One of the anomalies of Asian religiousness is that practically all the major (metacosmic) religions in Asia have had their origin and growth in androcratic societies. Since the Dalits and the Minjung suffered discrimination from the hierarchies of such metacosmic religions, Asian women sometimes have referred to themselves as the "Minjung of the Minjung" or the "Dalits among the Dalits." For even the scriptures of these religions are not free from misogyny or gyno-phobia. Hence it is not a case of religions bringing redemption to women, but women taking upon themselves the messianic task of redeeming religions from sexism. This means that feminism is the most problematic as well as the most promising political theology in this continent.
As with every other form of political theology, feminism too began with a negative critique of the status quo, and only as a second step has it begun to articulate its own specific form and content in more positive terms. Already EATWOT has been forced to acknowledge its antifeminism by the women participants themselves, who therefore developed their own specific agenda within EATWOT, that is to say, within Asian theology of liberation.
While it would seem that non-Christian women, particularly in India, have made a breakthrough in laying the foundation for a distinctively Asian brand of feminism, the Christian pioneers, barring a few, have tended to apply the dominant model of Western feminism to the Asian context. This was understandably the first wave of Asian feminist theology, accompanied and followed by the second wave which was reflective of the feminist theologians' own personal and collective affirmation of their womanhood within the area of theology, profiting from the contribution of non-Christian women to the feminist debate. The third wave, which is now gaining currency, though not sufficiently documented, reflects the acknowledgment of the class-gender link. Hence, as in Asian liberation theology, so also in Asian feminist theology, the most creative contributions have come from those Christian women who have joined the various (Christian and non-Christian) women's grassroots movements, especially among the poor in rural Asia. The women who are oppressed on the basis of both gender and class and are politically involved in collective action have been recognized as the school in which Christian women (and men) learn to articulate a theology that is authentically feminist and authentically Asian.
The observation made above about Asian liberation theologies also holds good for feminist theologies of Asia: namely, that the revolutionary potential (vis-à-vis patriarchal domination) is to be cultivated more in cosmic religiosity than in the metacosmic religions. It is in the tribal societies of Asia that there lies the best chance of discovering some sparks of feminism which could be assiduously kindled into a conflagration capable of reducing the androcratic bastions to cinders. However, this is far from saying that tribal cultures are paragons of androgyny. The feminist theologian's hope is that these tribal and other cosmic cultures could redeem the metacosmic religions of their traditional patriarchy through a process of conscientization.
The implication of this hope is that even the metacosmic religions are rooted in cosmic subcultures, usually referred to as popular religiosity (popular Buddhism, popular Hinduism, or popular Christianity), where the cult of female deities has a more natural place. Even more importantly, this popular religiosity is also the heritage of the Asian poor, thus linking gender with class. For instance, the oppressed poor in the Hindu cultures of South Asia have recourse to goddesses such as Kali and Pattini whenever justice is violated. Also Ina, the Filipina mother-god, not to mention the Marian cult in popular Catholicism, or even the cult of Chinese Kwan Yin (Japanese Kannon) in popular Buddhism and popular Daoism, represent the feminist aspiration in the spirituality of the poor. Thus it is in the cosmic ("popular") end of the religious spectrum of Asia that the Asian women discover (for themselves and for men) the religious symbols with which to protest directly or indirectly against their servile state and create a space of freedom for themselves within the family, religious communities, and civil society.
This cosmic approach to feminism differs from the secularist school of feminism, which is not as successful in Asia as in the West. The latter mode reflects the antireligious impulse of feminists reacting against the antifeminism of religion. But the "cosmic" (as the term is meant in Asian liberation theology) is a blend of the earthly and the womanly within the religiousness of the poor. It is, therefore, a typically Asian religious approach to a political theology of feminism.
The secular factor, however, is not altogether absent. The involvement of women from the oppressed classes in ecological movements, for instance, could be regarded as a secularist parallel to the religious cult of goddesses of justice. For the rape of nature, which is part and parcel of male domination both in politics and at home, affects the rural women of Asia most of all. The mobilization of women in ecological movements has been an important feature in Asian feminism. Hence the feminist theologians of the third wave mobilize, participate in, and study both the cosmic (i.e. popular religious) practices as well as the secular (grassroots) movements of women as the "gyne-ecological" text of their political theology.
