This book generates a critical framework through which to interrogate the way in which religious feminists have employed women's literature in their texts. This is in order that both the way we read literature and the literature we read might be subject to scrutiny, and that new reading practices be developed. Having both the critical and constructive agenda, this is a book in two parts. The first part locates the study of the use of women's writing by religious feminists in a much wider frame than has previously been attempted. In the past individual religious feminists have been criticised, often publicly and loudly, for the use they have made of particular literary texts. Having critically surveyed previously unacknowledged constraints under which religious feminists read women's literature, the second part of the book explores how the work of women poststructuralist thinkers and theorists can enrich the reading practices. It offers alternative models for an engagement between literature and theology. Julia Kristeva is best known within the academy for her unorthodox application of Lacanian theory to contemporary culture. Her work challenges religious feminists to reassess the utilitarian approaches to literary texts and enquire into whether these might have a more powerful political role when their status as literature is recognised and affirmed. The book elucidates Luce Irigaray's thinking on sexual difference and also demonstrates its significance for feminist religious readers.
Early works of feminist criticism celebrated the discovery of this remarkable spiritual legacy and demonstrates how the spiritual radicalism of women's creative writing posed a direct challenge to the conventions of domestic piety usually deemed appropriate to women. For this reason women authors often found it necessary to dissemble and communicate their audacious visions in the language of the family hearth and schoolroom. This chapter explores the ways in which Carol Christ and Alicia Ostriker have presented women's literature as the voice of woman. It examines the work of Alicia Ostriker, whose approach to literature is paired with Christ's since both women are united in their characterisation of women's literature as representing distinctively female experiences and apprehensions of the divine. In the work of Ostriker the terms 'literature' and 'theology' lose much of their currency and are supplanted by references to male and female traditions.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book presents a critical framework to interrogate the way in which religious feminists have employed women's literature in their texts. It begins by establishing the ways in which a gendered complementarity is assumed to exist between literature and the logocentric discourses of theology and philosophy. The book employs gender as a lens through which to examine the way that literature and theology have been related in contemporary debate. It considers the reasons why many feminist theologians have displayed a resistance to use poststructuralist theory in their reading of female-authored literary texts. The book argues for a greater openness towards the insights of poststructuralist theory in order to create alternative patterns of engagement between women's literature and feminist theology.
Katie Cannon's famous work Black Womanist Ethics begins with arguments aimed at establishing the existence of a 'Black woman's literary tradition' and the cultural specificity of black women's writing. This chapter traces a trajectory away from representing women's literature as 'everywoman' in cultural form towards a recognition that literature may embody rather the specific, the located and the particular. The work of Kathleen Sands carries the engagement of feminist theology with women's writing into a new epoch in which a cautious engagement with critical theory is brought into dialogue with the liberative traditions of religious feminism. Sands outlines how Christian theology has sought to protect itself from knowledge of evil using two main strategies. She terms these the 'rationalist' and 'dualist' responses. