Beyond Theology of Religions: The Epistemological and Ethical Challenges of Inter-religious Engagement
Sharon D. Welch
For the past one hundred years, the primary form of scholarly inter-religious encounter has been inter-religious dialogue. While fruitful, such an approach is also severely limited, reflecting as it does Western assumptions about the nature of religious knowledge itself, about the bearer of religious knowledge, and about the nature of the self. The problem now being examined in the postcolonial comparative study of religion is quite straightforward: the categories for defining religion were taken from Western traditions and then applied to other traditions, a process in which the other traditions were often found wanting, or, even if seen as complex and worthy of appreciation, were still misunderstood by Western scholars. This chapter considers the following question: In a postcolonial world, how do we see and value differences, those that are forced, those that are self-generated, and those that are an ambiguous combination of both coercion and creativity? The impetus to postcolonial comparative work and postcolonial critique of religious traditions has been initiated by those who have borne the costs of colonization and domination, who criticize its legacy, and who call for new forms of critique and interaction. The impetus for new forms of interaction and fundamental critique is not primarily the West's deconstruction of its own forms of domination, but is a response to the work of those, who albeit colonized, resisted colonization from its beginning, and have continuously asserted their subjectivity and agency.
This article uses the term ‘equivocation’ to describe the sense in which Christian incarnational theology appears to have provided a resource or way of thinking about the embodied human condition. For British literary works produced across a period of over a thousand years, that is not wholly negative. Christian convictions about God's investment in the materiality of human existence bear witness to the perception of infinite human longings and seemingly endless possibilities, as well as our fearful limitations. British artists and commentators during this period have not all accepted the authority of a Christian approach, and in the last two or three centuries many have aspired to challenge the more negative or limiting emphases of its teaching. Arguably, the paradigm remains significant, yet it continues to provide both impetus and challenge to ongoing reflections on the nature of unavoidable human incarnation.
Globalization has brought with it many benefits “from above” with respect to opening up employment and trade opportunities on a massive scale, and has facilitated, in some cases, a generation of wealth that has trickled down to ordinary citizens, thereby enabling greater freedom of choice with respect to raising the standard of living. However, by and large, such small gains have come at a tremendous cost to those who do not constitute the elite, especially in developing countries (often termed countries at the periphery). At the same time, globalization has facilitated, “from below,” nativist resistance movements, often couched and presented in religious terms, which turn to identity politics and greater control over women's morality, comportment, and role in society, ostensibly to address broader social inequities, but which concomitantly exercise a restrictive effect on the attainment of gender justice. This chapter presents a brief discussion of Muslim hermeneutics on gender in order to understand how nativist resistance movements have been able to draw upon women's comportment and dress as symbols for the authenticity and integrity of the Islamic tradition in an attempt to withstand what they perceive as Western hegemonic practices. It then discusses Muslim feminist hermeneutics, economic privation and gender violence, and capitalist practices and women's bodies.
Cynthia Nielsen and Michael Barnes Norton
Gender, like race, is a controversial and volatile topic. We encounter one another as embodied and thus gendered beings. But what precisely is gender? What does it mean to be feminine? This chapter offers a philosophical analysis of the concept of gender and discourses about gender. The opening sections begin with a discussion of key terms and distinctions such as gender essentialism, gender as a social construction, the distinction between gender and (biological) sex, gender realism and nominalism, and so forth. Specific examples—both historical and contemporary—are employed to elucidate the claim that gender is socially constructed. Two sections are devoted to prominent feminist philosophers, Judith Butler and Linda Martín Alcoff. The topics addressed in these sections include: Butler’s notion of performing gender and her rejection of the gender/sex distinction, and Alcoff’s development of gender as positionality and fluid identity and her historically and materially sensitive version of gender realism.
Patrick S. Cheng
This chapter provides an overview of what Christian theologians need to know about queer theory, which is a critical approach to sexuality and gender that challenges the ‘naturalness’ of identities. Based upon developments in queer theory since the early 1990s, the chapter proposes the following four marks of queer theory: (1) identity without essence; (2) transgression; (3) resisting binaries; and (4) social construction. The chapter then discusses four strands of queer theology that correspond with each of the four marks of queer theory. The chapter concludes by suggesting six issues for future queer theological reflection: (1) queer of colour critique; (2) queer post-colonial theory; (3) queer psychoanalytical discourse; (4) queer temporality; (5) queer disability studies; and (6) queer interfaith dialogue.
Desire and love have always been important themes in Christianity, but there is no self-evident meaning for either of these concepts. This chapter examines some important contributions in the history of theology to the understanding of each, and offers some steps towards a constructive theology that regards desire as an integrative part of love. If the problem with the dominant tradition during antiquity and the Middle Ages was that it separated eros from a legitimate sexuality, the problem of modern Christianity is that it has reduced desire to sexuality. It is not helpful to separate agape from eros, as this implies a theology for which important aspects of human longing fall outside its frame. An account of love that avoids narcissism and an economy of the same includes desire; a love without desire lacks the motor that moves us forward towards the other.
