At a recent conference on “Ecclesia in Asia” held at the Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, India, in Nov. 2001, about 40 theologians from all across Asia gathered to reflect on the Church in Asia. Significant at the conference was that only four of those present were women. However, thankfully, the women=s agenda featured prominently throughout. As a concrete response to this “problem” (which, as we are all aware, is pervasive in the Church all across Asia and perhaps in the world as well), a group of us (both women and men) decided to DO something beyond the lip-service.
Specifically, we are proposing to hold a conference solely for Catholic women doing theology in Asia. The conference will serve to initiate an Asian-wide forum which, hopefully, will facilitate some sort of long-term support and solidarity for women from all across Asia for the purpose of enhancing theological reflection. The proposed dates are 24 – 29 Nov. 2002 (check-in on 24 Nov.; check-out on 29 Nov.), and the proposed venue is the WE-Train Guest House, located in Bangkok, Thailand.
The general theme of the proposed conference is “Ecclesia of Women in Asia” (EWA). This, as many of you may know, comes from Karl Rahner’s discussion that “in the new situation in history, of the world and of society, woman is presented with fresh problems to solve for the world.” Rahner continues, “These are such as can be solved by woman herself and in her own way, and not, in any direct or adequate sense, by directives issued by the authorities of the Church and in their preaching.” Rahner then asserts that “the Church which both can and must perform this task is not, in any direct sense, the Church of officialdom as such, but rather the Church [Ecclesia] of women themselves (Theological Investigations Vol. VIII, 1971).
Coming closer home, Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Apostolic Exhortation”Ecclesia in Asia” expressed concern that “the Church should be a participatory Church in which no one feels excluded, and [the Synod Fathers] judged the wider participation of women in the life and mission of the Church in Asia to be an especially pressing need.” In particular the Pope suggests that in order to “enhance their service in the Church, there should be greater opportunities for women to take courses in theology and other fields of study; and men in seminaries and houses of formation need to be trained to regard women as co-workers in the apostolate,” and that “women should be more effectively involved in pastoral programmes” (EA, 45).
The sub-theme of the proposed conference is “Voices of the Silenced.” As is probably obvious, this theme is deliberately vague, so as to enable the “Silenced” to “Voice” out their concerns on any of a variety of issues: Spirituality/Reflections on God, Eucharist, Sacraments, Liturgy, Ministry, Interfaith dialogue, Mission, Family, The domestic church, lay participation, Towards a participatory Church, The Good News: Liberating or Threatening, Discipleship of Equals, Ethics of Liberation and Empowerment, Authority and Power in the Church, A Democratic Feminist Vision for a Different Church, Koinonia: Equal Partnership, etc., etc.
Call for Papers
The present letter, therefore, is a “call for papers,” in view of identifying potential participants to the proposed conference. Specifically, invitations are extended to all Catholic women who are Asians or who live and/or work in Asia to submit an abstract of about 300 words by February/March 2002, on an intended paper. Then, by 1st. June 2002, those who submitted abstracts will be informed if they can be accommodated as Paper-Presenters at the conference. All Paper-Presenters are then expected to submit the full-length paper of about 3,000 words by 1st. September 2002.
Topics for Papers
Because this is an initial attempt at bringing together Catholic women theologians from all across Asia, the topic for the papers shall remain as broad as possible, so as to be inclusive of as many theological disciplines as possible. However, for sure, the topic has to have some relations to the three dimensions of the conference=s general theme, viz., “ecclesia,” “women,” and “Asia.” Thus, the paper has to be specifically connected with a church-related issue, and have a bearing on women or written from the women=s perspective, and be rooted in the Asian religio-cultural tradition. In other words, we really want papers that express the women’s heart and mind and that have a bearing on Asia. This, as is obvious, is to further the cause of theologizing amongst Catholic women doing theology in Asia. It would be strongly encouraged, also, that attempts be made to include perspectives from your own local and national context.
Why Catholics Doing Theology?
You might have noticed the stress on “Catholic” as well as “Doing Theology” in this letter. Some might ask if we should also extend the invitation to our Christian sisters of other churches and denominations or to women working at grassroots who are not necessarily doing theology. While we appreciate that both suggestions are good and in fact ideal, we also note that because this is an initial attempt, we should confine ourselves to a more specific group first. Perhaps later, when more established, we could extend to a wider clientele. But, yes, we shall have one or two representatives from the Protestant churches as well as from grassroots organizations who will attend not necessarily as Paper-Presenters but as non-Paper-Presenting participants.
Moreover, it has to be noted that on the Asian level, there are already very well established ecumenical associations for women theologians. Most of these, however, cater predominantly to our Protestant sisters from the other churches, even as there may be a few Catholic women as active participants. One may mention here the AWomen in Theology@ movement, as well as the EATWOT. Besides, it has also to be noted that within our own Catholic Church there have been other initiatives to bring together women specifically for theological reflections. One may mention here the FABC=s BILA for Women and the Women Major Superiors= AMOR programmes, which cater to women, especially those working at grassroots levels, etc. While we truly believe that these efforts should be encouraged and multiplied, we also believe that an effort to bring together women who are specifically theologians is also very much wanting in Asia.
What do we mean by “Theologians”?
