Grace Jantzen

Although feminist philosophy of religion is in its infancy, it is one of the most dynamic areas of current work in the philosophy of religion. It must be seen within the wider context of feminist theory, and, more generally, within the feminist movement as a whole. The feminist movement is not primarily intellectual: rather, it is seeking to bring about radical changes in patterns of human relationships. Its fundamental premise is that women are discriminated against because of their sex, and that bringing about an end to this discrimination would require major changes in the social, economic, and political world (Delmar 1986:8). These changes would have to do not only with issues of gender, however, but also with issues of race, class, sexual orientation, differing ability, and many other areas of modern life where groups of people suffer oppression. Feminism is therefore a movement concerned with efforts towards justice.

It is within the movement as a whole that feminist scholarship finds a place. Far from aspiring to an ideal of detached neutrality, feminist scholars seek to develop theories which will be in the service of active efforts for justice, and criticize traditional male-dominated scholarship for its pretence of neutrality which actually serves to perpetuate the social injustices which feminism seeks to overcome. At the same time, feminists recognize that it is essential to give a clear account of what justice involves, in terms of both theory and strategy. At this level, there is much debate and fruitful tension within feminism not only with regard to general theory, both philosophical and political, but also in terms of specific issues, ranging from pornography to genetic engineering. Discussion of these fall beyond the remit of this chapter; but it is important to remember that feminist philosophy of religion is part of the effort of feminist scholars to develop theory in the service of active efforts for justice.

Like feminist philosophy more generally, feminist philosophy of religion therefore both engages in a critical appraisal of traditional approaches in the philosophy of religion, and also seeks to develop creative insight into issues from a feminist perspective. Like the rest of philosophy of religion, feminist philosophy of religion draws heavily on theory developed within mainstream philosophy, especially in epistemology, the philosophy of language, and ethics; unsurprisingly, it also owes a heavy debt to feminist scholars working in these areas, as we shall see more fully below. In addition, feminist philosophy of religion is closely linked with feminist work in theology, biblical studies, and spirituality. Indeed, as will be apparent below, the lines between disciplines are much more fluid in feminist thinking than they have usually been drawn in mainstream thought, not least because the problems which feminists encounter and the solutions that are proposed are often practical, human ones and cannot be neatly confined to single academic disciplines.

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