Eugene F. Rogers Jr.
This essay will show how Christian doctrine can reinvigorate the theology of sexuality, now dominated by distinctively modern categories (e.g., the appeal to experience). Here traditional doctrines such as those of Scripture, God, Christ, Trinity, liturgy, analogy, and asceticism recover neglected resources for making arguments on topics of sexuality and marriage.
Doing a Theology from Disappeared Bodies: Theology, Sexuality, and the Excluded Bodies of the Discourses of Latin American Liberation Theology
This chapter begins by considering the contributions of feminist theologies. It then discusses Liberation Theology, a theology reflecting on the concrete site of bodies in suffering, and looks at what a Queer Liberation Theology, concerned with issues of politics and sexuality, can contribute both to the Liberation Theology project and to the Feminist Liberation Theology movement. This is followed by a discussion of bisexuality and Latin American liberation spirituality, and the so-called “the postcolonial queer twist.” It is argued that the unveiling of ideology in theology also applies to Feminist Liberation Theology itself, and to its own ideological presuppositions. If our theological projects are nurtured by the understanding that theology is a second act, then Feminist Liberation Theology needs to take more seriously the fact that a critical reflection on women's material lives and experiences is the starting point and the only valid agenda of our theological reflections; this includes women's sexualities. Feminist Liberation Theology's own poiesis (or sense of creation) should come from that. In a way, this is the kind of theology that allows God to be God, by allowing people “to come as they are,” too, beyond the politics of ideal theological constructions.
Marilyn McCord Adams
Scotus’ estimate of the female gender is shaped by his view that Mary is pre-eminent among merely human saints. Because Mary must be a real mother, he rejects the Aristotelian view that mothers are merely passive causes in reproduction. Christ’s most perfect saving act preserves Mary for immaculate conception, freedom from original sin, not just from birth but from the moment of foetal animation. Gender-justice is important in the marriage contract, even though God never dispenses from life-long indissoluble monogamy to allow polyandry or to permit women to divorce. The Franciscan distinction between dominion and use allows Mary and Joseph to be really married even though both vowed chastity. Gender-justice means that right reason would never permit merely human institutions from restricting ordination to men. The command must come from Christ himself.
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Christian eschatology is a complex combination of ideas and themes that synthesizes three ancient traditions of eschatological hope: Jewish futurism, Zoroastrian apocalyptic, and the Greco-Oriental soul journey. This article examines these three historical roots of eschatology and their synthesis in Judaism and Christianity. It points out the gender and class biases found in these classical patterns of eschatology, looks at the revision of Christian eschatology in nineteenth-century progressive millennialism, and shows how early feminist theology adapted both millennialist hope and belief in personal immortality. The article then examines the critique and revision of eschatological hope in several major feminist theologians of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: Marjorie Suchocki, Catherine Keller, Ivone Gebara, Delores Williams, and Rosemary Ruether. It also considers the ancient Near East roots of Christian eschatological thought, the development of Christian eschatology, crises and reinterpretation of Christian eschatology in modern Western thought, and feminist theology and eschatology in the late twentieth century.
Pamela Sue Anderson
A major obstacle inherent in patriarchy remains its barely perceptible reality for all of those women and men whose lives have been decisively ordered by the rule of the father. Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, captures the imperceptible reality of racial domination with imagery of a fishbowl. Her imagery reveals the ways in which apparently invisible structures of domination can suddenly become visible. With Morrison's cogent use of imagery in mind, this article examines patriarchy by revealing the transparent structure of male domination that has contained women's lives, and the ways in which feminism has emerged with this revelation. The bare outlines of the former are made evident here in a reading of English literature and theology; the latter can be seen as if the writer and reader were outside that ordered life, tackling ‘the obstacle which does not speak its name’.
Today, 58% of women executives voluntarily choose flexible work options or a variety of other nontraditional career paths that take them far afield from the traditional, male, linear ascent to corporate power and success, and 37% of these highly qualified women voluntarily leave their careers for some period of time. They leave to have babies, to take care of aging parents, or for other such gender-based roles, and one-fourth do not return to their previous jobs. The collective impact of these individual, gender-based decisions made by women has created a near panic among US corporations. The price tag for refilling a job slot is typically 150% of the former employee's salary, and for high-level executives, is almost three times the job's annual salary. Accordingly, as women executives leave the corporate world, their individual actions create a collective, leaderless social movement that looks, statistically and financially, like a contemporary women's revolt against big-time corporate American enterprise. To stop the disruptions to business interests brought about by this leaderless women's movement, global corporations have turned for advice to Women's Studies scholars and other advocates for women's gender-based interests and rights. As a result, corporate America now hires these advocates to develop gender-based company policies and procedures to keep women executives in the corporate fold. This new effort is referred to as Feminism, Inc., which is the for-profit hiring of women's advocates to facilitate a business process designed to economically exploit the women the advocates help. This chapter is organized as follows. Part I delineates the problem and shows how Women's Studies scholarship and professional advocacy for women's rights transformed into an antifeminist, market-driven, business agenda for corporate America; Part II proffers solutions.
