Sunday, June 7, 2020


Today Feminism has influenced greatly on the church’s interpretation. Feminist criticism is a branch of ideological interpretation. It is a methodology in the biblical studies.  It is possible to see feminist theories forming the basis of a new world-view, distinct from those perspectives underlying the contemporary methodologies. It is necessary to get answers to certain relevant questions. Is there a feminist methodology in the biblical studies? Is there a feminist methodology or in other words whether feminism has a particular methodology as unique and derived by feminist? If there, how do they develop this methodology? For feminist perspective, biblical history should be read as two great moments, they are creation and redemption, at which women and men were equal. Following each of these, however, women lost their equality with men and declined in status.

 The Term Feminism?

Feminism is a term that has many meanings and implications. Feminism is a world wide phenomenon  and is different things to different people. Feminism is a social vision, rooted in women’s experience of sexually based discrimination and oppression; it is a movement seeking the liberation of women from all forms of sexism. It is an academic method of analysis being used in virtually every discipline. Academic feminist methodology provides methodological tools for exposing and analyzing male advantage. In academic feminist literature, male advantage exercised as power over women and disadvantaged males is called patriarchy.

Feminism is a perspective on life that colors all of a person’s hopes, commitments and actions. Joan Wolski Conn defines feminism as, “both a coordinated set of ideas and a practical plan of action, rooted in women’s critical awareness of how a culture controlled in meaning and action by men, for their own advantage, oppressions women and dehumanizes men”[1].

Reasons of Feminism?

The main reason for any feminist movement is to end oppression, discrimination and violence directed to women and to acquire full equality and human dignity for every woman. In every part of the globe women are still discriminated because of their sex.     It is the result of critical reflection on the structures of society which keeps people in a relationship of domination/subordination because of sex. This is developed out of the female experience of inequality and oppression.

Feminism is the result of the making of biased Christian interpretation of the text/hermeneutics, history, philosophy, theology. Existing hermeneutics tends to serve the interest of the dominant classes in society and church rather than to preserve its allegiance to god’s people, especially the poor and exploited women of all nations.

The alienation of women from the history is evident in the former historical works. In 1300’s the prevailing thinking regarded woman was as ‘another (dissimilar) species’. In the ancient writings, particularly in the most frequently cited classics which were authored by well know male Christian saints, women were judged to be deficient as human beings. This deficient nature was even attributed to God’s plan for creation, because the criterion for ‘humanness’ was drawn exclusively from male experience. Simon de Beauvior has given a title for his book as ‘second sex’, meant for women. Fiorenza says “western language and patriarchal religion have ‘erased’ women from history and made them ‘non-beings’[2]. Feminists proclaim that they can not afford such a historical or anti-historical stance because it is the power of oppression that deprives people of their history.

The major formative factor of feminism in the church is the patriarchalised hermeneutics of the Bible by the church. In the OT text the patriarchal domination is crystal clear. E.g. Religious observance such as sign of covenant, circumcision etc. are preserved only for male. Also certain passages make women submissive to male authority without any recourse. For example Lot offered his daughters to the men of Sodom to protect a male guest (Gen.19:8); Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to remain faithful to a foolish vow (Jud.11:29-40).[3] The feminists uncovered this inferiority and subordination of women in scripture and than they build new hermeneutics in order to reinterpret the scripture and bring at the biblical message with clarity and purity without the traditional andocentric bias.

The church had taught that the female subordination to mail was a punishment to women because Eve had sinned first and led Adam astray in the Garden of Eden.[4]    The church developed a two-nature anthropology in which the patriarchal influence was dominated. For example, men saints are identified as Apostles, Deacons, Priests, Bishops, Fathers etc…, while women saints find their identity in being virgins, Martyrs and widows.[5] The words of a famous ancient teacher Thomas Aquinas also reveal this sort of two- nature anthropology in the churchy.  He said “male is the norm and women are defective male”.[6] St. John Chrysostom says that the women taught once, and ruined all. On this account let her not teach…the whole female race transgressed. Another man St.Augustine is of the opinion that, the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, apart from man, if she alone is taken; she is not the image of God.[7] Another famous figure Terulllian is more offensive in his language. He says, “And do you know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and his punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway… with what ease you shattered that image of God”: man! Became of the death you merited the son of God had to die”.[8]

Even the Indian society’s perspective on women was rigid and we can see the male dominance in all the realm of life. For example, in Tamil Nadu the term, aan vazhi samudayam’ is often used, which means “society according to the ways of men”. But feminists interchange a term as “penu vazhi sammudayam” meaning “society according to the way of women”.[9]

