Feminist theology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Feminist theology is a movement found in several religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and New Thought, to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts.

Feminists have attempted to counter perceptions of women as morally or spiritually inferior to men; as a source of sexual temptation; as dedicated to childbearing, their homes, and husbands; and as having a lesser role in religious ritual or leadership because of such inferiority or dedication.

Contents

Methodology

Feminist theology attempts to consider every aspect of religious practice and thought. Some of the questions feminist theologians ask are:

  • How do we do theology? The basic question of how theologians may go about creating systems of thought is currently being reinterpreted by feminist theologians. Many feminist theologians assert that personal experience can be an important component of insight into the divine, along with the more traditional sources of holy books or received tradition. (The relevance of personal experience to the policies of groups of people is a familiar notion to veterans of the feminist movement.)
  • Who is God? Feminist theologians have supported the use of non- or multi-gendered language for God, arguing that language powerfully impacts belief about the behavior and essence of God.
  • Where are women in religious history? Feminist historical theologians study the roles of women in periods throughout history that have impacted religion: the Biblical period, the early Christian era, medieval Europe, and any period of import to a particular religion. They study individual women who influenced their religion or whose religious faith led them to impact their culture. The work of these scholars has helped feminist theologians claim historical figures as their predecessors in feminist theology. For example, Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech pointed out, "And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part?" Elizabeth Cady Stanton produced The Woman's Bible, excising the traditional Christian text of all references she thought contradicted the positions of women's rights.

Development of Theology According to Grenz and Olson in their review of Feminist Theology, "it was developed in three distinct steps. They begin with a critique of the past” such that they review the ways women have been oppressed; “they seek alternative biblical and extrabiblical traditions that support” the ideals Feminists are trying to advance; and finally “feminists set forth their own unique mehtod of theology, which includes the revisioning of Christian categories.” Grenz and Olson also mention, however, while all feminists agree there is a flaw in the system, there is disagreement over how far outside of the Bible and the Christian tradition women are willing to go to seek support for their ideals.

Thealogy

The term Thealogy echoes theology, "discourse on the gods", and Greek θεά thea "goddess" and is intended to suggest a feminist approach to theism. Thealogy focuses on God and gender both within the context of Neopaganism and by feminists within mainstream Christianity.

Gender and God

Others who practice feminist spirituality may instead adhere to a feminist re-interpretation of Western monotheistic traditions. In those cases, the notion of God as having a male gender is rejected, and God is not referred to using male pronouns. Feminist spirituality may also object to images of God that they perceive as authoritarian, parental, or disciplinarian, instead emphasizing "maternal" attributes such as nurturing, acceptance, and creativity.

New Thought movement

New Thought as a movement had no single origin, but was rather propelled along by a number of spiritual thinkers and philosophers and emerged through a variety of religious denominations and churches, particularly the Unity Church, Religious Science, and Church of Divine Science. It was a feminist movement in that most of its teachers and students were women; notable among the founders of the movement were Emma Curtis Hopkins, known as the "teacher of teachers" Myrtle Fillmore, Malinda Cramer, and Nona L. Brooks; with its churches and community centers mostly lead by women, from the 1880s to today.

Goddess movement

The Goddess movement is a loose grouping of social and religious phenomena growing out of second-wave feminism, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s, and the metaphysical community as well. Spurred by the perception that women were not treated equitably in many mainstream religions, many women turned to a Female Deity, as more in tune with their beliefs and spiritual needs. Education in the Arts became a vehicle for the study of humanitarian philosophers like Hume at that time, Imagery was also concerned with the female as a more serious study in the humanities, but the main thrust was the liberation of women to learn and make known their views in depicting the female form and the male form without any moral intention involved. Goddesses and different cultures were explored,but was not part of the curriculum in the 1970s. Masculine gender and male imagery were, at the time, attached to deity to the exclusion of female gender and female imagery. A unifying theme of this diverse movement is the female-ness of Deity (as opposed and contrasted to a patriarchal, male "God").

Goddess beliefs take many forms, some people in the Goddess movement recognize multiple goddesses; some also include gods; others honor what they refer to as "the Goddess," which is not necessarily seen as monotheistic, but is often understood to be an inclusive, encompassing term incorporating many goddesses in many different cultures. The term "the Goddess" may also be understood to include a multiplicity of ways to view deity personified as female, or as a metaphor, or as a process. (Christ 1997, 2003) The term "The Goddess" may also refer to the concept of The One Divine Power, or the traditionally worshipped "Great Goddess" of ancient times.

Atheist feminism

Atheist feminism asserts the equality of men and women in a faithless society.

Religions

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith has as one of its main teachings the principle of the equality of men and women. The Bahá'í teachings suggest that for humanity to advance, that each gender, though not identical in function, must work in unison with each other and allow the healthy functioning of society. The Bahá'í teachings state that gender equality has positive results for everyone, not only women, and require the same academic and spiritual education for both girls and boys.