This chapter addresses aspects of feminist Christology, including the perceived misogyny amongst the Fathers and Scholastics; the problematic ascription of maleness to God; and the ‘anti-woman use of Christology’. Some argue that the patriarchal image of Christ leads to the exclusion of women from the Incarnation and question whether sexual difference should equate to theological significance. Others say that Christological symbolism is imperialist and patriarchal and serves to disempower women. Yet others say that Christ could have been a woman: this is why the ‘Christa’ crucifixion image is important to them. Feminists also question the patriarchal ways in which Christ’s work of redemption has been interpreted. Feminist theologians rightly argue that the patristic ‘quod non est assumptum non est sanctum’ should be complemented by the Pauline metaphor of the body of Christ. The humanity of Christ, including his maleness, points to the relational and communitarian dimension of his human nature.
This chapter highlights some key contexts in which feminist ethical discourses emerge, and important methods that Jewish feminists employ in order to address gender and other inequalities, arguing that all the many forms of Jewish feminism are “fundamentally about ethics.” Across denominations, in the broader feminist movement, in academia, and in Israel as well as North America, Jewish women have been reshaping what and how Jews and non-Jews think and act—regarding women, gender, inequality and injustice, and many other critical ethical issues, including Judaism itself. Feminist methodologies creatively critique halakhah, theology, liturgy, ritual, and textual interpretation, with implications for social and political analysis and activism. In doing so, Jewish feminists “have created both a rich literature and a legacy of activism that is ethical to its core.”
Pamela Sue Anderson
This article explores the literary revisioning work as it is displayed in the work of two women writers whose attention has been largely focused on the Jewish and Christian traditions. Alicia Ostriker and Michèle Roberts are women whose work arises out of direct political involvement with the women's movement. Both are authors who are deeply immersed in contemporary critical debates and both acknowledge their conversational relationships with other female creative artists. As such, it is possible to view their work as representative of a revisionary movement within contemporary women's literature concerned with nothing less than the radical revisioning of religious traditions.
This chapter discusses women and ritual practice in the Christian tradition, women's ritual practices in the twentieth century, the development of feminist rituals, the globalization of feminist rituals, international networks of Christian women, and feminist activism in the Church. It argues that women creating and celebrating feminist rituals are here to stay. At the same time, of the roughly one billion Christian women around the globe, those who participate in feminist ritual practices are a distinct minority. A multitude of Christian women, however, do practice their faith in symbol, ritual, celebration, and song, and they do so—whether self-consciously or not, in an established group or alone—in gender-specific ways. Whatever the future of distinctly feminist rituals might hold, this gender-specific meaning-making of the rituals of faith will remain, at least until gender loses its defining force as a marker of difference in our world.
Musa W. Dube
In the globalization era, justice-seeking feminist theologies are challenged to sharpen and reposition themselves to speak to the issues of the time by adopting new methods, topics, and frameworks. Consequently, “the boundaries of theology need to be redrawn in the light of the creation of new global cultures” and “crucial to the task of rewriting the story of feminist theology in the light of globalization is reflecting on the nature of a theological perspective it makes.” This chapter explores the interrelations of globalization, a world scripture (the Bible), and the vision of feminist theologies.
This chapter presents an account of what feminist theology is and how it might help us understand and engage with our globalizing world. The first section provides a non-faith-specific definition of feminist theology as an intracultural activist enterprise aimed at exploring the landscape of religious imagination from a feminist perspective, and also lays out a few of feminist theology's most distinctive “plays of imagination.” The second section turns to faith-informed, Christian feminist theology, describing it as a more narrowly focused activist enterprise that explores the landscape of the distinctly Christian theological imagination from a feminist perspective. Its distinctive “plays of mind” are delineated as well. The third section turns to the topic of globalization and maps out the central features of “the global imagination,” describing the ways in which globalization has impacted and shifted our thinking processes in recent decades, particularly in the global North. The final section returns to Christian feminist theology (and to pluralistic feminist theology as well), suggesting ways its faith imagination—its theological plays of mind—might productively engage the global imagination with the aim of improving, in new and creative ways, the lives of women everywhere.
Building on the foundations of First Wave Jewish and Christian women's activism, Jewish feminist theology has made a decisive contribution to the post-Holocaust renewal of Jewish thought. Its vision of Israel as an assembly of gendered persons whose ethical relationships with the world and with one another are witness to the love and justice of God has introduced inclusive language into the liturgy, and has expanded the linguistic and imaginal range of Jewish evocations of God. In doing so, Jewish feminist theology has established the theological terms on which to affirm the full humanity of Jewish women as subjects and agents of their own Jewish experience. This chapter begins by outlining the denominational and postdenominational contexts of Jewish feminist theology and assessing its standing in the primarily Anglophone Jewish community in which it has established itself since the second half of the 1970s. It then moves on to examine the ideas and approaches of a number of Jewish feminist theology's key practitioners, and some of the challenges it is likely to face over the coming years.