic margins of the currently constituted academic discussion.
However, it is precisely at this point of strategic, political decision vis-à-vis the academic status quo that Pamela Sue Anderson's work is of relevance and interest. Sharing, as we shall see, many of the same feminist interests and bibliographical sources as Jantzen, she nonetheless sketches a more hopeful path of possible interchange between the disciplines than Jantzen is able to envisage. To Anderson's alternative proposals we shall now turn, before moving to our own final assessments and positive suggestions.
Anderson's Vision of Feminist Philosophy of Religion
It may be most illuminating in this context to discuss Anderson's work in contrapuntal relation to Jantzen's by drawing out the chief contrasts between their ideas. For in many respects, their books witness to the same interests and concerns, and these can be quite briefly mentioned at the outset, without requiring (p. 506) lengthy repetition. All these central themes are already laid out in the first chapter of Anderson's A Feminist Philosophy of Religion (1998, 3–27).
Like Jantzen, Anderson draws deeply, first, on the resources of contemporary continental philosophy, especially on the insights of the post-Lacanian French feminists Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Likewise, “desire” is also a key category for Anderson, and a theme that she sees largely repressed in current analytic philosophy of religion. Like Jantzen, she traces that repression to a latent mind-body split in the thought of many in the guild, as well as to an unacknowledged epistemological normativity given to the male self (as falsely “male-neutral,” in her terms), and to an accompanying modeling of “God” on the same idolatrous male self. Like Jantzen, Anderson is particularly scathing of the discipline's classic investment in empirical and probabilistic demonstrations of God's existence—a Lockean endeavor which Anderson takes in any case to be defunct since Kant's first Critique, but especially tinged with “masculinist” repression of feminist interests. Why she makes this charge of empiricism, in particular, we shall have reason to probe and query later. She is scathing, too, of the metaphysical “realism” that commonly accompanies such an endeavor, since she assumes (again summoning Nagel),11 that such claims can arise only from blinkered male attempts at epistemological privilege. A moral disgust, similar to Jantzen's, with the way that the problem of evil has been discussed in the discipline again appears in Anderson's book, though here with more attention to distinctive recent contributions by female analytic scholars.12 The Foucauldian question of whose interests are served by the discourses of analytic philosophy of religion attends Anderson's whole exercise, as it does Jantzen's, and the commitment to reconceive the divine, and along with it the entire enterprise of philosophy of religion, drives the whole project. The goal of this undertaking, finally, again as in Jantzen, is to allow women, and themes stereotypically associated with them (desire, birth, death, excess, the unconscious, any despised or subordinated “other”), to be fully accommodated into the discussion.
Such central commonalities of theme justify, I believe, my earlier contention that Anderson and Jantzen at least start with a shared set of concerns, interests, and bibliographical influences. But the way Anderson's analysis and proposals then develop are markedly different from Jantzen's, for reasons that we shall now explore.13
Probably the most decisive difference between the two women's projects arises in the area of their fundamental epistemological commitments. Early on in her book (1998, 42–47, and ch. 2) Anderson helpfully spells out three broad epistemological options that feminist philosophers have at their disposal.14 The first, and least radical, is an extension of the empiricist project for feminist ends: on this view, what is needed to liberate women in the sphere of philosophy is simply the taking into account of empirical factors (about women, their lives, their concerns, etc.) which have been falsely occluded in traditional “male-neutral” phi (p. 507) losophy. Anderson declares herself less than fully satisfied with this first option, on the grounds that it cannot take sufficiently critical account of the all-encompassing epistemological perspective of male privilege from which women's issues have classically been marginalized. And she has, in any case, as we have seen, already expressed her reservation about covert sexisms in empiricist approaches. Hence, the second, and somewhat more radical, epistemological option appeals to her more: that of so-called standpoint epistemology. We have already mentioned Jantzen's (rather hasty) dismissal of this approach, above; Anderson spends much more time and trouble (ch. 2), explicating its possibilities. Following Sandra Harding's (1993) important development of this option, Anderson takes the view that differing epistemological “standpoints” are capable of revealing perspectives on truth, and indeed that perspectives from the “margins” (whether from women, or blacks, or other oppressed people) are intrinsically more likely to be revelatory of truth than those that are bolstered by the prejudice and delusions of male privilege (Anderson 1998, 73). Thus, as Harding suggests, this approach can ironically claim a stronger “objectivity,” epistemologically speaking, than standard “male-neutral” theories of knowledge, whose blindnesses ironically “weaken” their presumed objectivity, and whose implicit claim to occupy the God's-eye view actually results in an epistemic disadvantage. (This argument, as Harding explains, has its origins in Hegel's master/slave parable and in Marxist interpretation of it.) But what primarily commends the standpoint approach to Anderson is that, like the empiricist option, it does not give up on a shared domain of “truth” seeking alongside the male-neutral. But, unlike the straightforward empiricist alternative, it attends to the specificity of the standpoint of feminism(s), not simply to an additional collection of facts to be accounted for. The crucial point is that objectivity and perspective can thereby be seen as coincident: purported “perspectivelessness” (the “view from nowhere”) is, by contrast, a chimera (78).
