Abstract and Keywords
This introductory chapter begins with a brief description of the origins of the feminist theology movement, and then explains the notion of globalization from the perspective of feminist theology. The discussion then turns to global poverty and women, new challenges faced by feminist theology, and the status of feminist theology as theology.
A movement called ‘Feminist Theology’ emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in the context of Second Wave feminism in the United States.1 Drawing largely upon the activism of white women, this feminist theology shared concerns with the secular North American movement, for example, women's rights, antidiscrimination legislation, protection from sexual and domestic violence, and the politics of representation. As theology it took on gender issues particular to the Christian religious community, promoting women's access to official church leadership, leveling critiques at the patriarchal character of Christian tradition and its institutional structures, and seeking to retrieve women's agency and histories. As a critically important reaction to dominant, unmarked white male accounts of normative Christianity, this feminist theology has been ground-breaking.
Feminist theology was one of several new theologies that began in the 1960s through participation in social movements seeking radical change. Among these were Black Theology in the United States and Liberation Theology in Latin America. So, although the contributions of Second Wave-feminist theology were acknowledged, a number of critiques came from these other radical theological movements. Amid complaints about the racial and class homogeneity of feminist theology, women of color in the United States founded the Womanist and mujerista theological movements, while women from Latin American, Africa, and Asia also began to organize in the 1970s, first through EATWOT (the Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologians) and then later through their own autonomous forums, such as the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. The awareness that feminists were working in other religious traditions challenged the monopoly of Christianity in feminist thinking and led to Christian feminist theology's embrace of inter-religious dialogue and recognition of women of other faiths and post-traditional forms of feminist spirituality. Second-generation feminist theologies from the mid-eighties onward also invoked poststructuralist challenges to the notion of experiencing subjects and challenged the heteronormative character of feminist theology.2 In the past half century, while an originally predominantly white and Christian feminist theology gave way to more diverse movements of women engaged in (p. 2) religious reflection, the surrounding social context was being transformed by the processes of globalization. Indeed, many of the changes to feminist theology itself occurred through responses to the intersecting economic, cultural, and political impacts of globalization. Among these effects was the disruption of the narrative of feminist theology as a Western discourse. Globalization allowed not only connection between feminists engaging religion in widely different cultural and geographical locations but also reshaped the socio-economic and political frameworks in which they worked. Also, the inequities and exploitation that characterized the emerging ‘global village’ began to trouble feminist theology's efforts to include the ‘other’, for including the ‘other’, whether the religious, racial, ethnic, queer, or class ‘other’, could easily be subverted into the most hegemonic stratagems of globalization. This Handbook tries to present an inclusive account of feminist theology in the early twenty-first century that acknowledges the reflection of women on religion beyond the global North and its forms of Christianity. It has, therefore, chosen globalization as its central theme, as the foremost characteristic of the context in which we do feminist theology today. Although we cannot claim to have avoided the hegemonic traps that face any inclusionary discourse under globalization, we hope that we have provided an internal critique that will help the reader uncover our silences and our evasions and begin to imagine what feminist theology might become beyond the historical moment of this Handbook.
Five hundred years of Western colonial expansion has led, ironically, to a global Christianity that is now calling into question the adequacy of a project centered in the problems and issues of the West, whether they be traditional topics of Western Christian theologies or feminist topics defined solely by Western women. However, our social and cultural reality cannot be adequately addressed by feminism's ‘inclusive’ intentions and approaches unless the material and symbolic transformative effects of globalization—the successor to the world system of Western colonization—are also acknowledged. For feminist theology to take seriously the enormously complex topic of globalization requires that it move beyond its basic narrative as a movement defined by the USA. This is not to abandon the context of the USA, where we, the Oxford Handbook editors, are situated as feminist theologians. It is, rather, to confess the partiality of our perspective and to reassess our understanding of situatedness in light of the implications of globalization for defining ‘contexts’. Several features of globalization help in beginning to take on this challenge.
First and foremost, globalization takes the economic form of global capitalism. With the end of socialisms in the 1980s, capitalism became the sole economic system for the globe, and it has clearly had positive effects.3 Even a postcolonialist critic observes global capitalism's ‘trebling world per capita income since 1945, halving the proportion of the world living in abject poverty… while various subordinated groups have grasped (p. 3) opportunities for global organization’ (Ashcroft 2001: 214). US entrepreneur-philanthropist Bill Gates is using what he calls ‘creative capitalism’ to address global poverty and HIV/AIDS. However, the free market has not been an unadulterated ‘engine of human progress’. The gap between rich and poor still continues to widen, and women—especially women in the global South and women of color in the West—are almost always at the bottom. When economies are restructured to reduce government spending and services, to produce commodities for export rather than local consumption, and to decrease production costs through lowering wages, poor families and especially the women within them are expected to absorb enormous economic burdens (Benería 2003). Driven by the profit motive, some would say that wealth creation has become the ‘sine qua non’ of global capitalism (Ellwood 2001: 10–11). Even though the recent global economic crisis of 2008–9 has interrupted the soaring success of dominant centers of profit such as the USA, the impact of globalized capitalism is not going away. Harms done to the wealthiest centers of capital have even more severe reverberations in every dependent global location. Since, worldwide, women constitute the most marginalized groups disadvantaged by both the growth and the crises of the global economy, global capitalism clearly matters for feminist theology.
