Academic journal article Theological Studies

Feminist Theological Methodology: Toward a Kaleidoscopic Model

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Feminist Theological Methodology: Toward a Kaleidoscopic Model

Article excerpt

SOME FIFTEEN YEARS AGO Mary Daly articulated her well-known critique of method: "One of the false gods of theologians, philosophers, and other academics is called Method. It commonly happens that the choice of a problem is determined by method, instead of method being determined by the problem.... The tyranny of methodolatry hinders new discoveries. It prevents us from raising questions never asked before and from being illumined by ideas that do not fit into pre-established boxes and forms.(1) Notwithstanding this conviction, the history of feminist theological methodology reveals that it is precisely the problems being addressed and the questions being asked that have determined the methods of feminist theological investigation. Nevertheless, the theoretical subject of method is a relatively recent enterprise of feminist theology. Rather than determining an a priori model for research, the feminist theological movement in its first decades yielded a substantial body of material through a variety of approaches, assessed on the basis of their results.(2) A consideration of those approaches reveals that feminist theology has been guided by methodological principles and processes, albeit in shift and flux, and that these have been applied effectively to the variety of endeavors in the field of feminist theology. Engaging a discussion of feminist theological methodology, however, is a task of vast proportions. In reflection upon a means by which to organize this undertaking, the image of the kaleidoscope emerged as a viable metaphor. It will provide the schema to consider the complexity of the subject, the multiplicity of approaches, the variety of sources, and the diversity of norms through which the mystery of God and the God-world relationship are studied, understood, and articulated in dialogue with the unity and diversity of women's experiences.(3) Furthermore, it will be proposed that this organizational schema may also serve as a functional model for feminist theological methodology. Therefore, a brief introduction to this metaphorical framework is in order.

The kaleidoscope (Greek: "beautiful-form-to-see") is a contoured structure that, through the use of mirrors and lenses set a different angles, creates a multiplicity of symmetrical patterns from fragments of various materials, illuminated by a source of light.(4) The materials that produce the patterns are commonly shards or fragments of shattered stained glass. However, while these shards are the stuff of which the image is formed, the mirrors of the kaleidoscope are its heart. These mirrors or modes of reflection vary in quality, quantity, and angles of placement. The better the quality of the mirror, the sharper and clearer the ultimate reflection; the greater the number of mirrors, the more diverse the shape of the image; and the narrower the angle of placement of the mirror, the greater the number of reflections produced. When directed toward an external entity and rotated, the object case, which contains the shards of various forms, colors, and densities, produces, in interaction with the mirrors, a "beautiful form to see." As a result, a mandala is created, a circular design of concentric forms, a "sacred circle with a centerpoint" that is a universal image of oneness and wisdom.(5) Obviously, while each of the elements of the kaleidoscope can be defined and discussed independently, it is only in their collaboration that the beauty, clarity, and variety of patterns can be produced. While open to the possibility of expansion to deeper levels of symbolism, it is hoped that this image of the kaleidoscope functions to express the complexity of the methodological enterprise under consideration.(6)

The task of this exploration is to deconstruct and examine the interrelated elements of feminist theological methodology. An introduction to the structural contours of the theoretical, theological, and normative foundations of feminist theology will be followed by an examination of the pluriform shards and fragments of its multiple sources of revelation. …

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