Anderson, however, is not entirely confident about the success of Harding's argument for “strong objectivity,” chiding her at one point with a slippage into relativism that would undermine that possibility (1998, 77); yet she also seeks, as we shall see, to set her own standpoint epistemology in a more strongly Kantian framework than does Harding, thereby appearing to weaken the possibility of an achieved “realism” from any one particular standpoint (even a “marginalized” one). Frankly, these two divergent strands in Anderson's thesis on standpoint do not find a satisfactory resolution in her book. The first causes her to announce that her ultimate epistemological aim is to learn to “think from the lives of others” (78, my emphasis) in order to offset the necessary restrictions even of her own, feminist perspective; at this juncture the notion of standpoint seems to start to dissolve in the cause of a more universal perspective. The second strand, however, presses Anderson in the opposite direction, even to the point of admitting that standpoint epistemology must embrace “incoherence,” given the apparent incommensurability to be found between widely differing perspectives (86). To this core (p. 508) problem of coherence in Anderson's position we shall return shortly, but what she nonetheless helpfully clarifies, in detailing her remaining commitment to standpoint epistemology, is its important difference from the poststructuralist, psycholinguistic epistemology of the French feminists and of Jantzen. For whereas this third feminist epistemological option, as we have described at length above, invites one into the magic epistemological circle of those who see the repressive power of the male symbolic realm, it appears to provide no clear way of persuading the skeptical male-neutral philosopher that he is suffering from its baleful influence in the first place. But nor, equally worryingly, does it present the post-Lacanian feminist with any obvious mode of epistemological reform for all; she is seemingly consigned to the margins, fated to resort to minor, destabilizing semiotic interruptions, or at best, as Jantzen espouses, called to reimagine a feminine divine to which only some, liberated natals will be drawn.
Having opted for standpoint epistemology as the most promising way to revitalize the scope of philosophy of religion, and having retained thereby a specifically feminist commitment to truth and objectivity (duly redefined), Anderson also spells out other reasons why she is unwilling to abandon the modern Western project of “rationality” (which is for Jantzen, of course, intrinsically and hopelessly tainted by sexism). For a start, Kant figures largely in Anderson's appreciative feminist reappraisal of certain Enlightenment strands of thought. Not only, as we have already mentioned, does Anderson consider Kant's critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God to be definitive and successful (thus undermining, she believes, the attempts to revive them in analytic philosophy of religion), but, along with many post-Kantians, she also interprets Kant's epistemology as demonstrating a “lack of correspondence between rationality and reality for any individual embodiment of reason” (1998, 11, my emphasis), and she happily embraces this view as an aid to her critique of what see dubs the “naïve realism” endemic to analytic philosophy of religion. In other words, Anderson reads Kant's epistemology as one that first and foremost distances the knower from the known, even though it also allows, as she proposes later, a form of “perspectival” realism (76–94). Anderson is equally insistent that some of the classical Enlightenment enunciations of personal and political goals—justice, universal love, liberty, rights—are abandoned at the contemporary feminist's peril; so, although each of these key terms is necessarily subject to feminist rethinking, she conceives of her project as a feminist renegotiation of rationality, not as a tolling of its death knell.
That this defense of rationality is held (contra Jantzen's more extreme pessimism about the phallocentric taint of all claims to rationality and truth), is in large part explained by Anderson's different mixture of philosophical and feminist influences. As we now see, it is a form of Kantianism that undergirds her standpoint epistemology (no one has privileged or complete access to reality, but we all have some access), and she conjoins that view with an important appeal to W. V. Quine's (1953) famous image of the Neurathian ship, on which mariner- (p. 509) epistemologists—now to be joined by their feisty feminist counterparts!—continuously pull up planks and renegotiate the seaworthiness of the epistemological ship as it ploughs on its continuing way through the watery darkness of the unknown. As Anderson puts it, “Once recognized as philosophers, women could seek to rebuild the ship's planks of mistaken belief” (1998, 12). It is with the aid of this adjusted Quinean image that Anderson is willing to enunciate the possibility of a future creative accord between feminist epistemology and analytic philosophy of religion.15 For if the standpoint approach is promising for the claims to incorporate feminist insights into the human world, why not also apply it to divine states of affairs?
But a final, and crucial, feminist influence on Anderson also impinges on her chosen epistemology, and here we note the distinctiveness of a French feminist voice not discussed by Jantzen. Unlike Irigaray and Kristeva (whom Anderson will also utilize, but rather differently from Jantzen), Michèle Le Doeuff (1989, 1990, 1991) argues convincingly, on rather different grounds, for an expanded feminist notion of rationality, rather than for its displacement. Her analysis of what she calls the “Héloise complex” (1991) is particularly telling in this regard. Taking the famous medieval love story of Abelard and Héloise as her paradigm, Le Doeuff suggests that even the few women philosophers of the modern era who have achieved eminence have tended to shelter under the guardianship of their male mentors (Beauvoir's relation to Sartre is a notable instance). As Anderson puts it (1998, 50), citing Le Doeuff, “A woman's admiration for her male mentor, which as a philosopher he genuinely needs, prevents her from seeing the value of her own thinking. This prevents the faithful woman from scrutinizing the rationality of her own beliefs, emotions or feelings, and desires.” Once freed from this vicious circle of male narcissism, however, the woman philosopher is intellectually fully equipped to develop her own authentic insights and intuitions. The rationality she took for granted in her mentor she now sees to be narrow and deficient, but the male “philosophical imaginary,” she also sees, was all along feeding off the unacknowledged power of her “feminine” contribution—the “other of reason,” as Le Doeuff calls it.