A second feature of this new period in world history has to do with globalization's implications for the political, which began with the alteration of the role and power of the nation state. While globalization theories differ on how they understand the ways national power has been altered, all would agree that there has clearly been a shift from the center-periphery model of colonialism to a multipolar situation.4 The very meaning of ‘global’, as James Beckford points out, is the ‘sense of not being controlled from any single geographical location and of being guided by “new logics” ’ (2003: 145). One of the unfortunate effects of such logics, however, is that the emergence of transnational centers of power diminishes the possible ‘creative’ function of the nation-state to control global markets for the common good. As women's low wage and unpaid labor demonstrate, loss of labor laws and government protections can have serious costs.5
This shift to multipolar centers of power, of course, has not meant the end of significant differences in power. Since the precursor of contemporary globalization was the European overseas empires that formed between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the inequities in the flow of resources that marked the center-periphery model of the earlier colonialism have not been abolished. As Stephen Moore puts it, capitalist colonialist nations enmeshed such peoples ‘in a symbiotic relationship with their own [economies]… thereby ensuring a constant two-way flow of human and natural resources (slaves, settlers, raw materials, etc.)—and a one-way flow of profits into their coffers’ (2000: 185). With the formal political independence of colonized nations after World War II, the international economy, based on the integration of colonies into the markets of their colonial masters, eventually needed to be replaced. The multipolar model of global markets was not conceived to redress the injustices and imbalances of colonialism's economic legacies. Instead, development in this model has always meant leaving the wealth accrued by the West during the colonial period intact, while stimulating global economic growth by the (p. 4) successful implementation of capitalist models outside the West. These development policies have led to the emergence first of Japan, then China and India as major economic powers on equal footing with Western nations. Internally, however, these new economic powerhouses have retained and renewed the exploitative practices of the colonial period. In particular a large pool of underpaid labor with few legal protections, drawn from the local or migrant populations, and producing goods and services for foreign export is an extension of earlier colonial patterns into the new global economy. Perhaps the biggest change between colonialism and globalization is the vastly increased direct participation of women in the exploited labor force, including transnational migrants (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003). We do well to remember that the ‘post’ in ‘postcolonialist’ criticism is never intended to name a period free of colonial legacies.
A postcolonialist take on matters is, thus, crucial to remind feminist analysis of globalization that residuals of unjust power relations continue to impact the new and ‘enlightened’ age. However, such a view cannot be allowed to blot out the agency and creativity that has always characterized colonized groups, a creativity characteristic of women all over the globe. In short, the ever-growing complexity of these shifting global politics and power dynamics cannot be portrayed simply in terms of First World versus Third World. Global cities now include Hong Kong, Cairo, Istanbul, Moscow, and Tokyo, not simply Western power centers such as New York and London. As Asian feminist theologian Namsoon Kang points out, Asia is no longer adequately treated as simply a ‘victim’ of the West. Nor do we rightly speak of opposition as simply between oppressors and oppressed. As will be illustrated throughout the book, an appropriate feminist theological approach will recognize both the dispersal and complexity of marginalizing power.
A third key feature of globalization is its impact on culture and communication, mediums central to feminist analysis. The loss of centers of power defined specifically on the basis of geographical location has had its parallel in the deterritorialization of cultural boundaries. While ‘cultures’ have always been transported around the globe—a feature characteristic of imperialist Christian missions, as well as the spreading of non-religious cultures—what is distinctive about globalization is its compression of time and space and the effect of that compression on culture. To get at this new cultural mode we might best speak of cultural ‘flows’.6 Communication technologies allow for unprecedented rapid spread of information, images, and cultural narratives all over the globe in ways that constantly alter, indeed, co-constitute the ‘present’. This spread has been symbolized by the notion of the ‘McDonaldization’ of global culture. Suggesting the dominance of Western culture in what is both promotion and global distribution of images and products, the term also signifies a homogenization that does not adequately account for the resistant and creative production of non-Western cultures. (In fact, some argue that globalization's cultural flows can have heterogenizing effects (see Appadurai 1996).) However, it does help illustrate the non-geographically defined character of most cultures. Scenes with members of African bush tribes drinking Coca-Colas, for instance, are paralleled by images of US Midwesterners eating sushi (p. 5) one night and choosing between Mexican and Indian restaurants the next. Indeed, given the possibilities for virtual social networks, the very definition of community is in the process of significant alteration.
In sum, globalization occurs as (a) decentralized capitalism that operates through (b) decentralized power centers, in relation to (c) time and space-compressed cultural flows. While one of the ways local cultures can respond to globalization is through ‘denial’, such a reaction shows they are being shaped by globalization's forces.7 Transnational feminism has sought to develop a different practice in antiglobalization politics. It accepts that globalization has revealed the increasing redundancy of such simple dichotomies as Western/non-Western, First World/Third World. It sees the antiglobalization struggle as fighting not against the compression of space and time in the cultural flows of our contemporary world but against the boundless commodification of culture and indeed of every area of human life. It seeks to use the communications infrastructure of globalization to undo it as a political economy by creating transnational networks of feminist activists who repeatedly cross the borders of the places, identities, and beliefs that divide us (Mohanty 2003).
A transnational feminist practice of solidarity is especially relevant to feminist theology in its multiple and interconnected contexts as we struggle with the effects of globalization on women's lives. Therefore, it is crucial for us as feminist theologians to think through the implications of such radical world forces for the discourse that has long stood for the liberation of women and the transformation of the complex social structures that continue to prevent women's flourishing and render invisible the significance of gender.
To work toward furthering awareness of this absolutely vital world reality, two of us, both professors of feminism and theology in the USA, hosted a conference in 2003 at Duke University Divinity School for feminist theologians from around the globe. We brought scholars from several continents together to share our very different experiences of globalization and its impact on women. Such conversations are, truly, only a small beginning, but they initiated for many of us a confrontation with radically different convergences of bounty and desperation, marginalizing and creative agency, that simply cannot be pushed off the academic screen. Such conversations were themselves a result of globalization. The initial face-to-face sharing of stories and deliberations between women from places as far away as Australia and Ghana, Korea and California, was made possible by global airlines flights. That we shared some cultural knowledges—of American fast foods, of Muslim women's abayahs, and of Indian meditative practices of yoga—is a result of globalized ‘cultural flows’, the rapid spread of certain images and symbols that circulate throughout the world. Also, our subsequent book project is inconceivable without transglobal (p. 6) communication technologies like email. Although access to such rapid communications systems is not equal among us all, the fact that many of the seminaries and universities where we teach do have some form of these advanced technologies shows how feminist or any academic projects in the twenty-first century are already embedded in global structures.
