Women's experience of their individual religious life is often left in the shadows when discussing the progress, or purpose of religion. In a world which has become particularly androcentric, a woman's perspective on spiritual worship often makes it into the public arena of ideas only after being filtered through men's understanding of religious issues. As a result, women's experience of the divine is truly an 'unspoken world' full of rich development and insight, but not considered worthy for public consideration.
For example, when Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own she argued that any woman trying to find her voice as a writer required an income and a room. But in the same time, the early 20th century, a religious woman who wanted to write about theology would have found, nor been offered, neither a position nor a place to do so. Theological studies were dominated by makes, and theology used male language and images to speak about a male God to a male-dominated church. The Catholic Church accepted Augustine's and Thomas Aquinas' views that women were mentally, ethically, and spiritually inferior to men. (McCormick, 2002)
Today, women have not only joined the ranks of theologians, they have brought a new set of concerns and perspectives to the idea of God-talk (theo-logos). Adding the voices of women to the theological conversation is awakening the church to the experience, humanity, and holiness of half the human race. The vocal presence of women in the theological debate is also forcing a reexamination of assumptions about God, the Bible, church, gender, and family. Feminist theologians are not just adding a new wing to the theological library. They are giving birth to a theological revolution in Christianity.
The question to consider is whether the traditionally male-dominated religious life is a function of the religion, and religious teaching instilled into the culture, or is the exclusion of women an outworking of the cultural ideas simply being superimposed into religious life. As religious beliefs evolve in a culture, theory the use of agency the culture is often unable to monitor which of its own cultural beliefs are becoming a part of religious life which do not adequately reflect the purpose, and ethics of the religious.
For example, during the colonial period, and first century of U.S. history, slavery was a part of American culture. Some religious were uneasy with the practice, but unwilling to oppose the cultural practice. Others interpreted their religious beliefs in light of the cultural paradigm, rather than letting the religious ethics effect personal choices, and used their religious framework to support the practice of slavery. Both groups used religious agency to support their actions even though slavery was a cruel and dehumanizing treatment of one race of people by another on the basis of skin color.
In the same way, the discussion of women's feminist theology should consider this lesson. Before condemning a religious system for excluding women, whom Christian's religions believe that God has created equal to men, the study should work to separate cultural influence from divine mandate.
Falk and Gross, in their work Unspoken Worlds, do little to work at separating the influence of culture and religion over tribal and historical religious beliefs. Their approach is to find women who are active in the practice of their religious beliefs, and support the belief that women have a valuable contribution to make to religious life, whether it is in the African tribal bush country, or established Catholic hierarchy. The evidence they bring forth reinforces what religious organizations need to take to heart - that the contribution of women to the religious life of a people is a valuable and important benefaction.
One of her first examples is a spirit medium named Julia who she meets in Africa. "I looked more closely at her, understanding why I had felt power in her. For a Rjonga woman, she had a fantastic self-assurance, standing with her head slightly thrown back, looking down her nose at us. One foot was forward of the other so that one hip jutted out, and her hands were crossed over her breast." In this article Martha Binford describes the east African village enchanter Julia who has gained the respect of her tribe through her spiritual leadership. Julia is a strong woman, who has not allowed the cultural constraints of her tribe to affect her desire to become a spiritual leader in the community. Her posture is one that reflects the self-esteem, and self-confidence she has built within her community by her abilities in spirit divination. Julie did not allow the cultural traditions or expectations of the tribe to constrain her from participating, contributing, or leading in the community. In this way feminist theology has not only helped women find their voices and recover their stories, it is calling the religious organizations, tribal and traditional, to recover the feminine face of God.
Rita Gross describes the process of uncovering female contribution to religious life, and properly integrating their contribution to religious studies into primary cultural understanding a task of "revalorization." In a related book, she coins the term revalorization as one which "involves working with the categories and concepts of a traditional religion in the light of feminist values. This task is double-edged, for, one the one hand, feminist analysis of any major world religion reveals massive undercurrents of sexism and prejudice against women, especially in realms of religious praxis. On the other hand, the very term "revalorization" contains an implicit judgment. To revalorize is to have determined that, however sexist a religious tradition may be, it is not irreparably so. Revalorizing is, in fact, doing that work of repairing the tradition." (Gross, 1993)
Another women mentioned by the authors is Dorothy Day, the founder to the Catholic Workers program. Of Day, the authors say "She may not initially seem unusual to us. But when we reflect on their lives of activism, and social protest, we readily see that they too differ significantly from the norms set for women in North American culture. We also come to realize how much they have departed from, and criticized the usual social and economic rules of North America." (Gross and Falk, 2000) Day began the Catholic Workers Movement, encouraging church members to get involved with social programs. By itself that was not uncommon for the early 20th century in which Day lived. But when the war began, she took a strongly pacifist stand, and thereby rebuffed the churches and the societies position on the Great War. Although subscriptions to her publications, and support dropped because of her outspoken controversial opinions, Day stayed true to her beliefs, and continued to promote a lifestyle based on the Christian scriptures outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, and to promote pacifism through WW2 and the Vietnam War.
Day's approach to her work was effective because she was initially willing to work invisibly in the lives of the poor and down trodden. What made her worth of note in this book was this: when the time came that her message and purpose conflicted with the popular culture of the day, she was willing to give up her invisibility, and enter into a public campaign to promote her cause, and religious beliefs. Day was "Neither traditionally married, nor a nun, nor a sister. None the less, in her new role she nurtured and sheltered the helpless and poor, activities so typically females that Gross and Falk labeled her a Catholic earth mother." (Gross and Falk, 2000)
Another example of how a woman's influence can positively affect a culture comes from Victoria Way DeLee. DeLee was a social activist in the deep south, working for civil rights which were fueled by her deeply held religious conviction. DeLee is an example of how religion can…