However, there is a crucial difference in Le Doeuff's understanding of the philosophical imaginary from the Lacanian parsing of the male symbolic that we have seen in both Irigaray and Jantzen. In Le Doeuff's distinctive usage, as Anderson explains (1998, 25 n. 26), the category of the imaginary is not primarily psychoanalytic, and thus not intrinsically male, as in Lacan's usage; rather, it bespeaks the mythological and imagistic subtext that laps at the base of the philosophical discourse and actually sustains the power of its argument (Le Doeuff 1989, 4–20). As such, this material is not inexorably destined to remain as the marginalized feminine/semiotic, but in principle is capable of transformation and conscious integration into an expanded feminist rationality. However, as we shall shortly chart, this task of integration involves the subtle unearthing and recasting (p. 510) of moods of “desire” and “mimesis” latent in the texts of philosophy. As such, an element of psychoanalytic assessment, it would seem, still hangs over the enterprise; we are dealing here with materials more latent in the text than overt (the “often unrecognized use of figures and imagery”; Anderson 1998, 25), and thus presumably always subject to a response of blanket denial by the male-neutral author. To this issue we must return, when we examine Anderson's revealingly “suspicious” reading of some of the influential texts of analytic philosophy of religion.
By now we have spelled out in some detail the first, and central, epistemological divergence of Anderson's views from those of Jantzen. Anderson is a standpoint epistemologist rather than a poststructuralist; thus, we are not surprised that, en passant, she can remark that her views clearly diverge “from the extremes of postmodernism” and that she does not “give up completely the modern, Enlightenment project of epistemology and its claims concerning the autonomous reason” (1998, 53). In the same breath she forecasts the second way her project differs most obviously from Jantzen's; this lies in the fact that she does not “assume that an essential female desire exists which should be valued more highly than an essential male reason” (53, my emphasis). In other words, more clearly and consistently than Jantzen, Anderson seeks to find a way of integrating desire and reason. It is to Anderson's particular construal of desire, then, that we now turn, for in it is encapsulated much of what she proposes in the latter part of her book for a renewed, feminist philosophy of religion. Anderson's understanding of the category is different not only in substance from Jantzen's, but also in range of application. While Anderson, too, draws extensively on Irigaray and Kristeva at this point in her book, she not only reads them rather differently from Jantzen, but supplements and adjusts their views by superimposing insights from Le Doeuff's concept of the philosophical imaginary.
The arguments in this second major portion of Anderson's book (1998, chs. 3–5) are somewhat diffuse and unfinished, by Anderson's own admission, but perhaps the central theses can be summed up in the following way. First, Anderson utilizes her own reading of Irigaray and Kristeva to argue that “feminist poststructuralism does not necessarily privilege desire over reason, irrationality over rationality” (246, my emphasis). Anderson realizes that she is apparently backtracking here on what she has said critically about feminist poststructuralism in her previous chapter on standpoint. But her point now is that we can still learn from the psycholinguistics of the poststructuralist school, without subscribing to its apparently fatal epistemological binary; for “it offers feminist epistemologists the psycholinguistic tools to begin to unearth what has been buried by patriarchal structures of belief and myth” (246). Accordingly, she uses Irigaray's work, first, to illustrate how male “scientific” rationality may draw on the erotic power of female desire while also repressing it out of sight: “In [the male's] quest for God,” as Irigaray puts it, “he takes her light to illuminate his pathHe [has] stolen (p. 511) her gaze” (1993, 209–10; see Anderson 1998, 99). Anderson's use of Kristeva's writing is rather different (and indeed, she is more careful than Jantzen not to elide the views of the two thinkers, or to subsume one in the other). Thus, whereas Anderson reads Irigaray as conjoining the quest for God with repressed female desire in the unconscious motivation of the male subject, Kristeva, in contrast, is seen as focusing more on the “repressed maternal” in patriarchal culture, and its link back to the divine through the figure of Mary, the “mother of God.” And whereas Irigaray hypothesizes the absolute need for a projected “feminine divine” in order for women to claim their full (“feminine”) identity, Kristeva looks more subtly to the saving irruptions of the semiotic for the location of divine power. Here, according to Kristeva, the evocations of the “maternal” break through the gaps of male, symbolic discourse and return us to the unspeakable sense of original union with the mother. Anderson thinks we can draw richly on these poststructuralist and psychoanalytic insights to demonstrate that the discourses of analytic philosophy of religion, too, occlude female desire and the maternal in their quest for God; but she does not thereby recommend a straightforward acceptance of Irigaray's or Kristeva's thought as “theology” (Anderson 1998, 117); nor, as we have seen, does she embrace the problematic, dualistic epistemology that accompanies their insights.
Hence, what remains for Anderson to indicate in the final sections of her book (1998, chs. 4–5) is that desire and reason are capable of some new alignment, which in turn could transform the shape of philosophy of religion in creative and liberating ways. To demonstrate this possibility, Anderson argues that only “mythology” has the power to be the medium of this realignment, and that “mimesis” (understood by Irigaray as a creative reconfiguration of the hierarchy of gender) must be the means by which that power is enacted to disrupt male-neutral distortions and to bring forth the impassioned “woman of reason” (135–47). We note in this exposition of mythology and mimesis that Anderson's (1993) earlier work on the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur strongly influences her view that radical changes in philosophical thinking cannot be effected without the mediation of these (apparently more subliminal) forms of expression and practice. For it is also Le Doeuff's philosophical imaginary that is at stake here, with all its previously unacknowledged cargo from the male unconscious; the mere taking of thought is insufficient to shift the key of the discourse. For similar reasons, another category that becomes important for Anderson's exposition of the transformation of female desire at this point is bell hooks's (1990) notion of “yearning.” Anderson adopts this term as a means of rethinking the notion of female desire as a desire precisely to transform rationality through passion. Later she can speak of the “substantive form” of reason as consisting in yearning (1998, 213).
