Decentering Judaism and Christianity: Using Feminist Theory to Construct a Postmodern Jewish-Christian Theology

Article excerpt

The theological politics of difference is a key to theology after the Holocaust.

In response to the Holocaust, American Jewish thinkers Richard Rubenstein, Eliezer Berkovits, and Irving Greenberg each redefined Jewish identity in relation to Christianity by appealing to the essential experience of Jews as oppressed victims of Christian domination throughout history. Yet, these modern Jewish thinkers blurred the very boundaries that they wished to reaffirm, by drawing upon Christian theological motifs to construct theologies of Jewish identity. [1] One could argue that this use of Christian categories to construct Jewish identity arises out of a history of Jewish-Christian symbiosis that has been generated by a dialectic of attraction and repulsion between the two cultures that has been visible in the theological texts of both communities since antiquity. [2]

This dialectical, theological symbiosis illustrates the ongoing formation of a multiple and often contradictory Jewish subjectivity that reflects the postmodern portrayal of identity as being nonessentialistic, dynamic, and constructed over against an "Other." This notion of identity construction radically decenters the modern, autonomous self by shifting the locus of subjectivity from the self to the Other. [3]

Consequently, Jews must construct a postmodern Jewish-Christian theology that moves beyond the discourse created by the Holocaust by deconstructing the master narratives expressing traditional Jewish attitudes toward Christianity. [4] However, this theology should not dissolve the Jewish self into a homogeneous and ahistorical "Judeo-Christian" totality, but rather reconstruct it as a relational self based on the dialectical interrelationship between Jewish and Christian discourses in history. Upon realizing this dialectical interconnection, Jews and Christians can become "reintegrated" through dialogue. [5]

In this essay, I lay the foundation for this "reintegrative theology" by portraying the Jews as "concrete social subjects" based upon the poststructuralist discourse of the Christian feminist theologian Mary McClintock Fulkerson. To account for the diversity of women's experiences based on race, class, and sexual preference, Fulkerson attempts to "change the subject" rather than lose it, by recognizing the complex construction of multiple identities based on the competing discourses of one's social and historical situation. [6]

Fulkerson's poststructuralist feminist theology provides a hermeneutic for a post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian theology that takes into account the postmodern definition of cultural identity as being decentered, while still affirming a collective identity. Jews can expand their sacred canon by including textual intersections of Judaism and Christianity that reflect the dialectical construction of their theologies in relation to each other, enabling Jews to realize their interconnection with Christianity, yet still maintain their particularity.

Poststructuralist Feminism

Just as post-Holocaust Jewish theologians identified Judaism with an essential experience of suffering culminating in the Shoah, modern feminist theologians assumed a commonality of oppression in their constructions of identity under the universal category of women. [7] In response to this somewhat monolithic and dehistoricized model of theology, poststructuralist feminist theologians have challenged essentialist notions of the self by uncovering the cultural and discursive foundations of identity. In contrast to earlier portrayals of female subjectivity based on an essential female nature or an appeal to a common form of women's experience, there is now an emphasis on "particular, concrete identities of women constructed within different material locales and out of varied linguistic and cultural systems." [8]

However, while these feminist theologians account for the situated nature of identity construction, they also face the challenge of constructing normative claims and dealing with the issue of religious truth. …