Christianity

Christian feminism is an aspect of feminist theology which seeks to advance and understand the equality of men and women morally, socially, spiritually, and in leadership from a Christian perspective. Christian feminists argue that contributions by women in that direction are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. Christian feminists believe that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics such as sex and race. Their major issues include the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, recognition of equal spiritual and moral abilities, reproductive rights, and the search for a feminine or gender-transcendent divine. Christian feminists often draw on the teachings of other religions and ideologies in addition to biblical evidence.

Two authors whose works are vital to an understanding of feminist theology are Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether.

Mary Daly grew up an Irish Catholic and all of her education was received through Catholic schools. She has three doctorate degrees. One from St. Mary’s College in sacred theology, and two from University of Fribourg, Switzerland in theology and philosopy. From 1966 till the end of her career she taught at Boston College. While in her early works Daly expressed a desire to reform Christianity from the inside, she would later come to the same point as several other feminists, that Christianity is not able to enact the necessary changes as it is. (Prologue Daly). “On November 14, 1971, when she was invited to be the first woman to preach at Harvard Memorial Chapel. She used the opportunity to denounce Christianity as irredeemable for women and to call for women (and men) to make an exodus from the Church. Almost all the women who attended this service walked out with her, as well as a few men.” Her works include: The Church and the Second Sex (1968), Beyond God the Father (1973), Gyn/ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984), Webster’s First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987), and Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage (1992). According to Ford’s The Modern Theologians, “Mary Daly has done more than anyone to clarify the problems women have concerning the central core symbolism of Chrisianity, and its effects on their self-understanding and their relationship to God.”

Rosemary Radford Ruether grew up Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools through her sophomore year of high school. She was a classics major at Scripps College, worked for the Delta Ministry in 1965 and taught at Howard University School of Religion from 1966 to 1976. She has also “been responsible for the production of some twenty-two books…and at least five hundred articles.” “Rosemary Ruether has written on the question of Christian credibility, with particular attention to ecclesiology and its engagement with church-world conflicts; Jewish-Christian relations…; politics and religion in America; and Feminism."

The term Christian egalitarianism is sometimes preferred by those advocating gender equality and equity among Christians who do not wish to associate themselves with the feminist movement.

See also: Unity Church, Christian Science, Christian theological praxis and Postmodern Christianity.

Islam

Islamic feminism is a form of feminism concerned with the role of women in Islam. It aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists advocate women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's pioneers have also utilised secular and European or non-Muslim feminist discourses and recognise the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement. Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran (holy book), hadith (sayings of Muhammad) and sharia (law) towards the creation of a more equal and just society. Muslim majority countries have produced more than seven female heads of state including Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Mame Madior Boye of Senegal, Tansu Çiller of Turkey, Kaqusha Jashari of Kosovo, Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia and Bangladesh was the first country in the world to have an elected female head-of-state follow another which includes Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.

Judaism

Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. Feminist movements, with varying approaches and successes, have opened up within all major branches of Judaism.

Paganism & Polytheism

A goddess is a female deity in polytheistic systems. In some cultures goddesses are commonly associated with the Earth (Earth goddess), motherhood (Mother Goddess), love (Love goddess), and the household (hearth goddess), often reflecting the historical gender roles of that culture. In other cultures, goddesses may also be associated with functions such as war, death, and destruction as well as healing.

The primacy of a monotheistic or near-monotheistic "Great Goddess" is advocated by some modern matriarchists as a female version of, preceding, or analogue to, the Abrahamic God associated with the historical rise of monotheism in the Mediterranean Axis Age.

Some currents of Neopaganism, in particular Wicca, have a ditheistic concept of a single goddess and a single god, who in hieros gamos represent a united whole. Polytheistic reconstructionists focus on reconstructing polytheistic religions, including the various goddesses and figures associated with indigenous cultures.

Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth) is a common representation of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing features of nature by embodying it in the form of the mother. Images of women representing mother earth, and mother nature, are timeless. In prehistoric times, goddesses were worshipped for their association with fertility, fecundity, and agricultural bounty. Priestesses held dominion over aspects of Incan, Assyrian, Babylonian, Slavonic, Roman, Greek, Indian, and Iroquoian religions in the millennia prior to the inception of Patriarchal religion.

Other religions

In the latter part of the 20th Century, feminism was influential in the rise of Neopaganism in the United States, and particularly the Dianic tradition. Some feminists find the worship of a goddess, rather than a god, to be consonant with their views. Others are polytheists, and worship a number of goddesses. The collective set of beliefs associated with this is sometimes known as thealogy and sometimes referred to as the Goddess movement. See also Dianic Wicca.

See also




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