A final twist in Anderson's argument at the end of her book links to this attempt to mediate between passion and intellect, and presents a fascinating contrast with Jantzen's attack on necrophilia and the patriarchal culture of death. (p. 512) Rather than avoiding the subject of death, or simply identifying it with male obsession, Anderson sees the acknowledgment of death as a sign of embodiment accepted, of “death's intimate connection with yearning for love between fully embodied men and women” (1998, 247). Perhaps this may stand as the final, and most revealing, contrast between Anderson's and Jantzen's construal of the philosophical significance of the French feminists. For Jantzen, the feminine imaginary should flee from death and embrace natality, whereas for Anderson, the presence of death in the philosophic discourse is, at worst, a reminder that embodiment cannot be denied and, at best, a signal of the necessary presence of desire in the discourses of reason.
As we have seen from the start of this exposition of A Feminist Philosophy of Religion, Anderson, unlike Jantzen, does not reject analytic philosophy of religion tout court; instead, she seeks to build feminist bridges toward it, and so to transform its thought-forms, goals, and interests. But it must be said that her final proposals for change in the subject, drawing as they do on ancient Greek and Hindu materials (the “myths of dissent” of Antigone and Mirabai), seem hardly likely to catch the (admittedly narrow!) imaginations of the existing guild of analytic philosophy of religion. Further, although it is Anderson's explicit aim (1998, 155–56) to avoid promoting a “new religion on the basis of an ideal and essential Woman” while ignoring “actual social problems,” there is also a certain difficulty in making the leap at the end of her book from Antigone and Mirabai to the downtrodden members of our own industrialized society in the contemporary West. But Anderson herself modestly admits, in closing, that her arguments and lines of thought represent only a beginning for new forms of feminist philosophy of religion, and that “the categories presented here are not meant to be definitive” (245). For this reason she would clearly welcome criticism and extension of her feminist philosophical proposals, which will duly be attempted below.
But before we deliver some judgments on Anderson's project as a whole, and relate those to some further thoughts of our own on the future relation between feminist thought and analytic philosophy of religion, we must return briefly to the specific criticisms levied against the discipline by Anderson at the opening of her book. These turn out to be revealing, precisely in their difference of nuance from those of Jantzen. Although, as we mentioned above, they share the presumption that analytic philosophy of religion is predicated on the dominance of a “disembodied” male subject, in whose image its patriarchal God is idolatrously constructed, Anderson has some more specific criticisms that bear scrutiny. Her main ire is reserved for the empiricist basis of many of the justificatory arguments for theism (1998, 13), which she regards as a front for a discriminatory, male-neutral posture of privilege, covertly erasing the concerns and interests of women. But she also charges the discipline of analytic philosophy of religion with a widespread “naïve realism” (37, 68–69), which not only favors “literal” speech about God over other modes of expression, but also makes spurious claims to “unme (p. 513) diated experience” of the divine, purportedly escaping the Kantian epistemological grid. Indeed, Anderson's chief criticism of analytic philosophy of religion, it seems, is not one that is intrinsically tied to feminist concerns; rather, it is that there is a vicious circularity at the heart of analytic philosophy of religion's claims to “justify” belief in God at all. Whether through evidentialism (Swinburne, par excellence), through examination of “doxastic practices” (Alston), or through the “proper basicality” of Reformed epistemology (Wolterstorff, Plantinga), all these philosophers, claims Anderson, are really appealing to an “experience” into which their Christian belief has already been smuggled (ch. 1). The resultant “scandal of circular reasoning” simultaneously occludes what has been pushed to the margins by privileged, white male philosophers: the concerns of women, blacks, the poor, and the non-western world disappear in a miasma of talk of “justification” and “warrant” (58). Further, the whole enterprise is sustained by a barely perceptible philosophical imaginary, which assumes female desire while also repressing it; when women do appear in the texts of analytic philosophers of religion, it is often as “passive items formen's seduction” (43). Anderson additionally charges that when women philosophers occasionally manage, per impossibile, to succeed professionally in this particular guild, they are often notable examples of Le Doeuff's Héloise complex: strongly devoted to male mentors or protectors, whose intellectual hegemony and institutional privilege they obligingly do not question (50–52).
Anderson's argument seems to be at its strongest when she is explicitly charting the presence of a “myth” of female subordination in the texts of analytic philosophy of religion. In her analysis of Richard Swinburne's earlier work, in particular, she is able to give bountiful, even embarrassing, evidence of a philosophical imaginary of male privilege and female subordination, which is shot through many of his illustrative examples. When women do appear in his text (which is rarely), they feature as potentially seductive sirens or as mutely submissive spouses. Only the hardened could dismiss this “evidence” as mere psychological projection on the part of the critic; indeed, it is a sign of the partial success of such criticism that Swinburne has in a number of ways modified his position and mode of expression in recent revisions of his work.16 But Anderson's more sweeping criticisms of analytic philosophy of religion for its empiricist bias (especially its appeals to “religious experience”), its purportedly naïve realism, and its epistemic circularity seem more problematic, and do not accord well with the position she herself takes up later in the book on standpoint theory. This matter needs some spelling out, but it will lead on naturally to the final, constructive, section of this chapter. Let us then turn a critical eye on Anderson's standpoint theory, which, as I hope to have demonstrated, is the epistemological lynchpin in her whole feminist project and that which most clearly distinguishes her project from that of Jantzen.
