Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Women as Theologians?

Given my limited time recently, it seems I only have the chance to post interesting excerpts I find from assigned readings. This post will be the same. But this text was particularly meaningful to me. I am currently pursuing my second masters degree and this is my fourth year of graduate studies. These past four years have been filled with a lot of interesting experiences as a female seeking a theological education. Without attempting to essentialize any specific qualities or traits, I continually find that I think very differently from my male peers. I process information differently, I learn differently, and I relate to others in theological conversations differently (and sometimes this difference is seen as negative). Since I have had very few female peers studying systematic theology at my previous school, I don't have any way to validate whether or not this is simply because I am not, in fact, a male or if this seeming alienation is a much more personal otherness that I alone inhabit. Regardless, I have felt like "the Other" as a woman studying theology both in more conservative and progressive circles.

One main way in which I feel different is the neutrality that men seemingly possess (and Shaw highlights this) when engaging the theological. Even if some men are particularly charismatic or impassioned, I find that there is still a level of neutrality and detachment that is considered proper, and good. But to me, my theological interests are a direct outworking of an existential commitment to Jesus Christ. Therefore, ideas and concepts are not merely interesting or intellectually stimulating, but radically shape and influence various parts of my life. And I welcome this integration. However, at times I have felt shamed for how emotionally and spiritually "attached" I am to the process of becoming a theologian.

In the following (lengthy) excerpt, Jane Shaw talks about the difficulties that women face when seeking to be theologians and how strict and oppressive binaries exist between men and women in relation to their respective identities as engendered thinkers. It was quite comforting to read a woman who articulates my questions, concerns, and struggles as one who constantly struggles to understand what it means to be a Christian, a woman, and an (aspiring) theologian:
We need to ask: how can women forge our identities as people of faith who are gendered as female and think about God? How is that possible when religious experiences and ideas have been read as mystical, as signs of possession or prophecy, as healing gifts, but not as theology? How do we retain all those vital elements of religious experience, profound components of our relationship with God, and at the same time write and speak theologically? In many ways I am asking an old question - how do we relate the life of the mind to the life of the spirit? - but I am adding the twist of gender. Is it possible for women, constructed as 'feminine', to incorporate and embrace all these elements: the spiritual, the intellectual, and embodied religious experience More fundamental than the question of the possible compatibility of feminism and Christianity is this complex set of questions about the (in)compatibility of being a woman, a thinker and a person of Christian faith ...

How then is it possible for women to have a subject position such that we can think, speak and write theologically, and simultaneously have a spiritual life which is healthily connected to the psyche, body and emotions, when the characteristics of woman have been constructed as incompatible with the qualities which constitute an apparently legitimate theologian; that is, male, rational, often clerical, disembodied and supposedly neutral? The poststructuralist critique of an Enlightenment, rational, self is helpful for women (and others constructed as being on the side of irrationality) because it lays bare the ways in which human beings have been constructed as 'female' and 'male', as embodied and disembodied, as feelers and thinkers, as those who experience God in an emotional way and as those who can think and write about God in a systematic way. Such a critique shows that qualities apparently required for the writing of theology are only arbitrarily assigned to women rather than to men, though that arbitrariness is deeply associated with the wielding and retention of power. Who gets to speak and write publicly about God is a political matter; it is about power. Conversely, the association of woman with the body and emotions, whereby our experiences of God are assigned to the realm of mysticism, possession and the like, rather than formal theology, is also at one level arbitrary and at another level thoroughly related to the exercise of power. ...

Such a rethinking of and through our identities is necessary if we are not to fall into the kind of crisis which befell Bondi when, in order to write theologically, she tried to take on the male rational subject position and ignored the emotional, the spiritual and the embodied. In this process of rethinking, I do not imagine that we shall arrive at any easy compatibility between feminism and Christianity, and I do not think that that should be our goal. I shall never find myself agreeing with all the church's doctrines and political positions, and yet I can still find myself spiritually nourished and sustained by regular attendance at worship and participation in Christian communities. Furthermore, by suggesting alternative understandings of, and roles for, men and women, in presenting our experiences and thinking about God as theology, and in trying to integrate the rational, the spiritual and the embodied, we shall be challenging the 'status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true' (Foucault) in our Christian communities and in the church at large. This is not a comfortable position to be in: the incompatibilities and conflicts may seem impossible at times. But staying with such a stance is a matter of faith if we believe that the gospel calls us to build the kingdom of heaven on earth, to seek justice in all that we do, because God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. And so finally I ask not whether Christianity is viable for feminists, but whether Christianity is viable without feminists and the multiple voices, work and perspectives of other marginalized groups; whether the church can, in good conscience, fail to acknowledge that such work is indeed theology?
- Jane Shaw, "Women, Rationality and Theology" in Swallowing a Fishbone? Feminist Theologians Debate Christianity, 59, 63-65.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vive la difference!

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