Academic journal article Theological Studies

Feminist Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Feminist Theology

Article excerpt


The turn to the subject, liberation theology, and postmodernity, all occur in some way within the works of feminist theologians. In a recent chapter of a book, Susan Ross concludes by noting that in the area of sacramental theology feminist writing is concerned with the human in the mystery of the Incarnation, with the place of gender in the working of symbols, and with the connection between sacramental praxis and social justice.(1) While this is a good summary of interests, feminist theology is by no means to be taken as a methodologically uniform field. It is harder to keep the distinction between Catholic and Protestant, or between Christian and Jewish, between Judeo-Christian and such interests as the retrieval of Goddess religion, simply because there is so much shared among women, even in rite, beyond institutional divisions.(2)

In treating of sacrament, feminist theology, as a form of liberation theology, is concerned with fundamental views of reality and with the shaping of views and practices by patriarchy. To elaborate a radically new way of thinking about and celebrating sacraments, it addresses the critique of ideologies, the retrieval of what has been hidden or submerged, the critique of language and ritual behavior, and praxis. Ritualization, participation, and observation belong together, precisely because feminist theology is trying not simply to understand what sacrament is or how it works, but to discover what it might become when freed from ideologies, opened to new inspiration, encompassing new experiences, and nourished by new memories.

More than anywhere else, in feminist writing the boundary between liturgy and sacrament has all but disappeared. First, the concern is with ritual action and symbolic language that within communities revitalize the Christian tradition from a feminist perspective and draw upon it even while drawing on other religious traditions. Second, while writers often treat of the Church in a comprehensive way and look to a future of celebration within communities of equal discipleship, there is a very particular locus of discourse that is Women-Church or a community of women giving voice and role to women. Third, the methodological approach that is emerging is a very practical one, mixing act and reflective discourse in a distinctive way. The foundations of reflective discourse are posited in creative ritual act, through what one might call the process of ritualization par excellence.

Sacrament and Woman-Subject

The bulk of the writing is found among American scholars, but even there a difference exists between those who look primarily to American feminists as dialogue partners and those who look to French feminists. Quite interestingly, most of the specific French contribution to an understanding of sacrament does not come from theological writings but from feminists, such as Julia Kristeva,(3) who are interested in religious expression as cultural heritage and look for ways to overcome its male domination.

Retrieval of Women-Subject

On the side of American feminist influence, the tactic is that of the retrieval of women-subject, with a critique of patriarchal paradigms in language, rite, and institution, and a theological reconstruction of liturgical history. In a recent essay, Mary Collins has outlined five principles of feminist liturgy.(4) The foundational principle is "the ritualizing of relationships that emancipate and empower women." This leads to the retrieval and the affirmation of what has been lost or forgotten. A second principle is that there are no elites to lead or order the liturgy, but the responsibility is community-centered and belongs within intentional groups. Third, the ritual action seeks "to transform patriarchal schemes of redeemed and redemptive relationships." Fourth, rites develop a fresh repertory of symbolic speech and action. And fifth, feminist liturgy is more interested in producing liturgical events than in producing liturgical texts. …

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