Notes on the workshop facilitated by Lieve Troch.
“What is a feminist” and “how do we do Asian feminist theology,” participants wanted to know. Lieve Troch, professor of systematic theology in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and visiting professor in Brazil, Sri-Lanka, and Indonesia began by looking first at the key words: Theology, Feminist, Asian Context, and Doing Theology. There is no value free space, no value free language, therefore, we need to be careful about our definitions, she advised. The problem is when we think we think the same but in actuality, we do not.
I. The question is, “Who is the owner of the definition?” The one who defines has power to include as well as to exclude. Who says who can define what theology is or what a theologian is? Do ordinary people have a right to make their own defintion?
II. Whose or what language do we use when making a definition? Is a definition a matter of knowledge, something you can find in a dictionary? Some definitions are doctrinal, what the Church wants us to believe. Ethics proposes its own definitions of what is the norm or what is ethical. Is a definition a clear and specific answer or can it involve mystery,
III. What does it mean to be Theologian?
IV. Is Theology a contrast between a given and desirable situation, a situation and a dream?
Theologian. What is a theologian? Some thoughts from participants: Academic, professional, but anyone who is doing theology is also a theologian but at different levels, said an academic. Objectively and professionally it is those with the academic qualification, subjectively it is whoever who is doing theology. A participant said, everyone has the capacity to do theology, A theologian is one who theologizes and has the capacity to put this forward to the community. The process of theologizing is not static and it is evolving.
The word theologian calls to mind a number of images – invents, creates, modifies, mother of the Word, birthing, nurturing, mid-wife. A theologian interprets the situation in the dream. Although we have these images, why do most of us see theologians as professionals? Is this because it is the institution or the academy that defines, not the community and the tradition of the communitarian experience? Giving an answer from the community’s experience, a participant suggested that theology is whenever we see God and experience the divine in any way. To do theology is to be a mid-wife. A theologian is the very person who is able to achieve the dialogue of the incarnation and its consequence in the relationship between God and humans. A theologian is one who can clarify the relationship between text and context.
The critical function of the theologian is said to be faith seeking critical dialogue. Theology is a training for this critical function. There is a dynamic tension between being a theologian and doing theology. When we speak of faith seeking understanding, for instance, we must ask whose faith? Whose interpretation? Whose understanding? .
A tree is often used as an image for the relationship between the academic theologian and theology from the grassroots or from pastoral experience. Pastoral knowledge is likened to the root and the professional understanding is the fruit. But do we not also eat the root? Isn’t this image still giving more importance to the academia. Furthermore, the tree is still an hierarchical image.
A theologian exists in a tension between the church, the people and the academia. A certain level of scientific work is needed. Is the theologian’s loyalty to the people of God or is the theologian at the service of the church? Where do we position ourselves as theologians? I am a theologian of my own faith formed by those 3 strings – church, people, academia.
Where do you experience conflicts in this triangle of the people of God, the church and the academy? How do you deal with that? Think of the moment that you were afraid, when you felt fear. Your fear reveals where your real loyalties are, be it the Bishop, the dean, or the women who would not recognize your voice any more. In your strategical choices, when do you loose myself? How do you deal with your own faith in this. In what way is your faith constructed by your own faith, church, people and academy. What are your strings? How do you deal with the tension between the 3?
Metti shared on how she was told she acted against the church when she wrote a certain article. Her provincial pacified the Bishop by assuring him that she would take action. At the same time her provincial advised her to wait, further her studies, grow in maturity and then create a space to speak more. While the church controls her people and the academy, there are those in the academy and there are people who would go their own way. To wait is important, active waiting like the sand eroding the iron on the beach.
Another participant shared about writing on exceptional cases that require the use contraception. Although she was told not to go against the Church’s authority, her experience as a doctor as recognized and she was allowed to retain her position in her thesis.
We are partly in and partly out in the circle of power in the church. When do we step out and when do we step in to keep our dearest loyalty (whether it is to the church, the people of God, or the academe). Our loyalties can be different in different stages of our life.
Language can be used to expressed the reality, shapes reality and/ or transform reality. For example, the title of a book : ‘the journey is home” is a powerful image. In a “discipleship of equals”… there is no master.
Language is powerful and we need to be mindful of its use. Metaphorical language can be source of provocation.
How do you define the word, feminist? Does feminist refer to lifestyle, gender, woman? Lieve explained that she does not like the word gender as it perpetuates dualism and smacks of heterosexism. It is not true that all women suffer in the same way. Women who are darker are discriminated from women who are fair. There are men who suffer the same. Therefore suffering is not engendered. Gender only captures male and female. But there are categories beyond the usual category. Just by the category homosexual itself is beyond the dual category of gender. Men who are effeminate just as women who are masculine suffer discrimination..
Feminists – should be sensitive not to use categories that marginalize the marginalized people again.
Words create reality and situations. ‘Male’ creates male. We should therefore be careful not to see the gender issue as the central problem. We need to see the marginalization and a consequence of multiple reality.
In what ways are we the result of our gender thinking? Feminism is a moment of choice to break away and beyond the define of a gender boundary.
Asian Context. What is Asia? Is it the continent of Asia? But the middle east and central Asia are so different from south Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia? Is Asia a definite geographical area? But what is included in this geographical area? Are Australia and the Pacific islands part of Asia? Sometimes they are included, sometimes they are not. Does being part of a certain culture or a certain religion make one Asian or a part of Asia? Although Christianity has its origins in Asia, it is brought to us by the West and interpreted for us by western theologians and philosophers. When persons from India or China or other countries in what we think of as Asia, create ethnic communities in adopted countries in North America or in Europe, do they stop being Asian? Given the plurality of cultures and religions in Asia, what makes anything or anyone Asian?
There are more questions than answers in these notes. It is to provoke the mind, not to serve as an authoritative reference that these notes are included, so reader, beware. In the end, what we learned was that we should not passively accept what we are told, that we have to ask questions and then more questions.
Reconstructed by Andrea L. Si from Conference Proceedings submitted by Julia Ong.