Future Prospects

A glance at the current state of feminist theory reveals an intriguing agenda for the theological community, but also exposes a number of weaknesses in feminist theology as it is currently conceived. Despite - perhaps because of - its emphasis on the crucial impact of the category of "women's experience," for example, Latina, womanist, and feminist theologies have tended to be somewhat undertheorized in terms of critical theories of gender. While recent publications have gone some way toward redressing the lack of attention to feminist theory (Chopp and Daveney 1997; Jones 2000), significant omissions remain.

For example, early confidence in the transparency of women's experience has been complicated by a number of new developments. First, the plurality and specificity of feminist, womanist, and mujerista communities has reconfirmed the difficulties inherent in claiming a universal subject, "Woman," as the basis of emancipatory knowledge. Second, the so-called "death of the subject" associated with poststructuralism has been perceived by many, including feminists, as depriving formerly excluded and invisible groups of a coherent discourse of identity and self-determination. As Nancy Hartsock put it, "Why is it, exactly at the moment when so many of us who have been silenced begin to demand the right to name ourselves, to act as subjects rather than objects of history, that just then the concept of subjecthood becomes 'problematic'?" (Hartsock 1990: 206). Third, conventional models of "sex" and "gender," in which the former denoted the biological underpinnings of male and female, and the latter the culturally constructed roles and identities imposed by socialization, have been displaced by new approaches. "Queer theory" (Jagose 1997) unpicks the seamless link connecting biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation and challenges the traditional dimorphism of sex/gender systems in favor of a proliferation of identities and preferences (Gudorf 2001). Meanwhile, the neopsychoanalytic feminism of writers such as Luce Irigaray unsettles minimalist or anti-essentialist approaches to sexual difference by celebrating women's embodied difference as the source of a new feminine subjectivity and spirituality (Irigaray 1985).

Some feminist theologians have responded to the challenge by recasting women's experience as "complex, textured amalgams of resistance and collusion" (Ronan 1998: 3), and refuting representational or transparent models of language and subjectivity in favor of those informed by poststructuralism (Fulk-erson 1994; Chopp 1989; Ronan 1998). However, no feminist theologian has yet to come to terms with the radical complications of agency, subjectivity, and identity represented by feminist scholars such as Donna Haraway and Judith Butler, partly because both writers express versions of antihumanism: Haraway in her ironic invocation of posthuman subjectivity, and Butler in her skepticism toward any kind of foundationalist notion of agency prior to discourse (Haraway 1991; Butler 1999).

Just as the first generation of feminist theologians were provided with early momentum by the wider women's, civil rights, trade union, and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s, so the future of the discipline will be affected in part by wider political developments. Given the vogue for "postfemi-nism" - a confusing phenomenon which seems to wish to claim, simultaneously, that feminism is redundant, having achieved its goals, and that it has failed because it has fundamentally misjudged the needs and desires of women (Coward 1999) - or talk of "backlash" (Oakley and Mitchell 1997), and even "third-wave" feminism (Stainton Rogers and Rogers 2001), it is not surprising that the achievements and assumptions of an earlier generation of women have come under scrutiny. Inevitably, the theological voices of women coming to prominence at the beginning of the twenty-first century will sound a different note from those 30 or 40 years their senior; but it is difficult at the moment to identify the equivalents of second-wave feminism and liberation theology as the practical contexts upon which such successor generations will draw.

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