Different Types of Feminism

First Wave Feminism:

The feminist movement of the mid-nineteenth century was in Western Europe and North America. The major significant event was the women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. This was for legal and economic equality of women with men continued until women gained the right to vote. Only on 1893 CE women were got the permission to vote, and the country was New Zealand. Before time they were not allowed to vote. In 1830’s women of US began to lift up their voice to challenge their inferior status in the entire social life. In US women got ‘the right to vote’ only in 1920.Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Lucretia Mott (1793- 1880) &Susan B. Antony (1820-1906) were prominent figures of this period.

Second Wave Feminism

It is traceable to the adoption by the united Nations in 1967 of the “declaration of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women”. In US its beginnings are closely associated with Euro-American women’s advocacy for equal rights in conjunction with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The significant theological work of this period was Mary Daly’s “The Church and the Second Sex” (1968). In this context certain feminist perspectives such as liberal feminism; cultural feminism; radical feminism and socialist feminism were emerged.

1. Liberal Feminism: Emphasizes civil rights, interprets the right to privacy to include the right of women to freely make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health.[10]It seeks the full equality of women with men in all facts of social life, especially economic and political life. This means the access to educational and professional opportunities, self determination in marriage and reproduction and equal pay for equal work.

2. Radical Feminism: Emphasizes the pervasiveness of male domination which is the cause of all societal problems, and the importance of “women-centered culture”, characterized by nurture, closeness to nature and compassion.[11] It seeks to eliminate patriarchy in order to liberate women from male control in every facet of life, including family life. It believes that the oppression of women is the most significant oppression, rater than of race or class. It is some times developed by lesbian women.[12]

3. Cultural Feminism: It is also called “romantic feminism” and “reform feminism”. It emphasizes the moral superiority of women over men and the values, traditionally associated with women, such as compassion, nurturance, and peacemaking.[13] It seeks the betterment of society by stressing the contributions made by women. Cultural feminism strikes at the root of the predominantly masculine culture and values.

 4. Socialist Feminism: Emphasizes white male dominance in the economic class struggle of capitalist societies. Reason for this dominance is the division of labor according to sex and race and the devaluing of women’s work, e.g. the work of raising children. It is concerned with economic independence for women.

Third Wave Feminism:

In the late 1970’s a new developmental in feminism arose one that draw attention to differences in race and social class of women. Historians of feminism called it as third wave of feminism. In second wave feminism white women were creating the theology and methodology by their context and experience and they universalized their experience and thus they ignored the “women of colour; the third wave feminism goes beyond to the former, this movement is concerned not simply with the social, political and economical equality of women with men but with a fundamental re-imagination of the whole of humanity in relation to the whole of reality, including non-human creation”. It has a deep and wide agenda. Eco-feminism is the new perspective which is the result of this.[14]

Eco-Feminism: Brings together a plurality of voices that connects the domination of women with exploitation of nonhuman nature, arguing that the two forms of domination (domination over women & nature) are intimately connected and mutually reinforcing.[15]Eco-feminists seek to bring to an end of all form of discrimination and exploitation, because no attempt to liberate women will be successful unless it is connected to the liberation of non-human nature.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Women’s Bible (1815-1902)

This served to highlight both the political conditions and hermeneutical implications of feminist biblical interpretation and the radical critical impact of feminist theology for the interpretative task. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), gives mainly two critical insights for a feminist theological hermeneutics in the “woman’s Bible”. They are:[16]

1)      The Bible is not a “neutral” book, but a political weapon against women’s struggle for liberation.

2)      This is so because the Bible bears the imprint of men who never saw or talked with God.

Stanton explains why it is needed for a women’s Bible as such? For feminist perspective, biblical history should be read as two great moments, they are creation and redemption, at which women and men were equal. Following each of these, however, women lost their equality with men and declined in status. She says, biblical text is androcentric and that men have put their stamp on biblical revelation. The Bible is not just interpreted from a male perspective rather it is manmade because it is written by men and is the expression of a patriarchal culture. She continues, feminist interpretation particularizes and relatevises the Bible even more by specifying that biblical language is ‘male’ language and that the cultural conditions and perspectives of the Bible are that of patriarchy. Furthermore she gives three arguments why a scholarly and feminist interpretation of the Bible is politically necessary? They are:[17]

i)   Through out history and especially today the Bible is used to keep women in subjection and to hinder their emancipation.

ii)  Women are also believes strongly that the Bible as word of God. And also they believe that the Bible has a numinous authority.

iii)  No reform is possible one area of society if it is not advanced also in all other areas. One cannot reform the law and other cultural institutions without also reforming Biblical religion (theology) which claims the Bible as Holy Scripture. Since “all reforms are interdependent”, a critical feminist interpretation is a necessary political endeavor, although it might not be opportune. If feminists think they can neglect the revision of the Bible because there are more pressing political issues, then they do not recognize the political impact of scripture up on the churches and society, and also upon the lives of women.

