Skip to main content
Select Source:

Feminist Theology

Feminist Theology


Feminist theology emerged from the notion that Christian theology and the institutional embodiment of Christianity not only excluded women's voices and experiences, but also developed practices that are sexist, patriarchal, and androcentric. Contemporary feminist theology finds its historical roots with those who question authors of sacred texts and those who challenge theologians who defined what it meant to be a human being from the perspective of patriarchal, male experience. For centuries, male experience was the standard by which the worth and contribution of women was judged. In the 1960s, contemporary feminist theologians began to challenge and protest these fundamental doctrines and practices of institutional Christianity.

Feminist theology is not limited to the Christian tradition. Jewish and Islamic feminist theologians also examine the patriarchal assumptions that support the subordination and oppression of women. Judith Plaskow, for example, calls for a retrieval and redefinition of the past in order for women to reform Torah; Jewish women must rewrite texts, author new liturgies, and disclose voices from the past. Islamic feminist theologians, such as Riffat Hassan, speak not only about patriarchy, but also about mixing modernization and Westernization with Islam. These are two examples of the growing diversity of feminist voices in theology. While feminist theologians come from diverse cultural and religious traditions, they share similar hopes and common interests.

Methodologies and types

Feminist theologians employ similar methodological strategies that result in substantive, constructive changes within Christian theology and practice. Three important steps must follow. First, feminist theologians reflect critically on the patriarchal and androcentric nature of the churches' practices and theological doctrines. This critical step challenges the values and theological paradigms that support patriarchy. For example, Sallie McFague (b. 1933), a European-American ecofeminist theologian, challenges the patriarchal model of God and the world as one that sanctions and supports an understanding of divine power and human power that dominates and excludes women. Second, feminist theologians return to the tradition to delve deeper and discover voices that have been previously ignored and discarded. These acts of retrieval expand and deepen the liberatory voices already within the tradition. Third, many feminist theologians begin the process of reconstructing theological doctrines with new paradigms. McFague utilizes the metaphor of the body of God to reconstruct the relationship between God and the world. This paradigmatic shift emphasizes mutual and reciprocal relationships between God and the world instead of hierarchical and dominating ones.

Generally, three types of feminist theology have developed in their relationship to Christianity. First, some feminist theologians seek modest changes in the traditions from within Christianity. For the most part, these theologians are less critical of the structure of Christianity. Other feminist theologians, while still working from within a Christian framework, seek not only to critique the theology, but also to reimagine and reconstruct new models of thinking about and practicing Christianity. Radical transformation of both doctrines and the institutional practices of Christianity is sought. Another category of revolutionary feminist theologians find the nature of Christianity so thoroughly patriarchal, that their only way to remain committed to feminist concerns is to leave Christianity. These voices can be described as post-Christian.

The first phase of feminist theology concentrated primarily on issues related to gender. Later, the development of feminist theology from a white, privileged standpoint began to embrace and connect with other women's voices and experiences. In fact, the category of women's experience, while embraced early on in feminist theology, has become problematic since it so often only seemed to describe the experience of one voice: that of privileged, white women. Feminist theologians were primarily white, privileged women working within the confines of the academy. As feminist theologians linked their projects to other liberation movements, the challenge was to examine their own bias of class and race. Feminist theologians began to question the category of "women's experience." There is no monolithic experience, no single way of being women. Feminist theology consequently linked the voices and experiences of those excluded because of race, class, sexual orientation, disability, age, and gender. Consequently, feminist theologians are now a worldwide company of voices, having expanded from American white feminists to Asian feminists, Womanists, Mujerista theologians, and many others. Feminist theology continues to expand upon and celebrate the variety of voices and experiences. Tensions and dissonances that reside in these differences are opportunities for creative new theological explorations.


Links with science and ethics

Feminist theology is also linked to other feminist projects in fields like science and bioethics. For example, in religion and science, feminists are critical of the patriarchal systems in which both disciplines are embedded. Science, like religion, is a sociallysituated institution that has excluded women from its theory and practice. Contemporary feminist philosophers of science are linked to feminist theologians in their common critique of the Enlightenment ways of knowing the world (epistemologies) and their institutional embodiment, which support patriarchal and androcentric viewpoints. Feminists are critical of the convergence of modern science with the modern or Enlightenment world-view because it excludes women as valuable knowers and participants in the scientific process. Feminist philosophers of science criticize the Enlightenment epistemology that sees those "in the know" as impartial, detached, impersonal, value-free, and dispassionate.