There are three main areas of difficulty in the standpoint position of Anderson in A Feminist Philosophy of Religion, as I see it. The first relates to her use of (p. 514) Kant's work in support of her view that “perspectival” knowledge can achieve “strong objectivity” and hence preserve a commitment to realism. As we have seen, Anderson also believes that Kant shows us that the knower is irretrievably distanced from the object of knowledge, and that there is no available God's-eye view from which this distancing could be overcome. Quite apart from the question of whether this is a proper reading of Kant's intentions in the first Critique (which is at the very least a moot point).17 Anderson's dogmatism on this matter of epistemic distancing leaves her in a paradoxical position as far as her equally strong commitment to realism is concerned. If we are all distanced, impenetrably, from that which we seek to “know,” how can we also know that our “perspectives” all participate in some way in that reality? And why would we seek to enter empathetically into the perspective of another (especially a male-neutral other) unless we did know this? Despite Anderson's stated endeavor to cut through the binary between God-like epistemic “privilege” and epistemological relativism, there are times, as we have seen, when she aligns herself, confusingly, with first one and then the other. She wavers, in fact, on whether true epistemological relativism is implied by the perspectivalism she is proposing; this leaves her position in the book puzzlingly inconsistent. Her more recent work on feminist standpoint theory clears up some of the confusion, but in a more consistently realist way: now we are abjured to enter imaginatively into others' standpoints in order to achieve ever-widening perspectives on the truth, and “less biased knowledge” (2001, 131). (The perspective of the margins is no longer granted compensatory epistemic privilege, as it was, in Marxist mode, in the book.) However, it is hard to see how we can engage in this ongoing empathetic task without reliance on evidences, and without a fundamentally realist commitment to universal “truth” as at least a teleological ideal. If so, then much of Anderson's initial animus against analytic philosophy of religion's empiricism and realism must surely fall away.18
This first and central epistemological puzzle relates directly to another problem on standpoint that is also not successfully tackled in the book. When Anderson first lays out the three epistemological options open to feminism (see discussion above), she does not sufficiently explain how the adoption of a standpoint epistemology would differ qualitatively from an expanded feminist empiricism that simply takes more facts into account. Such a line is in fact notoriously hard to draw, as was demonstrated long ago in Donald Davidson's famous article “On the Very Idea of a ‘Conceptual Scheme’ ” (1984): the bounded edges, so to speak, of a standpoint (or conceptual scheme) are often so difficult to delineate that one is caused to query whether it exists at all as an identifiable epistemological filter. But if Anderson cannot say what a feminist standpoint (as opposed to a set of long-neglected facts about women's issues) finally is, then she is in a worryingly weakened position philosophically. Her whole project of the distinctiveness of feminist insight is at stake. She would seemingly do better to withdraw to her (p. 515) first feminist epistemological option (feminist empiricism), which would still be fully compatible with the Quinean form of epistemological revisability suggested by the image of the Neurathian ship. However, Anderson's more recent work has clarified the notion of standpoint and thus blocked the reduction to a mere feminist empiricism. Here, Anderson not only helpfully distinguishes a confusing range of possible meanings of standpoint in previous feminist standpoint epistemology (2001, 137–38), but herself now opts for an idea of standpoint as ethical achievement rather than as epistemological filter. This signals a considerable shift; no longer is there the hovering suggestion that women possess, qua marginalized, a distinctive epistemological apparatus (a view that tends towards gender essentialism), but rather, “A standpoint signifies a particular point of view, orepistemically informed perspective, that is achieved—but not without struggle—as a result of gaining awareness of particular positionings within relations of power” (145). Anderson notes that this definition no longer suggests that “a standpoint necessarily claims any epistemic privilege” (145)—a significant new admission. But it does allow men to share such a standpoint with women, given goodwill and commitment. Presumably, then, the difference from mere feminist empiricism in this new view resides in the ethical dimensions of attempting to take empathetic account of others' perspectives; as such, one might dub it a “virtue ethics” more than a strictly feminist one. But therein lies the puzzling surd: has this shift of Anderson's actually taken the teeth out of an epistemological project that originally claimed special insight from the feminist camp? The original goal was to release female desire into an explicit acknowledgment in the discourses of philosophy of religion; whereas Anderson's more recent project seems to flatten or sideline gender difference and aim instead for a greater self-“reflexivity” and recognition of “partiality” in all our epistemic negotiations (146–47).
The third critical issue that arises with Anderson's standpoint epistemology is a pragmatic one of how to convert the luminaries of analytic philosophy of religion to a perspective cognizant of female desire. If this is now more a matter of ethical commitment than the embracing of a mysterious feminist blik, then the burden rests on Anderson to convince her readership, first, that the writings of analytic philosophy of religion have indeed been the products of repressed female desire, and second, that there is a creative, indeed virtuous, way forward in terms of a renegotiated standpoint. My hesitations about the success of Anderson's existing strategies in this third area have already been voiced: not only is it lamentably easy for the analytic philosopher of religion to express blanket denial of collusion in sexism (perhaps especially once his pronouns have been tidied up!), but the loose sort of appeal that Anderson makes to myth and mimesis in the area of desire is arguably too far removed from the existing discourses of analytic philosophy of religion to attract attention, regrettable as this may be.
What, then, are the alternatives? After this exacting analysis and critique of (p. 516) Jantzen's and Anderson's projects, it is time to sketch some of my own proposals in closing. At the same time I shall gather up a number of the loose ends and questions that I have left along the way.
Feminism and Analytic Philosophy of Religion: Prospects for Rapprochement?
