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Feminist theology:
to listen, understand and respond in a secular and pluralistic world



On Sunday 28th August 2011 the 16th International Congress of ESWTR closed. The Congress was held in Spain, in the city of Salamanca, from the 24th to 28th August with more than two hundred women from the different European countries and Mexico participating. The main groups and associations of Spanish women researchers and scholars of feminist theology were represented, including EFETA (Andalusian School of Feminist Theology), Mujeres y Teología, ATE (Association of Spanish Women Theologians), and the Collectiu de les Dones en l’Esglesia.

It was a busy few days operating at an elevated academic level and with a high degree of participation. From amongst the speakers, the majority of whom were European, it is worth highlighting the presence of Muslim presenters as well as speakers from India and Korea.

The Art Gallery, which was inaugurated on the first day of the Congress, was a big success and it is important to stress the great contribution of the curators of the exhibition, and especially, Silvia Martínez Cano, who worked very hard to respond to the needs of the artists in showing their works, paintings and sculptures. The result was a magnificent exhibition that all of us could savour and enjoy.


The motto of this Congress was ‘Feminist theology: to listen, understand and respond in a secular and pluralistic world’. The plurality and secularization of society present a number of problems that are strongly related first of all to JUSTICE and, consequently, to the situations of poverty, emigration, hunger and sex slavery, circumstances which relate in a very special way to women, making them the main protagonists and prime victims. It was felt that the perspective of Feminist theology was particularly relevant to these problems and the wish was to reflect on them firstly by LISTENING, because only by listening to the other can we open ourselves to dialogue in liberty and amongst equals. Subsequently, by hearing one another we hoped to UNDERSTAND the different attitudes and different approaches put forward not only from within the various Christian church communities but also from with- in the different cultures present at the Congress. Following on from listening and under- standing the aim was to RESPOND and find some answers by being able to share and pool the diverse options which are raised by the diversity of Christian feminist theologies and by feminism of other cultures.


The opening of the Congress took place on Wednesday, 24th. Esperanza Bautista gave a short but detailed talk about Francisco de Vitoria and reminded us of the role the University of Salamanca has played in the history of Spain.

During several plenary sessions reflections were shared on the utilization of religion to support and justify forms of exclusion and even xenophobic discourse (Teresa Toldy).

The question posed by Teresa Toldy concerned the role religion and especially feminist theologies play and should play in the construction of an ecumenical and interreligious proposal for a “sisterhood of different voices”.

Mr. José Torres was in charge of the reply to this presentation. In his speech he spoke about the house of difference in the struggle of women against patriarchy and inequality. For women it is the fight against the global chains of exploitation and the invisibility of their work.

He proposes breaking with the dichotomy of we/others and bridging the differences. In his eyes it is necessary to practice theology in the squares and streets in order to make use of feminist theology’s popular vocation.

In the afternoon two Muslim women spoke, both of them from Barcelona. Ndeye Andújar and Xantal Genovart Millet in their reply and counter-reply offered a wide vision of Islam and the feminist discourses of Muslim women. They propose a coexistence, which should have as a point of departure mutual understanding not only within one’s own group but also between the different groups, this being a concept that lies at the foundation of Islam.

Ulrike Auga denounced the presence of tendencies of exclusion and totalitarianism in our real democracies. In her presentation Ulrike proposed that, together with the inclusion of postcolonialism, the question of gender and queer criticism within feminist theologies should turn more consistently from a criticism of ideology towards a criticism of under- standing. To achieve this, not only the central epistemic violence has to be understood, but also the changes of the epistemic orders throughout time and space. This analysis also has to commit to the critical debates about the notions of “objectivity”, “truth”, and “identity”. Similarly, the notions of “gender” and “religion” have to be debated as interdependent catego- ries of understanding, which, above all from the 19th century onwards, have received an essentialist and exclusionary character.

Carmen Bernabé in her presentation reminded us of how deeply the roots of male violence are buried in the cultural schemes of the patriarchal society, through which sexual difference has been constructed. Religion and theological discourse can legitimize or delegitimize those schemes. For example, the study and exegesis of some evangelical passages un- cover proposals of a countercultural construction of sexual difference vis-à-vis the patriarchal ideology of gender valid during that period, and becomes a criticism of the ideological mechanisms, which it implicitly contains, a criticism that the habitual interpretation of those passages has left in the twilight and even distorted.

The proposal of the Mexican Marilú Rojas is that of an ecosophy as a path of intercultural, interreligious and inter-epistemological dialogue, since in ecosophy as an epistemological category the diverse lines of inherited wisdom of populations of indigenous and Afro-Amerindian origin are integrated around a relational theology, in which the human being, man and woman, is immersed in a cosmotheandric reality. From this reality attempts are being made to understand the universe not only according to analytical western-style logic but also from the acknowledgment of other forms of thought and theo-thealogical elaboration. The result of this inclusion is the demystification and deconstruction of the naturalization of women, of the Indigenous and of the populations of Afro-Amerindian origin.

From Jerusalem-AlQuds Pilar Yuste reflected on the troubled situation and the importance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its historical, biblical, theological, and political dimensions. These are all seen as essential areas of reflection in order to establish an interreligious dialogue, in order to speak about world peace, and in order to rediscover our spiritual core.

Maria Häusl analyzed the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, in which the identities of the emerging characters are sometimes quite unclear and in which, instead of boundaries, the hermeneutical models of ‘cultural identity’, ‘multiple identities’, and the context of the Persian Empire need to be clarified.

The last presentations included reflection on dance as a corporal and sensual dimension in liturgy and theology (Heike Waltz) and the particular strength artistic language has in theology (Stefanie Knauss).

Also discussed were the Feminist Liberation Theologies, taking queer discourse as a starting point (Lisa Isherwood). Consideration was given to the dialogue between Feminist Theology and radical orthodoxy through the theopoetics of Catherine Keller in dialogue with John Milbank and Maira Rivera (Jenny Daggers). A further topic was the necessity to “reanimate” the world, give “soul” [ánima] to the world, since the feminine has been enormously undervalued and suppressed, as much in men as in women (María José Arana).

Once again and in a critical way the written and oral language in relation to gender was analyzed, that reduces the woman to nature, body, and emotions and, as a consequence, discriminates against her (Meehyun Chung). Lastly, the closing presentation given by Professor Adriana Valerio, reflected on a Christian tradition that has been legitimizing an asymmetric anthropological vision, which, in fact, only asserts the equality between men and women before their God. Her proposal is to return to asking ourselves about the relation between the radical and alternative lifestyle of Jesus and the construction of Christian religion and of the churches.

Rita Perintfalvi

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