There is simply no easy way to characterize or order the insights that emerge with feminist attention to globalization. However, we begin with one of the most demanding of its effects, the wound of poverty, and then turn to some of the implications of globalization for the ‘feminist’ and ‘theological’ character of feminist theology.
Global Poverty and Women
One of the most pressing issues of globalization is the failure of global capitalism to support the flourishing of all people. The effects of free trade and profit-seeking can even further impoverish groups. There are people struggling with poverty in Durham, North Carolina, as well as in Haiti or South Africa. Given that women are everywhere, they are always affected by this impoverishing, and women are the ones who experience poverty in the most extreme measures. Nor can globalization even be discussed ‘without center-staging women of color’ (Aguilar and Lacsamana 2004: 16), illustrated powerfully in essays such as Maricel Mena Lopez’ account of Afro-Columbian women. Indeed, the effects of such forces on women are issues addressed by not only feminists within the academy. Years of work on the oppression of women across the globe has led journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn to argue that the issue of the twenty-first century is the emancipation of women.8
So feminist thinking must attend to this reality of poverty and its huge impact on women, and regardless of focus, most essays in the Handbook address poverty in some form. For example, the impact of poverty on health care is radically evident in African countries, whose native authors testify to the horrific spread and impact of HIV/AIDS on women—what Denise Ackermann calls an AIDS pandemic. Stories from Latin America tell again and again of the incredible disparities in income and work possibilities. As Maria Ventura so poignantly puts it, most Latin American women have ‘tired bodies’, ‘violated bodies’, and ‘bodies in motion’ as they are forced to migrate to find work to support their families. They are migrant workers, washerwomen, and domestics, with ‘hands hardened by manual work’ and bodies that will never measure up to the models promoted by the capitalist market culture. In addition, the continued violence and poverty associated with global sex-trafficking is a well-known issue that affects too many women's lives.
The fact that women's paid employment is consistently lower than men of the same class, wherever they are located geographically, has other gender-related associations besides the sex trade and its dehumanizing commodification of (primarily) female) bodies. Women's (unpaid) domestic labor continues to complicate realities for poor and (p. 7) wealthy women alike. Kathryn Tanner tells of the surge of two-thirds world women who migrate primarily to northern countries because they can make more money being nannies than they can in their native countries. They continue to keep close connections with their families at home, including the provision of much-needed financial support. Thandeka tells of white Western women in the USA who hire these nannies. Ironically—and an example of one of the paradoxes of globalization—while the former advance in status, they still continue to make lower salaries than their male counterparts (due in part to their continued responsibility for childcare), while the nannies from overseas out-earn their menfolk at home. One can, of course, feel little sympathy for the elite Western women; they clearly make more than the nannies they hire, and they are generally freer to make such choices. However, whatever the specifics of female economic status, the highly problematic association of ‘the domestic’ with women continues to be a global phenomenon. And ‘domestic’ has yet to be an honored form of human labor.
New Challenges for Feminist Theology
This huge spectrum of women's suffering demands a response—not, however, one akin to the check-in-the-mail reaction to a tear-jerker ad of starving African women and children. A crucial question, ‘Whose Globalization?’ as Namsoon Kang puts it, is another way to put the reminder that feminist theology must recognize the very different social locations that generate and define its issues and dilemmas. Like other Liberationists, feminist theologians virtually define their work as contextual theologies, in contrast to theologies that portend to be ‘universal’, as in, written from nowhere and true for all Christians. The point of such theologies is that, to matter, theology must be written out of situations of social marginalization and oppression. When we add ‘globalized’ to ‘context’, feminist theologians face much more complexity. What has defined ‘context’ for feminism has long been structures of gender, race, sexual orientation, and the constraints of ethnicity and class. More recently, the crucial work of postcolonial criticism is beginning to help us see the Western paternalizing assumptions that fund our check-in-the-mail mentality (see Donaldson 1992; Donaldson and Pui-lan 2002; Pui-lan 2005). Recognition of the intersection of these varied global forces brings to light potentially relevant new ways of thinking about the longstanding markers attended to by (white) feminism. While clearly gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnicity have continued relevance for feminism's notion of context, three additional factors help us imagine the impact of globalization in defining context.9
First, contexts for producers and purviews of feminist theology are deterritorialized by globalization. As mentioned earlier, social location can no longer be defined by geographical boundaries. ‘Boundaries of difference’, says Robert Schreiter, are increasing in significance in the place of ‘boundaries of territory’ (1997: 26–7). This is not to say that territorial geography ceases to exist; indeed, one section of the Handbook will review feminist theological issues by way of geographical regions. It is to say, however, that the (p. 8) physical and the local are always already constituted by the virtual communities made possible by global technologies and the compression of space, as well as the residuals of the past. This is not exactly news to feminist thinking, but its complex formulation in terms of the frequently unacknowledged global technologies of communication opens new avenues for defining our contexts as ‘social location’. Women's context in southern Africa, for example, is not just a physical location in the larger continent of Africa. Minimally, Denise Ackermann argues, it consists of the convergence of globalization, residuals of apartheid, neo-colonialism, and ethnic and cultural differences. Women in Ghanaian marketplaces are now selling not only fresh locally grown food carried in trays on their heads, but also individual snacks in plastic wrap in roadside shacks plastered with cell phone advertisements and pictures of Barack Obama. Yet we must raise a note of caution against simply celebrating the deterritorializing effects of globalization. The experience of indigenous peoples, addressed in the essays of Andrea Smith and Tui Cadigan, reminds us that this deterritorializing is predicated on the territorialization of native land under colonialism. Andrea Smith explains how native land was claimed as the territory of the settler colonial state and that this declaration of control over land as its territory defines the modern nation-state. This control is fundamentally at odds with the understanding of indigenous peoples, which is built on respect for the land and not on its control. Tui Cadigan shows how the fundamental connection between spiritual power, women, and the land—mana wahine—was violated in the settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand by the British Empire. Globalization may erase many of the boundaries of nation-states but it sets up new ways to exercise control of the land and its resources, much to the detriment of indigenous peoples and the environment.