Elizabeth Schussler Fieorenza and Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics

Feminist biblical hermeneutics is the theory and art of interpretation in the interest of women’s full humanity. Feminist theological hermeneutics requires detecting patriarchy and andocentric in biblical text, church teachings and their interpretations. Feminist biblical hermeneutics specifically focuses on ‘women to make them ‘the subject of interpretation’ and ‘the constructors of religious meaning’. Fiorenza’s purpose for developing feminist hermeneutics is to enable women to engage in the critical construction of religious meaning from the stand point of women’s experience, especially the experience of struggle against dehumanization & oppression [18]

In 20th century more complex and sophisticated types of feminist hermeneutics have developed. A famous feminist, Letty Russell, articulated salvation as liberation and blessing. According to Mary Daly, ‘salvation’ for women is freeing oneself from the misogynous chains of Christianity.[19]

Elizabeth Schussler Fieorenza is on the view that the Bible is androcentric. She argues that the invisible women should be written back into the biblical texts by using the methods developed by feminst historians, and thus lifting up and portraying the ways in which the bible empowers women.[20]

In ‘God and the rhetoric of sexuality’ Phyllis Trible argues like this in the exegesis of creation in Genesis. “Man(ish) does not come into beinguntill the creation of woman (ishah).  Ha’adam, the earth creature who is undifferentiated becomes man and woman simultaneously. From ha’adam(one) come two (ish and ishah) and thaen we are told that the two become one flesh once more”.[21]

Barbara J. Machaffe, in her book named “Her Story” explains like this, the Hebrew term ‘ezer’ which is translated ‘helper’ (Gen2:18) does not imply that the woman was in a way inferior to the man or the human creature. The term means a beneficial relationship between two parties in which one helps the other. For example, God is referred on helper of Israel but there is no sense of subordination. Woman comes from the rib of man is a fact, but it does not mean woman is inferior to man because man was inactive in the time of creation and God was the creator. God used rib as the material to create woman as the earth was used initially.[22]

The feminists use mainly three hermeneutical principles for their hermeneutics. They are:

Hermeneutics of Suspicion

A feminist “hermeneutics of Suspicion” is first and formost a consciousness-raising activity that requires one to take into account the influence of culturally determine gender roles and attitudes on Bible. It often includes systemic analysis that seeks to uncover its come in biblical society, church & academy. Its starting point is the assumption that patriarchy deeply affects biblical text and their interpretations in the Christian traditions. Therefore, they must be examined for their possible andocentric assumptions and positions. This includes how biblical text treats women in stories and laws, and neglect women’s experiences completely. Therefore, hermeneutics of suspicion is concerned not only with what is said about women but also with the silences.

Hermeneutics of proclamation it challenges Christian theology and pastoral practice to publicly repent their preaching of unconditional love, which has colluded sexual, domestic, and political violence against women and children.[23] Feminist hermeneutics of proclamation insist that all texts identified as sexist patriarchal should not be retained in the lectionary and be proclaimed in Christian worship or catechesis. Those texts that are identified as transcending their patriarchal contexts and as articulating a liberating vision of human freedom and wholeness should receive their proper place in the liturgy and teaching of the church.[24]

Hermeneutics of Remembrance

It is another side of feminist interpretative method. Hermmmetics of suspicion is in service of a feminist hermeneutics of remembrance.  A feminist hermeneutics proposed theoretical model for historical reconstructions that place women in the center of biblical comity and theology.[25] Feminist hermeneutics is not satisfied with unmasking patriarchy because it cause uman suffering. A hermmetics of remembrance reclaims the past suffering of women and of all person s past and present who struggle for human dignity. A hermeneutics of remembrance does not negate the dehumanizing effects of patriarchy on biblical history.[26]

Hermeneutics of Creative Actualization

It reclaims for the church of women the same imaginative freedom, popular creativity and ritual power. Women today not only rewrite biblical stories about women but also reformulate patriarchal prayers and create feminist rituals celebrating their ancestors.[27] A feminist hermeneutics of creative actualization is woman rediscover themselves in story and poetry in drama and liturgy, in song and dance their biblical foresistors’ sufferings and victories.