However, the term “theologians” is used here as loosely as possible. Firstly, it could mean women who have undergone some sort of formal and academic theological training beyond the foundational three or four-year university undergraduate or seminary theology programmes. Hence, this usually refers to those who have done Ph.D or M.A. studies, or its equivalent, in theology or its cognates. Secondly, it could also mean those who have not done any formal theological studies but who have been doing personal self-reading in the field of theology. But, most importantly, “theologians,” we feel, refers to those who are “doing theology” or engaged in the activity of “theologizing.” Hence, our reference here is to women engaged in systematic theological reflections and the articulation of these reflections in the written and/or spoken form for the benefit of the Christian community. It is in view of this that the fundamental criterion used for this conference is the ability and willingness to write and present an original and creative theological paper. This, of course, is another way to encourage more women in Asia to theologize and have their theological reflections published and disseminated for a wider audience.
This is a very serious consideration and will probably be the one limiting factor to our intention to bring together as many women doing theology as is humanly possible. While efforts are being made to raise some funds, we don’t know how much we will be able to get. We, therefore, ask that each intending participant also helps in seeking funds for travel to and from Bangkok. Specifically, those who work in some sort of institution are encouraged to seek help from your university or seminary or pastoral centre or diocesan office or parish movement and Religious are asked to seek help from your congregations, etc.. We will try our best to help those who have difficulties, especially those coming from the poorer countries and dioceses. While the ultimate aim is to bring as many as possible, we also want to ensure that each and every country in Asia is represented. Thus, if more intending participants are able to take care of their own travel expenses, then we should be able to bring together a bigger number of people. The conference fee which includes all room and board and other local expenses will come to about US$ 150 per person. We will raise enough funds to take care of this for all participants. However, we welcome those who may be able to contribute something, however small, to do so.
Identification of Paper-Presenters
As soon as we receive all the abstract submissions, we will go about identifying those who would be Paper-Presenters taking into account our budget limitation as well as proportional representation by lay vs. religious, age, profession, region and country, topic and theological discipline, etc., etc. Those who have not been identified as Paper-Presenters but who still would like to attend as non-Paper-Presenting participants will also be welcome, contingent, of course, on the space and funding limitations. Either way, expect to be notified by 1st. June, if not earlier.
Process of the Conference
All Paper-Presenters will then be expected to submit the full-length paper by 1st. September 2002. The papers will then be circulated to all participants before they arrive for the conference. On the first day of the conference, participants will go into small workshop groups to discuss the papers, grouped in clusters according to topics or disciplines. This will also be the time for peer-review and critique of the papers. The subsequent days of the conference will explore issues of common concerns and attend to national and regional plans of action, etc.
Hence, a certain degree of commitment is expected of all participants. Specifically, participants are expected to DO something after the conference, especially upon returning to their home country and diocese. This could take the form of a follow-up programme to help further the cause of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia. Or, it could take the form of a commitment to advance the cause of Women’s theology by conscious efforts of writing theological articles periodically, etc.
An open invitation will also be extended to leading women theologians from other continents who might be interested and willing to come and share their experiences with us. For sure, we can benefit from such support and solidarity, just as we hope it will provide an opportunity for us to develop greater networks with our sister Catholic theologians from elsewhere in the world. We foresee that such guests could make up to about10 % of the total number of participants. They will, of course, not be expected to present a Paper as such, but will surely be expected to participate fully in the entire process and complement our deliberations and reflections. Intending non-Asian participants are therefore invited to complete the “RSVP” but minus the abstract part. Likewise, any others who would like to attend as Non-Paper-Presenting participants are also invited to submit the “RSVP.” Again, whether we are able to accommodate Non-Paper-Presenters is also subject to space and funding limitations. Either way, Non-Paper-Presenters will also be informed by 1st. June 2002.
In view of Thailand being most central in Asia and because of its welcoming immigration policies, the proposed venue is Bangkok. WE-Train Guest House is also a Women’s Education and Training Centre. It is run by the “Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women” in Bangkok. Founded by a Buddhist nun, it runs Emergency Homes for battered women and HIV/AIDS patients, Women’s clinics, children=s homes, youth centres, and a Gender and Development Research Institute. All of these are located in the wide campus which also houses the guest house.
Those who may be remotely interested in participating in the proposed conference, either as Paper-Presenters or as Non-Paper-Presenting participants, please write in as soon as possible, preferably by February or early March, but no later than 31st. March.
A. Paper-Presenters: Send an abstract (300 words) of the proposed paper.
B. Provide the information below (ensure you complete ALL):
3. Tel, Fax
4. Email (essential, since future communications will be via email)
5. Age group: select from (20 – 39), (40 – 59) or (60 above)
6. Indicate if you are a lay woman or which religious congregation you belong to.
7. Profession, occupation, etc.
8. Church organizations, NGO activities, etc.
9. Academic qualification, etc.
10. How much help would you need to subsidize your travel to and from Bangkok? (This is absolutely essential so we can know our budget limits. If you are able to take care of your full travel expenses, please indicate that also)
It would be preferable that correspondence be done via email. Do not even bother to send the hard-copy once an email is sent. If you absolutely do not have access to email, then use the fax.
Dr. Evelyn Monteiro, SC (India)
Dr. (Ms.) Choe Hyondok (Korea; Asia-desk, Institute of Missiology, Aachen)
Dr. (Mrs.) Annette Meuthrath (Germany; Asia-desk, Inst. of Missiology, Aachen)
Dr. John Prior, SVD (Indonesia)
To allow for centralised coordination, please send all responses to:
Bro. Edmund Chia, FSC (Malaysia)
122/6-7 Soi Naaksuwan
Yannawa, Bangkok 10120