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What Is Feminist Theology?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Feminist theology aims to filter religion study and spiritual practices through a feminist, or female-centered, perspective. The texts, beliefs, and customs of religions are considered in relation to women’s empowerment, and prominent female religious figures are also analyzed. This philosophy often challenges traditional religious convention, sometimes promoting controversial practices like female ordination and the use of gender-neutral language in translations. Branches of feminist theology are found in nearly every religion.

As a discipline, feminist theology combines two distinct areas of thought: feminism and theology. The former movement began as an effort to ensure social, economic, and political equality for women, and though feminism may have a scholarly component, it is often activist in nature. In contrast, theology typically focuses on information gathering and analysis, and scholars usually hold a theology degree. Specifically, theology education considers religion and its influences in a rational, objective manner. As with other specific types of theology, merging these divergent areas in feminist theology can sometimes prove contentious.

Feminist approaches often differ from more commonly known theology methods. For one, feminists often champion an approach to theological study that highlights the importance of personal experience and personal spirituality. More formal religious traditions may be de-emphasized. Feminist studies also place more value on the evaluation of various women and their roles in spiritual texts.

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One of the main aims of feminist theology is the prevention of gender bias and sexism. Feminist scholars debate passages in religious texts that might be viewed as oppressive to women. They also speak out against religious customs or beliefs that cast women in a negative light or as inferior to men. Equality is further sought by encouraging the inclusion of females in positions of spiritual authority, like ministers, priests, and rabbis. Feminist theology often promotes textual translations that use language like “he and she” rather than the more exclusive “he," or that use "man and woman" rather than just "man."

Religious groups that recognize female spiritual beings are often of particular interest to feminist theology scholars as well. For example, many ancient religious systems had both gods and goddesses that controlled various earthly elements. Matriarchal, nature-focused, and pagan cultures also often place females in prized spiritual positions and roles. Neopaganism is a more contemporary form of spiritual practice that includes female deities. Some individuals that practice one of the major religions often view their Supreme Being in a female or gender ambiguous light.

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