To ask whether there are prospects of rapprochement between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist theory and philosophy is of course in one sense to beg the whole question with which this chapter has been concerned. The more one's commitments in feminist theory veer toward the post-Lacanian end of the spectrum (in which male phallocentrism is deemed a deep and irremovable feature of Western intellectual life), the less will one be inclined to seek out opportunities for such rapprochement or expect the prospects to be fruitful for women—whether spiritually or professionally. Because my critique of the epistemological sectarianism of this particular school of feminist theory will by now be evident, however, what is offered in this last section is a discernibly different feminist strategy. It relies neither on the apparently immovable gender binaries of French psycholinguistic feminist theory (for, contra Jantzen, I urge a more fluid understanding of the negotiations of gender),19 nor does it appeal to the brand of feminist standpoint epistemology that presumes an inexorable distancing of the knower from the known (for, contra Anderson, feminist epistemology may arguably afford claims to intensified intimacy with the known, rather than the opposite).20 However, with Jantzen and Anderson, I take it as read that feminist critiques of analytic philosophy of religion have, at the very least, established the existence of a suspicious gender “subtext” in much writing in the discipline: the making of “God” in the image of the autonomous, Enlightenment “generic male,” and, as I have argued elsewhere,21 the positing of an unconditioned “incompatibilistic” view of freedom as a supposedly necessary adjunct to the solution of the problem of evil are just two signs of the inherent elevation of a certain form of masculinism over the concerns of relationship, closeness, desire, or dependence, which have rightly exercised feminist theorists and ethicists. Yet it would, I believe, be a caricature to suggest that all (and especially all recent) analytic philosophy of religion is subject to these same failings, as seems to be Jantzen's and Anderson's view. On the contrary, there are signs of such masculinist traits already starting to crack under their own weight: the notable recent turn to the discussion of (p. 517) God-as-Trinity, for instance, or of the relationship between the human and the divine in Christ, while also subject potentially to the distortions of the masculinist imaginary, are nonetheless at least telling first signs of an increasing interest in communion and relationship as philosophical categories.22
Thus, I shall be making here some rather different suggestions from those of Jantzen and Anderson for further feminist interrogation of, and interaction with, analytic philosophy of religion. I believe these have greater prospects for pragmatic success in persuading the guild that gender is already intrinsic to its operations, and thus urgently in need of the sort of attention and clarification for which its discipline is justly famed. Gender theory cannot then be safely left to angry women who have denounced and left the analytic guild, or to exponents of Eastern myth and mimesis who appear to have departed from the central concerns of the current analytic discussion. Rather, gender is, already, at the heart of this discussion. If it be objected that this strategy is objectionably taking up the master's tools, I can only reply that these tools are so powerful and significant already that the demands of Realpolitik drive me to handle, redirect, and imaginatively renegotiate their usage. This indeed is a vital first part of the task of developing a transformed rationality. As I suggested at the start of this chapter, clarity, incisiveness, coherence, and philosophical persuasiveness are not in themselves the feminist problem: their valorization should not be the central cause of feminist anguish;23 rather, it is precisely the attempt to clarify and convict that fuels the feminist attempt to identify the sexisms that lurk in the regnant philosophical discourse in the first place.
Let me then highlight programmatically in closing just three related areas in which a feminist perspective nuanced rather differently from that of Jantzen's and Anderson's might suggest a fruitful future interchange between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist theory.
The first area concerns the notable and sophisticated developments in recent analytic philosophy of religion in the epistemology of “religious experience,” developments that, one might argue, already herald a disturbance or destabilization of masculinist thought patterns. One thinks here of such diverse, but influential, approaches as (1) the appeal to the evidence of religious experience as both the most subjective and yet also the most definitively significant component in a “cumulative case” approach to the existence of God (Swinburne 1979); (2) the development of nonfoundationalist appeals to “proper basicality” in so-called Reformed epistemology, and of the significance granted there to direct intimacy with the Holy Spirit (Plantinga and Wolterstorff 1983; Plantinga 2000); (3) the rehabiliation of the Reidian notion of “credulity” or “trust” (in contradistinction to a fundamental Humean skepticism) as a starting point in reflection on the cultivation of religious affections, and the implicit acknowledgment of the importance of child development in this epistemological move (Wolterstorff 2001); (4) the assessment of “affectivity” as a vital factor in religious epistemology and cognitive (p. 518) regulation (Wainwright 1995); and (5) the attempt to show that direct intimacy with, or “perception” of, the divine is a defensible epistemological possibility (contra Kant), and that appeals to the narratives of female mystics (especially Teresa of Avila) can provide significant support for such a position (Alston 1991).
We have already seen how Anderson attacks such epistemological developments as these as signs of a fatal circularity in the guild's thinking, and of its unhealthy obsession with evidences; and how Jantzen is even more dismissive of naïve feminist appeals to experience. But my own reading of these highly sophisticated developments in analytic philosophy of religion is a different one. I want to argue, contrariwise, that once some gender sensibility is developed theoretically, this explosion of interest and creativity in recent analytic philosophy of religion in religious epistemology is actually already a sign of the discourse covertly “feminizing” itself.24 By this I mean that we see philosophers of religion already turning away here, in their different ways, from classic Enlightenment epistemological concerns with foundationalism, public evidentialism, and universalizability, and making appeals instead to the more subtle and contestable categories of experience, trust, affectivity, subjectivity, interiority, and mystical theology. Such categories are often, either implicitly or explicitly, founded in women's narratives of transformation; but even if they are not, they bear much of the freight of stereotypical femininity. Put thus, we may suggest that these developments constitute not only a “postmodern” disposition, but more pointedly, a sign of the male philosopher of religion now attempting to “tak[e] her light to illuminate his path,” as Irigaray has charged.
