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gender & spirituality: an article in process

Thursday, 3 May 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments
  • Below are my initial thoughts concerning an article on gender and spirituality.  I’m considering looking at the idea of connection as it relates to ideas and/or practices of spirituality. 
  • Constrcutive comments are helpful!  And, while I’m soliticing comments, uninformed comments lacking the precision of critical analysis are NOT welcome!

The challenge of addressing the reality of gender within the framework of a fixed system such as religion becomes difficult, especially when the epistemological categories are derived from elements of masculinity and the overarching, fixed, and male dominated systems of religion. Are there ways to move beyond that stasis and furthermore the violence of masculinity and the fixed natures of male constructed systems in an attempt to address the dynamism that is found within spirituality?

I am purposefully using the language of spirituality in an attempt to provide a contrast to what is commonly understood as religion: there is a God or many Gods, a Savior[s] and ones needing to be saved, humanity. Our nation-states, health care providers, and a variety of religious systems are patterned after this rationale, and furthermore the social justice attempts also have a history of functioning out of this framework. Therefore, in an attempt to construct an expansive notion concerning spirituality and the hope that spirituality can bring to the liberation of gender, I am hoping to use a more relationally motivated term: connection.

Originally trained as a theologian, theology students are to become well versed in systematic theology. In fact, the idea of systematic theology, though for many is doctrinally comprised and constructed, is an attempt to show the connection of “the faith.” What oftentimes happens, though, is the opposite: disconnection from the world, each other, and our own self. How might one move away from disconnection and toward connection within this particular system? Is this possible? Are there ways for our spirituality to be liberated from the fixed systems which oftentimes purge connection?

Feminist theory has certainly approached the discussion regarding connection as it relates to identity, social structures and movements. Furthermore, feminist theory [in its many waves] has at its center liberation. Today, that liberation looks hugely different than the liberation from domesticity. For some feminists, the conceptual framework of domesticity and the identity that is subsequently constructed is an important discussion to be had. In other areas of feminist discussions or circles, scholars within the academic discipline of feminist theology continue to challenge the history and tradition of religion in an attempt to provide a more mutual and dynamic expression of theology, humanity, and the practices of spiritualities. The challenge that is discovered is finding ways to work within the system; others, however, abandon the system. Remaining within the male dominated system, however, has become increasingly difficult for feminist scholars of all disciplines. At some point, their research moves beyond the traditional discipline in which they were trained; mine is no different.

While one who has been formed in a particular system, such as religion or religious cultures, might find herself disconnected from tools and resources that are traditionally used as ways and forms of connection concerning gender and spirituality, she might very well find an unlikely connection within the humanities. Venturing from what one might consider the center, the familiar, toward the margins of thought, religion, spirituality and/or life is a journey that perhaps is filled with much ambiguity and many challenges. This journey also at some point challenges the constructed identity that she has embodied while living or functioning within a particular religion or religious culture.

Are there ways that she can flourish at the margins? At the margins of spirituality? At the margins of gender? What, if any, are the intersections of these two phenomena? I would like to argue that there are intersections. The religiously constructed identity serves its purposes for many people, men and women alike. The socially constructed identity serves its purposes for many people insofar that the socially constructed identity is liberating and not oppressive. The likelihood that either of these identities are liberating for the person embodying the identities is all but left up to the individual. Consequently, the essentialzing tendencies of society [both sacred and secular societies] tend to reach first for the tradition which unfortunately yields an essential identity. This outcome is over against allowing the individual and subsequently the community to construct ones identity. This outcome also does not foster an ethic of connection.

Moving towards the margins of the construction of spirituality and gender might perhaps create room for communities and individuals to consider relationality and connection. In Feminist Theologian Sallie McFague’s The Body of God, the idea of relationality or connection is the plumb line of her attempt to construct a theology that is both feminist and liberative for all. This is accomplished within the Christian Theological system, however. While McFague utilizes both Process philosophy and Process theology, McFague remains largely Chrstian, though doing so at what some theologians consider the margins of the faith. Yet, this construction still very much remains within the realm of the ideas and practices of the Sacred focusing more upon an ethereal notion of God or a Divine figure whose immanence is paramount to her argument. While McFague’s argument is compelling, her theology does not help in the process of transcending the essentializing nature of the imposition of identities given to women by societies.

Just some initial thoughts…

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