Second, context is ‘hyperdifferentiated’, which is to say that people participate not simply in one culture, but in multiple realities, including virtual communities. While the global collage of products and advertising just mentioned appears to suggest the same thing, hyperdifferentiation is a reminder that such cultural realities are always intersecting to form our identities and most basic ‘communities’. As such, they are always multiple. Our attention to hyperdifferentiation prevents us from falling into two conceptual traps. First, feminist strategies that assume gender is the basic reality for women everywhere, altered slightly for some by secondary markers such as race or ethnicity, are left far behind by the notion of hyperdifferentiation. This does not permit blindness to the reality that some differences matter more than others, as Denise Ackermann insists. We have, after all, written a book on globalizations’ effect on ‘women’, invoking a difference that continues to matter in profoundly serious ways. It just means that gender cannot be treated apart from other identity markers.
Second, we can avoid the mistake of identity politics that recognizes multiple identities but then essentializes them. This fragments women into tightly bounded micro-communities where social networks and political alliances are fragile unless women share a substantial number of identity markers. It also impedes activism not only on gender issues, but also on those of race/ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, disability, age, and any other significant marker of identity. An important implication of such hyperdifferentiation (p. 9) is that the call for ‘authentic’ identities, such as the need to be considered ‘authentically Asian’ as Namsoon Kang points out, signifies false and problematic notions of social location.10 Even the identity of ‘Western’, deeply identified with highly problematic colonializing impulses, gets complexified with hyperdifferentiation. Some of our authors—Elizabeth Amoah, for example—participate in and identify with Western academics, as well as in the very different realities of the Circle of Concerned African Women of West Africa. Also, US Womanist theologians such as Katie Cannon (1992: vii–viii) can consider themselves members of the African Diaspora engaged in the Circle, and thus be both a ‘privileged’ Westerner and a women marked by ‘race’ and gender. Everyone, even a US Anglo-Saxon male, has ‘multiple identities’.11 Identity, for everyone, will need to be reconfigured. Globalization constructs our identities as consumers in capitalist-controlled markets but at the same time destabilizes older essentialist conceptions of identity. It thus opens up interstices within itself where we can resist its own impositions of identity through negotiating new ones that span local and transnational contexts.
Thirdly, it is becoming more and more obvious that, wherever they are, cultures are hybrid. While this has probably always been the case, the lens of globalization makes it virtually impossible to deny the hybrid or eclectic character of any social reality. In other words, hyperdifferentiation sticks. There is simply no one form of Christianity, no ‘normative’ essence that can be considered ‘pure’ and unadulterated by surrounding culture. Ghanaian Elizabeth Amoah claims a hybrid identity in the intersection of Akan wisdom with Christianity in Africa. Elina Vuola traces Marian devotions of Russian Orthodox Karelian (Finnish) women that syncretized indigenous pre-Christian traditions of female sexual power with their imaging of the Virgin Mary. Now those co-constituting signifiers can come from anywhere. We find examples of hybridized religious practices by women across the globe (Christianity and voodoo in Haiti, candomble in Brazil, and Cuban Santeria (see Lopez)). While such practices connote ‘syncretism’ and the compromising of religious faith for some, globalization helps us recognize that syncretism is unavoidable. Identities are inevitably formed by ‘cultural elements that are at hand’, as Schreiter puts it, elements that are ‘usually from more than one culture’ (1997: 63). Lopez points out the significant value of Afro-Catholic religious syncretism, for example, which contested the ideological hegemony of Europeanized Catholicism during times of slavery. Any social reality, Christian culture included, is always co-constituted by other signifiers and bodily practices from its surrounding culture. Globalization has moved us beyond the holism that characterized modern cultural anthropology, and the notion of ‘trait’ geographies that came with area studies.12
With recognition of globalized context as deterritorialized, hyperdifferentiated, and hybrid, other themes long associated with feminist theology are revisited in the Handbook. A few examples bear mention. First, the multivalence and density of any context produced by globalization makes it imperative, as suggested earlier, to move beyond or at least limit the use of identity politics. What we discover in our chapters are a host of alternatives to this essentializing practice long associated with (white) feminist theology. Further, the alternatives typically resist what Maria Pilar Aquino calls the unhelpful destabilizings of the ‘post-neoisms’, the obsession of the 1990s with ‘difference’. (p. 10) Pilar Aquino's focus is on the connections between groups that enable the alteration of unjust ‘kyriarchal powers’. Offering another alternative to identity politics, Namsoon Kang introduces the notion of ‘posture’. As a way to think about Asianness as ethnicity, ‘posture’ invokes an image of openness and relationality. It can help create an imagination whereby identities are always real, but need to be seen as part of processes. Analogously, concern in many of the essays with relational practices of engagement, as Sharon Welch puts it, rather than activism around fixed marginalizing markers, has a similar effect. Relational models of identity enable us to judge how injustices are configured in particular contexts and do not generalize a fixed nature of identity and injustice as essentialist/inclusivist models do.
Both the ‘posture’ and ‘engagement’ models call feminist theology to attend to the variances produced by globalization as it intersects with the local—the multi-layered ‘glocal’, so to speak—yet allow for potential connections and similarities. Again, some differences matter more than others, and the feminist challenge is to read contexts locally and globally in making such judgments.
A second issue for reconsideration in light of globalization is periodization. The narrative of feminist theology that arose in the second half of the twentieth century was deeply embedded in the grand metanarrative of the Modern West. In this Western story it is the emancipatory agenda of modernity that enables women to struggle for their rights. According to this account, feminism has its origins in the period of the French Revolution in the work of such women as Mary Wollstonecraft and becomes a movement in the United States after the Seneca Falls convention of 1848. The women's suffrage movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries define the ‘First Wave’ of feminism. Then in the middle of the twentieth century feminist activism dwindles because everyone is attending to more important matters of fascism, communism, and war. However, in the 1960s social movements erupt demanding that modernity honor its emancipatory promises and slowly, but inexorably the vestiges of racism, sexism, and homophobia are removed. Globalization then fortuitously arises and spreads these achievements of democracy to the rest of the world.