Rosemary Radfor Ruether and God Talk in Bible

People experienced and understood God in different ways in various times and place. The language used to refer God has been predominantly masculine. So question arises: Is God male? Many people think “yes”. This predominance of masculinity for God is because of the male dominance in the society. Thus feminists (not all) criticized and rejected this masculine God and embraced female God. For that they went beyond pre-Jewish &pre-Christian tradition they argued male God concept is fairly recent (4500-2800 BCE)[28] to develop religion of the Goddess. According to them this concept is common in matriarchal society. But for me it is not so because in Indian religion even there are goddesses the society in highly patriarchal and andocentric. In Rosemary Radfor Ruether’s assessment Goddess theology is “historically inaccurate and ideologically distorted”[29] she adds “Mother” to “Father-God”. “Mother’ is less common address to God so she believes that language for God should be gender inclusive that is a parental God-language.

For Ruether, God is an “empowering matrix”.[30] She chooses the word “matrix” deliberately however to make a point that she believes it is important. She understood God as having no gender difference but is encompassing source of life and renewal. Asian feminist theologians focus on God as “the source of life and the creative sustaining power of the universe”.[31] For them God is a compassionate and loving God in the midst of problems and struggle. In OT we see God as spirit. The Heb. word used is ‘ruah’ which is a feminine noun.

Is God Male? This is a frequently asked question by feminists and they developed answer for this in their perspective from the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, God clothes the people in the desert (Neh 9:21) like a mother clothes her children. It has been pointed out that YHWH’s quality of compassion, rachamim, is actually derived from the Hebrew word rechem and really means “movements of the Womb”[32]. The prophet of the exile, whose writings are included in the Book of Isaiah, refers to God as the one who has carried Israel “from the womb” (Isa.46:3-4) and who carries out like a woman in labour (Isa.42:14).[33] In OT the female qualities expressed in God’s image are not sexual qualities like fertility but deeply cultural qualities which build the society.

Feminist Methodologies

Olivette Genest classifies ten types of feminist methodologies. They are given below[34]

1. Revisionist Interpretation: This includes works that distinguish negative texts and positive texts concerning women, male and female imagery of God, in order to check the century old strata of andocentric interpretation, which may result in a correct and well balanced understanding of the Biblical text.

2. Text and Translation: The translator work upon the grammatical gender, natural or biological gender, the inclusive language and discourse to be created, the choice of masculine or feminine variants in the different traditional manuscripts and materials, the option for a proper feminist version and the relationship to be maintained with the history of biblical times.

3. Imaginative Identification: This takes into account not only the female characters encountered in the Bible but also those whom it is legitimate to suppose are present in the narrative framework.

4. Women as Author and Bible Interpreters: This exegetical effort aims at recovering texts or portions of texts written by women and at telling the intellectual history of the interpretation of the Bible by women.

5. Historical Interpretation: This studies the women in Bible and their sisters in the contemporary milieu. These sources are approached through a hermeneutics of suspicion. They are to be accompanied by socio-critical studies of the daily lives of women and their divisions into social classes.

6. Socio-Cultural Reconstruction: The proponents of this view hold history as a story deliberately built, as the history of relationship and of struggle for power. Thus the feminist exegesis remarks that history is written from the view point of dominant class and it argues for a history taking into account analysis of women’s experience valued as genuine scientific sources.

7. Ideological Inscription: Feminist literary studies have brought to light a complex ideological construct in these androcentric texts. In order to decode the ideology embedded in the Bible, some exegetes have recourse to a feminist rhetorical criticism. These studies seem to break the hold, which the androcentric sacred texts have over women.

8. Women as Subjects of Interpretation: There is a focus shift from the text to the female reader. The effort is to make all readers aware of the textual and socio-cultural situation of women and remove them from the auto-alienation generated by the reading of culturally masculine writings presented as normative.

9. The Present Socio-Political Location of Interpretation: This emphasizes the connection of the socio-political, the global-cultural, the diversified religious location and the socio-historical contexts of Biblical readings. It is this specifically female ethos, which must permeate scientific values and the commitments to the strategies of people for justice, self-determination and freedom.