Similarly, feminist philosophers of science have different ways of critiquing science. Sandra Harding examines three different kinds of feminist scientists. First, feminist empiricists uncover sexist and androcentric biases in the sciences. The addition of more women in the institution of science might be enough of a corrective. Feminist empiricists, like the reformist feminist theologians, don't directly link science to politics. Both groups are less critical of the institutions themselves. Second, feminist standpoint theorists claim that knowledge grounded in the perspectives and experiences of women's lives is actually a more comprehensive, objective way of knowing. They criticize the dominant standpoint of patriarchal science. Much like the revisionist theologians, they insist that research and data collection must begin with voices that have been systematically excluded. Finally, feminist postmodernists reject the foundationalism of modern epistemologies and sciences, calling for a new science. This position is similar to the post-Christian feminist theologians who reject Christianity itself and call for new ways of expressing spirituality. Both feminist theology and feminist philosophers of science require narratives of those who have been marginalized. They both require beginning the research, data collecting, and questions from the perspectives of the voices of "the other."

In both religion and science, feminists insist that epistemology and ethics are inextricably linked together: People are accountable for what they do with what they know. Substance and praxis follow together. Feminist research develops postmodern epistemologies that value multidimensional perspectives to expand and widen the definition of reason, begins research with the excluded voices, and constructs the subject/object relationship on the same epistemological plane. Feminist research becomes a model for research and living: Multiple voices are used for research, and conversational praxis is the methodological means of including voices of those formerly excluded. In the field of religion and science, the research program of Anne Foerst in artificial intelligence and theology constructs an embodied theology and epistemology that redefines what it means to be human. The theology of Nancy Howell explores how the subjugation of women and nature is interconnected. Her ecofeminist theology offers new ways of constructing models of God and the world. These are two examples of the constructive feminist engagement between religion and science.


See also Ecofeminism; Ecology, Ethics of; Ecotheology; Epistemology; Feminisms and Science; Feminist Cosmology; Liberation theology; Postfoundationalism; Postmodernism; Womanist Theology


Bibliography

foerst, anne. "cog: a humanoid robot, and the question of the image of god." zygon 33 (1998): 91-111.

harding, sandra. whose science? whose knowledge? thinking from women's lives. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1991.

hassan, riffat. "challenging the stereotypes of fundamentalism: an islamic feminist perspective." the muslim world 91, nos. 1/2 (2001): 55-69.

howell, nancy r. a feminist cosmology: ecology, solidarity, and metaphysics. amherst, n.y.: humanity books/prometheus books, 2000.

johnson, elizabeth. women, earth and creator spirit. new york: paulist press, 1993.

lacugna, catherine, ed. freeing theology: the essentials of theology in feminist perspective. san francisco: harper, 1993.

mcfague, sallie. metaphorical theology. minneapolis, minn.: fortress press, 1997.

pederson, ann. where in the world is god? variations on a theme. st. louis, mo.: chalice press, 1998.

plaskow, judith. standing against sinai: judaism from a feminist perspective. san francisco: harper, 1991.

ann pederson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Feminist Theology." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Feminist Theology." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/feminist-theology

"Feminist Theology." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/feminist-theology

Feminist theology

Feminist theology. Theological reflection which acknowledges from the outset that the greater part of theology so far in human history has been male-dominated, has been an expression of patriarchy, and has been saturated with masculine imagery, relegating feminine imagery to the edges. In relation to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, G. Lerner calls this male domination ‘the androcentric fallacy’, which distorts the whole structure and life of the Church—though the same would be true, mutatis mutandis, of other theistic religions. The androcentric fallacy draws attention to the extreme distortions which result in life and imagination when only, or predominantly, masculine language and images are used. This cannot be corrected by using non-sexist language, or by adding ‘sisters’ to ‘brothers’ and ‘mothers’ to ‘fathers’.

Feminist theology recognizes the cultural relativity of the biblical period, in which the incarnation did not obliterate circumstances, but set humans to the task of changing the world in the direction of love: the maintenance of patriarchy in Church or in society is then seen as precisely that demonic condition which has resulted from the Fall, and from which Jesus has died to set humans free.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Feminist theology." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Feminist theology." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/feminist-theology

"Feminist theology." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/feminist-theology