Finally, it must be noted that the feminism of Asian Christians is not yet as sharply articulated or widely ramified as the feminist theologies in the West, though it is perhaps more politicized than the latter as a result of the socioeco nomic structures that create poverty. Western feminists, nevertheless, continue to have an immense impact on their Asian counterparts. The feminist exegesis of the Bible is an example of Western influence, though even here there are signs of fresh attempts at "cross-scriptural reading" in solidarity with our nonChristian sisters, a methodology pioneered by Asian liberation theologians in basic human communities.
As a postscript, one might add that though the historical Jesus' masculinity is not in question, the Christ which he became in and through his liberation praxis seems to resist gender definition. The literal interpretation of the Pauline observation that "there is neither male nor female in Christ" (Gal. 3: 28) does not seem farfetched for Asian feminists, in whose thought Christus and Christa are both alternately predicated about Jesus. But a full-blown feminist Christology is yet to come.
Part I: Asian third world theology or Asian theology of liberation
Arokyasamy, S. and Gispert-Sauch, S., eds. (1987). Liberation in Asia: Theological Perspectives. Delhi: Vidyajyoti. Banawiratma, J. B. and Muller, J. (1999). "Contextual Social Theology: An Indonesian
Model." East Asian Pastoral Review 36: 1-2, 1-249. Chinese Theological Review. S. Anselmo, Calif.
Fabella, V and Torres, S., eds. (1980). Asia's Struggle for Full Humanity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
-(1983). Irruption of the Third World: Challenge to Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Pieris, A. (1988). An Asian Theology of Liberation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
-(1999). God's Reign for God's Poor: A Return to the Jesus Formula. Kelaniya: Tulana
-(2000). "Christ beyond Dogma: Doing Christology in the Context of the Religions and the Poor." Logos 39: 3, 1-69. Voices from the Third World. The biannual publication of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.
Part II: theology of the minjung, the dalits and the Asian feminists the minjung theology of korea
Cho, Eunsik (2000). "Dialogue between North and South Korean Christians." Dialogue, n.s., 28, 79-105.
Chung, Hyun Kyung (1989). " 'Han-pu-ri': Doing Theology from Korean Woman's Perspective." In V Fabella and A. L. Park (eds.), We Dare to Dream, 141-5. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Commission on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia, ed. (1983).
Minjung Theology: People as Subjects of History. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis. Kwon, Jin-Kwan (1991). "Minjung Theology and its Future Task for People's Movement." CTC [Christian Theological Concerns] Bulletin (Christian Conference of Asia, Hong Kong), 10: 2-3, 16-22.
Lee, Chung Hee (1992). "Liberation Spirituality in Dae-dong Gut." In Virginia Fabella, Peter K. H. Lee and David Kwang-sun Suh, (eds.), Asian Christian Spirituality: Reclaiming Traditions, 36-43. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
the dalit theology of india
Nirmal, Arvind P., ed. (1991). A Reader in Dalit Theology. Madras.
Prabharkar, M. E., ed. (1981). Towards a Dalit Theology. Delhi.
Rasquinha, Dionysius, SJ, 'A Brief Historical Analysis of the Emergence of Dalit Theology." Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 66: 5, May 2002, 353-70.
Sha, Ganshyam (1990). "Dalit Movement and the Search for Identity." Social Action 40: 4, 217-35.
Webster, J. (1994). Dalit Christians: A History. Delhi: ISPCK.
asian feminist theology
Abraham, D. et al., eds. (1989). Asian Women Doing Theology: Report from Singapore Conference Nov. 20-29, 1987. Hong Kong: Asian Women's Resource Centre for Culture and Theology.
Chung, Hyun Kyung (1990). Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women's Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Dietrich, Gabriele (1987). Women's Movement in India: Conceptual and Religious Reflections (selected essays). Bangalore: Breakthrough.
Fabella. V. and Park, S. A. L. (1989). We Dare to Dream: Doing Theology as Asian Women. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
In God's Image. Quarterly published by the Asian Women's Resource Centre, Hong Kong.
Kwok Pui-Lan (1995). Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Pieris, A. (1996). Fire and Water: Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Was this article helpful?