But are these developments then necessarily negative? Must we dismiss them as another suspicious assimilation by the male philosopher of the occluded power of the feminine?25 Is this just one more way in which male philosophy obliterates the feminist voice by stealing and controlling the insights of women? Much will depend here on our fundamental gender-theoretical perspective; if we presume a fixed, Lacanian binary (which I have progressively critiqued in this chapter), we may remain deeply pessimistic about the sublation of it. But if we have a more fluid and negotiable view of gender, then the way the argument proceeds in each philosophical case, and how much consciousness is evidenced of an implicit gender subtext in the discussion, will become crucial. Even then, there is a great difference between welcoming, and even pedestalizing, the power of femininity to transform the male psyche or religious dilemma (a recurrent theme in Romanticism), and allowing the woman to speak for herself and enunciate her particular concerns and interests. As we have demonstrated above, the subtext of gender often laps at the edges of the philosophical argument in the form of tellingly sexist examples that include women in subordinate or stereotypical roles. But once this is demonstrated, it is at least possible, I submit, to imagine a transformed discourse in which these dangers could be consciously named and averted. The problem of gender denial remains a deep one, but the strategy of demonstrating lively current (p. 519) philosophical debates precisely as gender-laden holds better prospects of success, I believe, than that of diverting the discourse to completely other fields (as in Anderson).
The second area for possible future rapprochement between analytic philosophy of religion and feminist theory seems to me to reside precisely where Jantzen, for one, finds least hope. This is in the area of apophatic discourse, on which analytic philosophy of religion has made notably little contribution to date, for reasons that might also have connection to its purported masculinism and literalism. It might seem odd that a topic that Jantzen derides as supremely masculinist and elitist (negative theology in the Dionysian tradition) could become a fruitful source of feminist critique of the discourse of analytic philosophy of religion, which, until recently, has been so notably resistant to feminist concerns. But Jantzen's over-hasty dismissal of the negative theology tradition fails to acknowledge the purgative potential of this tradition in confronting sexist idolatry in the naming and descibing of God. It is unfortunate in this regard that a whole generation of “liberal” feminist theologians have adopted what William Alston (1989) has called the “pan-metaphorist” strategy where God-talk is concerned; that is, they have declared in a neo-Kantian vein that all talk of God is “metaphorical” and (necessarily, for them) “nonliteral,” and so subject to revision simply according to the imaginative “construction” of the feminist theologian. Deep issues are of course at stake here concerning the apparent rejection of dominical and biblical authority, the skepticism about the possibility of divine revelation, and a certain cavalier attitude toward the complex nature of religious language. But it should simply be noted that the more it is declared that the Kantian heritage demands an epistemological distancing from reality (especially from divine reality)—a trait we have repeatedly commented on in Anderson's work—the more an anthropomorphic or explicitly Feuerbachian projectionism becomes the norm for religious utterance, whether in masculinist or feminist forms. What the Dionysian tradition of apophaticism holds out as an alternative, then, is a form of religious speech that rigorously denies not only its positive but its negative statements about God, and simultaneously points to a transformative contemplative encounter with God that transcends even this playful language-game of negations. As such, it claims to participate in a consistent exposure of human projectionism and submits itself to an ongoing purgation of human idolatry (whether in masculinist or feminist form). The Thomistic variant of negative theology in contrast, makes an adjustment to Dionysius's own position by allowing, on the basis of revelatory authority, an important distinction between analogical and metaphorical speech for God, the former being “literal” but, at the Godward end, humanly unknowable in its full semantic richesse, the latter being “creaturely,” and thus technically inappropriate to God. The parody of Thomas's theory of analogy presented by Jantzen (and briefly discussed above) thus fails altogether to consider the feminist potential that this theory, too, holds, especially in its (p. 520) apophatic dimensions. That analytic philosophy of religion has attended rather sparingly to the Dionysian tradition of negative theology—whether directly, or as mediated through Thomas's work—seems, among other things, to be an indication of its lack of appreciation of the pervasive problem of idolatry, and hence a sign of its concomitant lack of concern about sexism. That feminist critiques of such a resistance could develop a rigorous and nuanced account of the potential of a Dionysian perspective seems an urgent priority.26
The third arena for possible mediation between feminist concerns and analytic philosophy of religion lies in the related area of claims to an immediate contact with the divine. It is here that Jantzen's and Anderson's rightful interests in the category of desire seem to me to come into relation with an important existing epistemological discussion in analytic philosophy of religion about the possibility of direct “perception” of God. If God is to be “perceivable” in some sense analogous to (but not identical with) the direct perception of objects (so Alston, seeking to evade Kant's objections), then certain “doxastic practices” may, according to Alston (1991), be the crucial means and mediation of such perception. Desire, as a core factor in the quest for God, cannot be ignored—indeed, is projected into center-stage—if women mystical theologians such as Teresa of Avila are utilized as key examples of epistemic intimacy with God, as in Alston's work; but nor can the transforming practices of “contemplation” (that are the means of that erotic desire being propelled toward God) be pushed to one side epistemically. Here we have a nexus of entangled themes—desire, intimacy, relationship, transformative practice, knowledge of God, and gender—which urgently require further analytic explication. Why is it that the woman stars so often as the site of highest intimacy with the divine in the discourses of analytic philosophy of religion? And what can we conclude from this about the necessary transformation of existing epistemic categories in the light of gender analysis, reflection on “practice,” and an acknowledgment of the centrality of desire for an adequate account of the perception of God?27 My approach here, unlike Anderson's, again suggests that analytic philosophy of religion is already signaling its need of gender analysis if it is even to further its own current projects and disputed issues. But that is a continuing task, and challenge, for the future.