Yet globalization also uncovers other narratives that radically decenter that of Western modernity. This story can no longer present itself as the account of universal feminist discourse (which simply adds more adjectives, such as Western, white, Christian, etc., to deal with ‘diversity’), but must be reread in light of the communities of women it rendered invisible. Its periodization erases women's struggles outside the West as well as in the premodern West. Womanist theologies, for example, have long been challenging this feminist narrative. In her riveting argument for taking Native American women seriously, Andrea Smith offers a different account of ‘First Wave’ feminism. The activism and very existence of Native American women have long been ‘a “present absence” in the U.S. colonial imagination’, as she reminds us. North American feminism, then, actually began in 1492, when Native women collectively resisted colonization. In another example, Azza Karam argues that an adequate history of feminist movements in the Middle East is much more complicated than the typical judgment that feminism emerges with (Western) modernity.
(p. 11) A third area for feminist attention involves the already-mentioned complex character of power relations revealed by globalization and the necessary move out of the binary logic of oppressor–oppressed. Serene Jones’ overview of the imaginings of both feminist theology and globalization gives expression to this when she outlines the ways feminist themes and commitments can be co-opted by the power mechanisms of globalization. Feminist imaginative ‘plays of mind’, as she puts it, that have been judged to enhance women's flourishing cannot be judged as simply liberating or constructive, for globalizing dynamics can reorient any good to undermine women's well-being. Take, for example, the valorizing of difference, democracy, fluid identity, and the aesthetic, which can appear to correct rigidities and power imbalances of patriarchal Christianity. Global capitalism can appropriate difference for endless commodification, misdirect democracy toward deceptive equalizing of human needs, and romanticize fluid identity in settings where for immigrant women, to take one example, clear boundaries and traditions are much more sustaining.
Already problematized by hyperdifferentiation, appeals to ‘native’ or authentic cultural identity in simple terms illustrate the complex character of power due to globalizing forces. The call for ‘authentic’ identities, such as the need to be considered ‘authentically Asian’ as Namsoon Kang points out, not only signifies false and problematic notions of social location. These appeals can also display or mask anxieties that may have complicated effects. Indeed, ‘authentic’ patriarchal Muslim culture, argues Azza Karam, has sometimes been invented by Middle Eastern men in an attempt to resist colonialism's emasculating effects. Reaction to the feared homogenizing Western culture created intensified male control. Zayn Kassam also explores the complexities of Muslim reaction to the perceived onslaught of Western colonialism over the centuries. Tracing the history of the veil itself has sometimes functioned as a ‘symbol of resistance’. While there are no simple configurations of appeals to the ‘native’, it is clear that power moves to assert agency have secondary effects, which may well involve lateral damages to other subordinated populations. In short, power moves to assert agency have secondary effects, which may well involve lateral damage to other subordinated populations.
This, of course, does not mean that any such response to globalization is simply defensive. The heightened valuing of indigenous culture can also be a sign of creative agency. We will read many accounts like Nancy Bedford's story of Pentecostal Latina women, where women's creativity is operative in contexts that may first appear to be simply patriarchal. Islamic practices toward women suggest intriguing examples of the non-binary character of oppression. Karam argues powerfully for more nuanced approaches by the West and against the Western stereotyping of Islam as pure patriarchy.13 In a subtle updating of Mary Daly's exposure of the patriarchal God–man duo, Ellen Armour connects the more nuanced feminist respectful reading of women's practices of ‘submission’ to the non-reductive acknowledgement of the transcendent. (These are not simply the practices of ‘fembots’.) On the other hand, Lisa Isherwood, building on the work of the Dutch feminist theologian Maaike de Haardt, points to monotheism and its one-way monologue of the divine to the human as doing injury to women. Transcendence becomes this colonization by an external divine that cements unequal (p. 12) and asymmetrical relationships that are then reduplicated in globalization. Despite their differences, Armour and Isherwood would agree that feminist theology's assumptions about what counts as good agency must be conceived with serious attention to women's desires and pleasures and how those are mobilized within their religious traditions.
In short, our essays show that attention to such settings in light of globalization should surface liberative and oppressive effects, but also what might best be termed the ambiguity and sometimes tragic consequences of the multivalent character of power. Power, in short, is never simple. Patriarchy has never been simple; and as globalized, it can only be more of a challenge.
Given the increasing complexity of context, and these examples of emerging changes in feminist ways of thinking, the question of shared ends and commonalities is also rendered more pressing for feminist theology. Already long fractured by complaints about the false universalizing of (white) feminist theology of the 1960s and 1970s, will feminist theology's recognition of deterritorialized, hyperdifferentiated, hybridized contexts simply split us even more? To consider this challenge, we turn to some of the implications of globalization for being ‘theological’ and the insights generated by the group of thinker/activists represented in this volume.
Implications for Feminism as Theology
As they increase our awareness of difference, the dynamics of globalization may well threaten our sense of common agendas. However, they also heighten the dangers associated with historical forms of universalizing Christianity. So deeply embedded are connections of world mission with the logic of empire-building—even before the rise of global capitalism—that adequately sensitive concepts of feminist theology as theology may seem impossible to some audiences. The conference that produced this volume was itself the product of US feminists, and the outcome, The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology, a product of a British press. Despite our efforts, the authors are, still, predominantly Western scholars, or shaped by the West, and predominantly Christian. Given the nature of globalization, there would not appear to be a way to escape fully the impact of these forces. What we can do, however, is identify proposals for moving forward and recognize their always-partial and imperfect impact, even as we also acknowledge that there will not be a pure feminist alternative.
