by Niamh Hardman
Subconsciously I had told myself that to be a “proper academic”, I should focus on the so-called “real theology” - early church history, the church fathers, comparative religion, apologetics and so on. Yet now when I have studied those topics (in my term and a half so far), I have realised that the issues that come under the remit of “feminist theology” also permeate through all of these areas because - believe it or not - womxn are there too.
The history of theology (particularly in a Christian-centred culture) has been heavily gendered but that doesn’t mean that feminist beliefs haven’t existed prior to the fully conscious movement of the past four decades or so. Empowered and inspired by the women’s movement of the 60s, liberation theology in Latin America, and the fight for Civil Rights, feminist theology has become a global movement, whether we realise its influence or not.
I didn’t want to be a feminist theologian just because I am, myself, a woman. For the most part in GCSE and A Level curriculum for Religious Studies (and Philosophy and Ethics) the only female theologians that we ever came across were when we discussed issues of “feminism”, such as the role of women in the home and the church. Maybe part of me saw them as somewhat lesser than the ‘big’ (male) names, who we were shown as grappling with huge theological concepts while the voices of women were reserved to only contributing to discussions about the role of women. My A Level Religious Studies class was entirely female (in a mixed sex college) and yet many of us would probably say that the least engaging module we covered was “feminist theology”. The androcentrism of the curriculum at one point made me doubt whether the prospect of studying theology was really for me.
And so when I started studying theology, I had this sense of: “HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?!” “WHY WAS I NEVER TOLD THIS?!”
Women do not just exist in academic settings to only discuss “women’s issues”, LGBTQ+ people do not just exist in academic settings to only discuss “LGBTQ+ issues”. The same can be said for ethnic minorities in academia and for those from underrepresented backgrounds. Theology is intersectional, and never static.
I thought that to be a feminist theologian, I would have to restrict myself to theology about women. I thought that being a feminist theologian would be assumed just because I am a woman doing theology. I have found that, in practise, to be a feminist theologian just means to do theology as myself and striving to listen to, empower and liberate womxn.