10. A Critical Feminist Rhetorical Method: This is proposed by Fiorenza. She maintains her usual vision with its three components. They are: feminist studies, the movement of liberation in church & society and academic theological studies. This multi dimensional model comprises of: a) a textual analysis. B) An imaginary prolongation of what is not said. C) A historical and social contextual analysis. D) An explication of political implications and interests of the texts, of its ethical consequence in both its original sociopolitical situation and in the contemporary one. E) a placing of the text in the sociopolitical stetting of the scientific biblical research in universities, a research supposed to be rational, neutral, apolitical , value free with its notions of language reality.

End Notes

[1] Anne M. Cliford, Introducing Feminist Theology (NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 17.

[2] Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (NY: The Cross road Pub. Co., 1985), 18.

[3] Phyllis Trible, “Feminist Hermeneutics and Biblical Studies” Feminist Theology: A Reader. Ann Loades ed., (London; SPCK, 1990), 24.

[4] Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present, Illinois: IVP, 1996. 521.

[5] Regina Coll, “Feminist Liberation Theology : Its part &future”, The emerging Christian Woman (Pune: Ishavani, 1984) 22

[6] Ibid, 23.

[7] Pearl Dego, “The Feminist view Point”, The Emerging…p.43.

[8] R.L.Hnui, “patriarchal Cultures & Traditions in the Bible”, Feminist Hermeneutics L.Ralte & E.ARajkumanr, (Delhi: ISPCK, 2002), 81.

[9] Gabriele Deitrich, A New Thing on Earth (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001), 17.

[10] Anne M. Cliford, Introducing, 23.

[11] Ibid.,24.

[12] Helen Stanton, Christian Feminism: An Introduction (London: Longman &Todd Ltd., 1998), 6.

[13] Anne M. Cliford, Introducing, 23.

[14] Ibid ., 27

[15] Ibid., 28

[16] In Memory of Her., 7.

[17] Ibid.,11

[18] Ibid., 55.

[19] Regina Coll, Feminist Liberation, 21.

[20] Prasanna Kumar, Areader in Feminist Theology. (Madras: Gurukul Pub, 1993), 6.

[21] Gegina col, Feminist Lib Theology, 25.

[22] Barbara J. Machaffe, Her Story,12.

[23] Fioranza, Shring Her word (Edinburg: T&T Clerk, 1998), 153.

[24] Fioranza, Bread not Stone (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1990), 19.

[25] Ibid., 20

[26] Anne M.Cliff, 56

[27] Fiorenza, “Bred not..” Op.cit .,21.

[28] Anne Op.cit., 93.

[29]  Ibid., 95.

[30] Anne., Op.cait., 92.

[31] Kwok Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology (Sheffeild; Sheffield Accademic Press, 2000), 69.

 [32]Ibid., 60.

[33] Barbara J. Machaffe, Her Story (Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1986), 11.

[34] Olivette Genest, “Feminist Tehories in the Interpretation of the Bible”, Women also Journeyed with Him ( Minnesota: The liturgical Press, 2000), 30-32.

[35] Regina Coll, The emerging, 21.

 [36] Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation. 520.


Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present, (Illinois: IVP, 1996

Anne M. Cliford, Introducing Feminist Theology (NY: Orbis Books, 2001

Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (NY: The Cross road Pub. Co., 1985

Phyllis Trible, “Feminist Hermeneutics and Biblical Studies” Feminist Theology: A Reader. Ann Loades ed., (London; SPCK, 1990

Regina Coll, “Feminist Liberation Theology : Its part &future”, The emerging Christian Woman (Pune: Ishavani, 1984

Pearl Dego, “The Feminist view Point”, The Emerging…

R.L.Hnui, “patriarchal Cultures & Traditions in the Bible”, Feminist Hermeneutics L.Ralte & E.ARajkumanr, (Delhi: ISPCK, 2002

Prasannal Kumari, A reader in Feminist Theology  (Madras: Gurukul Pub.,1993

Helen Stanton, Christian Feminism: An Introduction (London: Longman &Todd Ltd., 1998

Gegina col, Feminist Lib Theology

Fioranza, Shring Her word (Edinburg: T&T Clerk, 1998

Fioranza, Bread not Stone (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1990

Gabriele Deitrich, A New Thing on Earth (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001

Barbara J. Machaffe, Her Story (Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1986

Kwok Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology (Sheffeild; Sheffield Accademic Press, 2000

Olivette Genest, “Feminist Tehories in the Interpretation of the Bible”, Women also Journeyed with Him ( Minnesota: The liturgical Press, 2000



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