One ongoing question has to do with approaches to the term ‘theology’. The status of feminist theology as theology has often been questioned because its focus does not have to be on ideas, not even religious ones. Sheila Briggs wants feminist theology to address the materiality of human existence and the material conditions in which our imaginations are shaped and operate in two areas of critical importance in the processes of globalization: science and technology and popular culture. She sees alternatives to purely technocratic solutions and corporate-owned media. The coordination of expert and indigenous (often local women's) knowledges is needed to protect the environment and (p. 13) provide food, water, and energy security for all of the world's populations. The secularized Christianity of Western science must give way to broader insights drawn from the religions and spiritualities of other cultures. Christian systematics is not adequate.
Another approach to the challenge of feminist theology as theology includes a new take on an old but still relevant issue. Jewish feminist Melissa Raphael reminds us of the long-standing virtual identification of the term ‘theology’ with ‘Christian’. Helpfully, she finds constructive expansions of the term by some of her Jewish colleagues, who employ it to refer to faith practices outside of doctrine. While the ‘theology’ dilemma is not fully resolved in this Handbook, Raphael has identified a deep theme that resonates throughout the volume. This wider definition of theology overlaps in a significant way with Christian feminist attention to lived practices outside of doctrine, a continually repeated focus in this book. An analogous concern is to advance the work of Talal Asad (1993) and others on the problematic use of the term ‘religion’. Asad's well-known critique of religion's long-standing virtual reduction to ‘belief’ and cognitive accounts of faith is now pushed in a feminist direction. Sharon Welch helpfully considers the problematic way in which comparative religion has been approached when these reductions are assumed. Her constructive alternative to the ‘dialogue’ and ‘debates’ that have dominated this model of inter-religious encounters is religious ‘engagements’. With engagements, Welch exposes how the Western focus on the cognitive ignores a rich continuum of spiritual practices characteristic of other faiths.
Several other authors take up the ways in which non-Christian ‘religions’ and spiritualities are not adequately portrayed as belief systems, yet are fundamental to women all over the world and need to be honored. Neela Saxena, for example, discusses the subjectivity of bhakti, a devotional mode of surrender and ego-effacing desire in Tantric Hinduism that is quite different from what Western feminists think of as female submission in a patriarchal system. Whole new dimensions of reality come to light with such respect, dimensions that can surely lead to alterations of Christianity in the future.
As for the way in which Christian theology is portrayed and invoked overall in the Handbook, our approach diverges not only from typical volumes in ‘generic’ systematic theology, but also from some of the classic forms of feminist theology. Mary Daly (1973) and Rosemary Radford Ruether (1983), for example, offered ground-breaking feminist ‘systematic’ thealogies, or what Mary McClintock Fulkerson (1994) has called parodic systematic theologies, as they took up classic Christian doctrines and exposed their oppressive patriarchal function along with proposals of constructive alternatives.14 The Handbook's approach does not drop the Christian tradition or some of its long-standing themes, but neither does it pursue the concern of feminist theologians who worry that the Christian tradition is being left behind or inadequately reappropriated (see Parsons 2000). Instead, we focus on the seriousness of these globalized processes for formerly abstracted Christian convictions.
Musa Dube puts it rather pointedly as she calls for the need to ‘villagize the globe’. Feminist (or any) theology, she argues, must challenge the ‘one-way traffic’ of Western accounts of theology with counter-narratives from the two-thirds world. However, the explicitly theological themes basic to taking seriously the activist/practice approach of most of our authors are here addressed. And the activist/practice approach has implications (p. 14) even for the most basic topics of theological authority. Dube's counter-narratives, for example, yield ‘world scriptures’ birthed of compelling communal experiences. A theological account of ‘tradition’, which has always been central to Christian theologizing, is fascinatingly reconfigured by Kathryn Tanner. She insists that feminist theology take seriously the new form ‘tradition’ takes for marginalized women due to globalization. Looking at the huge number of impoverished women forced into transnational migration to survive, Tanner shows how these displacements do not cut women off from their ‘traditions’, cause assimilation, or allow for unaltered forms of their continued connections to ‘community’ and ‘tradition’ with their countries and faiths of origin. For a feminist theology that takes counter-narratives seriously, the deterritorializing, hyperdifferentiating, and hybrid character of context mandates new ways to define ‘faithfulness to tradition’.
What is implicit in most essays and illustrated powerfully by such authors as Elina Vuola, Melissa Raphael, and Teresa Berger is that theology must turn to the faith activities of practitioners, what in religious studies has been called the shift to ‘lived religion’ (see Hall 1997). Thus Vuola's comparison of the practices of Marian devotion in Orthodox Karelia with those around the Latin American Virgin of Guadalupe not only show incredible creativity, but warn against too easy judgments of the sexist function of a doctrine. Additionally, Berger shows how feminist liturgies highlight dilemmas peculiar to women—ritualizing healing for losses, celebration of female life stages, and denunciation of violence against women—and Womanist Cheryl Kirk-Duggan points us to the compelling lived narratives of African American women. Women in east Africa, even under patriarchal cultural arrangements, could be religious authorities, herbalists, and prophetesses, Philomena Mwaura tells us, and some ‘such women became leaders of the anti-colonial rebellions, for example, Bonairiri among the Abagusii and Mekatilili wa Meza among the Giriama’.
Even Ellen Armour's chapter on ‘God’ is connected in a critical Feuerbachian way to anthropological realities, that is, women's faith's practices. Significantly, this connection is not in the form of the reductionism typically associated with Feuerbach. If Christian feminists or any other religiously traditioned feminists are to take on the tragedies and injustices of the current global realities, she argues, they must take seriously the transcendent commitments of women along with the anthropological implications of any ‘God-referent’. Neither can be ignored.
