Elaine Graham

Feminist theology has shown that our societal oppression and ecclesial exclusion is not women's "fault", it is not the result of Eve's sin nor is it the will of God or the intention of Jesus Christ. Rather it is engendered by societal and ecclesiastical patriarchy and legitimized by androcentric world-construction in language and symbol systems. Insofar as religious language and symbol system function to legitimate the societal oppression and cultural marginality of women, the struggle against ecclesiastical silencing and ecclesial invisibility is at the heart of women's struggle for justice, liberation, and wholeness.

Elisabeth Schùssler Fiorenza, "Breaking the Silence - Becoming Visible" Introduction

Feminist theology begins with a call for justice. The demand for women's full participation in ecclesial and cultural life underpins the entire feminist theological enterprise. Feminist theology may therefore be characterized as political theology in multiple ways: first, in its protest at women's subordination within church and society and second - in common with other twentieth-century theologies of liberation - in its vision of a renewed ecclesial and social order.

Feminist theology thus not only crystallizes questions about the impact of religious institutions and theological systems of belief and practice on the wider social and cultural domain; it also seeks to expose the ways in which the issue of power is embedded in the very formulation of theology itself, tracing and making visible "the political alignments of theological discourse" (Tanner 1997: 187) themselves. Whether it is the androcentric (male-centered) nature of received tradition, the role played by constructions of gender difference in what counts as religion, or the links between hierarchies of power and language used to name the divine, feminist theology identifies the systematic exclusion and suppression of women as a theological as well as a cultural/ political problem.

"Feminism" is itself a contested term, normally held to refer to that body of theory and practice emerging out of the movements for women's emancipation in the United States and Europe during the twentieth century. It reflects both a sophisticated body of theoretical perspectives and a range of political campaigns: for women's suffrage, for sexual freedom, for equal pay, and for access to contraception, abortion, and medical care, as well as greater cultural, literary, and artistic expression (Tong 1998).

While the politics of gender provides a shared framework for woman-centered politics and theorizing, the common bonds of "women's experience" are complicated by other indices of power and difference, such as class, sexual orientation, race, and nationality. Hence, although the origins and earliest organized manifestations of the twentieth-century women's movement were in the United States and Europe, the diversity of feminist contexts and strategies has always engendered a sensitivity to the plurality and heterogeneity of the phenomenon, even within the societies of the first world. Although they have tended to dominate, both in theological and "secular" scholarship, it is important not to assume white, Anglo American perspectives to be the definitive norm to which other, derivative, forms must correspond. Rather, the proliferation of womanist (African American), mujerista (Latin American), Asian, African, Latina (Hispanic American) and feminist voices reflect a global patchwork of related but diverse contexts (Ortega 1995). This essay will concentrate on these core themes of unity and diversity within European American women's theological scholarship - feminist, womanist and Latina - and evaluate their position within the broader pantheon of political theologies.

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