I have attempted in this chapter to give a detailed account of the two most developed feminist critiques of analytic philosophy of religion (to date), and to show how their particular understandings of gender theory and of feminist epistemology fuel the accounts they give. As we have seen, both their philosophical presumptions and their pragmatic conclusions are very different from one another, even though they share a number of central themes and influences, and both claim to be seeking some sort of bridge between the disciplines of feminism and analytic philosophy. After providing an appreciative, but critical, account of these first two options, I have suggested a third alternative set of ploys to effect (p. 521) a transformation of gender consciousness in the discourses of analytic philosophy of religion. In so doing, I have urged—on rather different gender-theoretical and epistemological grounds—that analytic philosophy of religion may already be well on the way to undoing its own, and deeply rooted, masculinism. And it is notable that this undoing is closely related to a critique of foundationalism (in all its forms), and also, perhaps more surprising, of the neo-Kantian “recession from reality” stance. As the discipline continues to engage the insights of contemporary continental philosophy and social theory, and to begin to interact more deeply with current feminist theory, we may indeed hope for some significant signs of rapprochement and mutual learning. Perhaps only humility is needed.
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(1.) Jantzen (1998) uses the term “masculinist” to denote that which covertly privileges men's position of privilege; I follow her in this usage throughout this chapter. Other cognate terms used by both Jantzen and Anderson (1998) are “sexist,” “patriarchal,” “phallocentric” (with specifically Lacanian psychoanalytic overtones, discussed intra), and (in Anderson) “male-neutral”: a view or philosophical position posing as universal in its validity, but actually assuming male privilege. My own term for the latter is “the generic male.”
(2.) Here one might cite, to indicate the variety of current approaches, the special issue of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 9: 4 (1994), devoted to feminist philosophy of religion in all its guises, and writers such as Frankenberry (1987), Armour (1999), or Hollywood (2002), who have no connections with analytic philosophy of religion.
(3.) See Jantzen (1998, 23–24; compare 32–40); and compare my brief discussion of this theme in relation to analytic philosophy of religion's treatment of “two-nature” christology, in Coakley (1997, 604–5).
(4.) This oft-cited view of Nagel is frequently misunderstood, as I suspect it is also by Jantzen. Nagel's point (as I read him: see Nagel 1986, 27, 84–85) is not that there cannot be a “God's-eye view” for God (a matter with which Nagel scarcely concerns himself), but rather that Descartes used a sleight of hand to posit “God” as “the personification of the fit between ourselves and the world for which there is no explanation but which is necessary for thought to yield knowledge” (85). What readers often forget to mention is that Nagel then goes on precisely to insist that we give some other account of the possibility of “objective” knowledge.
(5.) One odd feature of Jantzen's argument against the appeal to “experience” is, in effect, to read Schleiermacher through the lens of William James, and then to blame this “Schleiermacherian” tradition for a philosophically naïve, but also “imperialist,” use of “religious experience” as an epistemic category (Jantzen 1998, 116–19).
(7.) Jantzen's reading of Denys as supremely “masculinist” fails to account either for the Dionysian insistence on the negation even of negations in proper speech about God, or for his theory of “contemplation” as taking one “beyond the mind.” For a brilliant recent discussion of the important difference between Denys's thought and postmodern “deferral,” see Rubenstein (2003).
(13.) It should be mentioned here that, since the appearance of their 1998 books, Jantzen and Anderson have engaged in a number of published critical interactions on each other's work: see, e.g., Anderson (2000) and Jantzen (2001).
(15.) The adjustment of Quine's ship image (see Anderson 1998, x–xii, 12–13) actually makes for some metaphorical strain when it is brought into relation with Kant's idea of “the territory of pure understanding” as an island surrounded by a “wide and stormy ocean” (11). Anderson reads the sea in Kant as stereotypically feminine, containing fluid and tempestuous elements that cannot be constrained into masculinist reason. But she also wants there to be feminist mariners on the new Neurathian epistemological ship.
(16.) Anderson's citations from Swinburne here are deeply telling: see Anderson (1998, 43–44). Also, compare my similar points of criticism in Coakley (1997, 602). In Swinburne's most recent work he has finally acceded to an inclusive use of pronouns; it is not clear to what extent this indicates any substantial responsiveness to feminist critique.
(19.) I develop this argument about gender “fluidity” (a view that owes much to the patristic author Gregory of Nyssa) in Coakley (2002, ch. 9), and more fully in a forthcoming first volume of “systematics”: God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity.”
(20.) The feminist epistemological essays in Alcoff and Potter (1993) note, among other matters, the significance for initial cognitive competence of a child's intimate relationship with a primary caregiver (32–39) and the importance of relational communities for epistemic negotiations (121–29).
(24.) This point is argued in more detail in my 1999 Riddell Lectures, in preparation as Diotima and the Dispossessed: An Essay “On the Contemplative Life.” Anderson gives a critical account of this aspect of my manuscript in her recent article, “Feminist Theology as Philosophy of Religion” (2002, esp. 43–50).
(25.) See Coakley (1997, 606), where I suggest that “Bringing ‘religious experience’ to the bar of rational ‘justification’ mayappear as the modern counterpart of the male confessor's hold over the medieval female saint's theological status and credibility.”
(26.) This issue is discussed at some length in my forthcoming God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity.”