As has been suggested repeatedly in identifying these emerging issues, the overwhelming alternative to the defense of theological doctrine or religious belief for feminist theology is a shared turn not just to practice, but to multiple forms of activism as well. Serene Jones puts it bluntly: in order to connect to women around the globe and their issues, the heart of globalized feminist theology, it is better to ‘do practices’, so to speak, than doctrine. Other authors are eloquent as they make similar claims. Jewish feminism, as Raphael points out, has always intersected with Christian feminism in virtue of its focus on ethics and practice rather than belief-centered theology. Maria Pilar Aquino insists that the litmus test for feminist theology is its addressing of human suffering. Andrea Smith makes a powerful case for structural attention to this issue, arguing for the realignment of academics’ accountability to grassroots change movements instead of academic tenure committees. We must have strategic alliances (p. 15) and do public theology, Ackermann argues, in a way that honors the wisdom of the oppressed. And key to such alliances is an engagement that resists stereotypes of ‘third world women’—a dehumanizing ‘sympathy’ that has been particularly characteristic of Western images of African women.
Further, practically every author gives examples of women's activist groups that indeed perform the kind of engagement Welch is promoting. For example, the Circle of Concerned African American Women theologians brings together Muslim, Christian, and Hindu women to work on issues such as HIV/AIDS. Philomena Mwaura tells of the grassroots women's work for environmental goods in Eastern Africa initiated by Kenyan Professor Wangare Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate. Women in Buenos Aires created their own knitting cooperative to work in the international fair trade market. Andrea Smith tells of involvement in Incite! Women of Color Against Violence—a grassroots organization that has even learned from the Evangelical US group, Promise-Keepers. Analyzing the world of elite Western white women who have left executive positions out of their concern for family, Thandeka argues not only that the ‘ethic of care’ emerging from these elite women's experiences can be reconnected to the global economy, but also that ministers and religious institutions can take on consciousness-raising for what she sees as present opportunity to reforge the linking of the personal with the political in a potential new liberation movement.
These feminist theological engagements with the structures of globalization are testimonies both to the essential connection that feminist theology has to activist practices and to the defining of theology as a practice of ‘interruption’ of the injustices of globalization, as Ackermann puts it, an interruption that is only possible if we are engaged in these realities. Theology is a ‘work of friction’, Bedford says, that works out the implications of faith's involvement in the ‘sticky materiality of practical encounters’. The shared ends, then, are not about reproduction of Christianity (or Western feminism), but refer to critical performance of Christian traditions, or whatever spiritual traditions are relevant, in ways that enhance human flourishing. As one of the harshest critics of Christianity, Marcella Althaus-Reid illustrates that the very heteronormativity of Liberation theologies must be challenged. And her hybridized ‘indecenting’ of Christianity is itself a sign that new versions of such performances are very much in play.
Ackerman's claim that some differences matter more than others is again quite relevant here. In the contemporary global context, feminist theology may well have a take on a difference that matters enormously, globally speaking, despite the variations of its impact. The sheer number of human beings designated as ‘women’ and the consistent diminishing of well-being associated with that marker are enough to suggest that feminist theological concerns have a certain sense of universality, as long as ‘universal’ has more meanings than simply the enforcement of a class, race, and culturally specific point of view. Emerging here is a way of thinking about universalizing that is not about hegemonic or totalizing moves—something akin to what postcolonialist theologians call a theopolitics of ‘planetary love’ (Keller et al. 2004: 224). We return to what Namsoon Kang calls a ‘transethnic perspective’—not a ‘blind universalism but a relational and dialectical universalism that promotes “shared sensibilities” ’.
(p. 16) Feminist theology must create transethnic perspectives that can generate shared space to recognize and act out of common commitments. That is not to say that there will be agreement on which differences matter all the time, or that there is a cure for all problematic feminist moves; there is no such thing, and one of the illusions of secular theory is just this assumption that more complex theorizations can ‘save’ us.
Despite our embarrassment over the oppressive use of theological resources, Christian and otherwise, these traditions also have profoundly liberative resources—resources that compel regular self-criticism and honoring of the finite goodness of all of creation. Iconoclasm inherent in the refusal of idolatry and commitment to justice in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Native American notions of sacred sovereignty as alternative to the absolute power of colonialism or the nation state, and Hindu shakti, the affirmation of women's power are all examples of these potentially liberative resources. And such capacities to be consistently self-critical, show concern for the other, and exercise a relentless willingness to try again are no small thing.
Our look at global situations for women confirms that just as there is no simple thing called ‘sexism’, there is no simple thing called ‘woman’. It also decries the inadequacy of identity politics.15 However, these past mistakes do not invalidate or undermine the compelling call for feminist theologies. It is, on the one hand, imperative that the multiple global disparities in access to well-being be named and addressed. On the other, we recognize that such discourse always risks collapsing ‘[t]he everyday, fluid, fundamentally historical and dynamic nature of the lives of third world women’ into what Chandra Talpade Mohanty calls ‘a few frozen “indicators” of their well-being’—poverty, short life expectancy, malnutrition, low wages, and so on (1991: 6). The point to be stressed is not that the inadequacy of identity politics is news, but that these recognitions give us all the more reason for the continued expansion of humanizing contacts and explorations. This is why, in other words, feminist theologians’ obsession with practices/engagements is so essential.
In conclusion, we would like to appropriate and resituate the category of ‘imagined community’ that Benedict Anderson deployed to describe how the nation-state and national identity emerged with the modern capitalist, colonial economy and its dissemination of print.16 Such dissemination was actually revolutionary insofar as it facilitated a sharing of identities—a shared imagination—that transcended geographical place, face-to-face relationships, and communication (Anderson 1991: 6). What is more, shared and disseminated narratives sometimes produced identities in the sense of a ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’, as Anderson puts it (7). Shirin Rai has argued that today the ‘global village’ qualifies equally with the nation-state as an ‘imagined community’ and both are formed by gendered power relations (Rai 2002: 85). We believe that such communities do not have to be tied to hegemonic strategies and, therefore, propose that feminist theologies articulate their shared, overlapping concerns as non-imperialist, non-essentialist ‘imagined communities’. Admittedly, women do not possess a single shared history as the ‘nation’, which defined Benedict Anderson's concept of an imagined community. Furthermore, unlike certain populations such as African Americans or Jews, women have no single collective historical trauma that might give them a shared memory and identity.17 We also recognize the risk to transnational practices of feminist theology from (p. 17) smuggling into its identity as ‘imagined communities’ the earlier Western universalizing of feminist sisterhood. Yet we believe that we can avoid this danger through a generous, self-critical feminist theological posture.
Although generating passions around which ‘a people’ (whether nation-state or ethnic minority) might form from a shared history may not be an option for women, there may well be convergences of shared concerns surfaced by globalization and articulated in this volume. Accompanied by a generosity or empathy with those in very different global situations, such a confluence of interests, commitments, passions, and desires merits acknowledgement. The category of imagined community expresses the strength of connections that have and can be forged in the doing of feminist theology across religious traditions and geographical regions.
With the advent of globalization the overlapping and expanding circles of feminist theological engagement do not have to take the form of face-to-face communities—although they can. In a globalized world communication technologies have immeasurably more influence on our ‘imagination’, shaping it with countless images, convictions, and messages from around the globe. Such cultural flows have produced far more complex and powerful shared identities, or ‘imagined communities’. In respect to the deterritorializing, dedifferentiating, and hybridizing effects of globalization, this way of defining and envisioning feminist theology as community acknowledges its non-localized, fluid, and hybrid character as well as its generation of passions around converging justice concerns.
The proliferation of ‘imagined communities’ is simply an effect of the virtual spaces that contemporary communications technology has created and where physical distance and different material conditions no longer separate our many locations from one another. Such communities are not inherently feminist or liberative. Feminism and feminist theology endow an imagined community with clear and compelling passions and commitments and as transnational movements for radical social change they take up a global posture or plural number of overlapping engagements. We see these passions and commitments throughout the Handbook as our authors argue for activist/praxis-defined ‘communities’ as an alternative to identity and representative politics. As these circles of concern continue to emerge, they continue to generate activism, and they continue to invite new modes of shared analysis and widening arenas of passion for change. Feminist theologies and their connective practices, in short, may helpfully be described as vibrant and growing ‘imagined communities’ of justice for women, communities that will always reach out, will always receive from the other, and will always need to repent and start anew.
The Handbook is organized as follows. An introductory section, Part I, ‘Feminist Theology at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century’, explores how the ‘state of the question’ has developed in the doing of Jewish and Christian feminist theology during the past half-century in its Western ‘home.’ Part II, ‘Changing Contexts’, examines the implications of globalization for feminist theology by way of geographical regions. Given the (p. 18) globalized culture, of course, those regions are taken up with regard to how they are affected by the globalized (or colonial) contexts. Thirdly we consider the implications of this complex reality on the genre of feminist thinking as a theological enterprise, indicated in the final section of the Handbook, Part III, Changing Contents, where specific theological themes define the chapters.
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( 17.) However, more complex reasons contribute to the dilemmas of rallying a community to these causes. A significant difference in the USA between the African American community and something called ‘feminism’, for example, has to do with the dispersal of those designated as ‘women’ throughout every kind of community. Appeals to gender do not tap into any shared collective memory. There is, as Ron Eyerman puts it, no cultural trauma for women such as the history of slavery in the USA that constructs a collective memory and, thus, a shared identity.
(1.) This is not to ignore the activism of women of faith in the USA in the previous centuries. However, the use of ‘feminist’ was a product of the early twentieth century, when the term came to the USA from France by way of Great Britain (see Cott 1987: 13–50). There were also women's rights activists in other religious traditions before the term was coined in mid-twentieth-century America. There have been, for example, since the early twentieth century Islamic feminists (see Ahmed 1992: 169–207).
(2.) Heteronormative refers to the cultural view that makes normative the construction of gender as binary, i.e. complementary male and female, and sexual orientation as heterosexual.
(5.) Organizations such as the WTO (World Trade Organization) and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), although charged with monitoring international human rights, are inadequate in terms of their enforcement powers. There is much theorizing about these issues, but for a concrete example, see Ho et al. (2000: 379–91).
(7.) Robert J. Schreiter proposes that a ‘local’ site or community will typically respond to globalization's homogenizing effects with one of three different logics: antiglobalism, ethnicization, or primitivism (1997: 21–5).
(8.) The authors’ focus is not simply poverty, but women in ‘the developing world’ in light of three kinds of abuse: ‘Sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute’. The intent is not to simply display victims, but to offer ‘a drama… of empowerment’ as well (Kristof and Wu Dunn 2009: xxi–xxii, 243ff.).
(11.) Adrien Wing tells of shopping in South Africa where her ‘multiple’ racial, gender, and national identities evoke discrimination and privilege: her brown face gets her the suspicious look of shop owners, until they hear her American accent, which elicits friendly and helpful responses (2000: 7 ff.).
(12.) For an early critique of holism in cultural anthropology, see Clifford and Marcus (1986), and Clifford (1988). We thank Kwok Pui-lan for pointing out the notion of ‘trait’ geographies as proposed by Arjun Appadurai (Brock et al. 2007: 15).
(13.) For two very different feminist interpretations of the practice of genital cutting/mutilation, see Lesley Amide Obiora's ‘Bridges and Barricades: Rethinking Polemics and Intransigence in the Campaign against Female Circumcision’, and Isabelle R. Gunning, ‘Uneasy Alliances and Solid Sisterhood: A Response to Professor Obiora's Bridges and Barricades’ (Wing 2000: 260-74, 275–84).
(14.) McClintock Fulkerson argues that these are not simply systematic theologies that are critical of patriarchy. They affect criticism much more creatively by effectively functioning as parodies. Other feminist works take up a particular doctrine, such as Christology, salvation, God, rather than attempting to cover the system.
(15.) The heterogenizing and deterritorializing impacts of globalization can, in fact, intensify problematic impulses to valorize particular identities. While this is not reducible to what feminists have called ‘identity politics’, it would include them (see Miller 2008: 412–32).
(16.) The new conception of nations as ‘imagined communities’, which emerged with print capitalism, enabled masses of people ‘to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways’ (Anderson 1991: 36). It is accurately used to refer to ‘all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact’ (6).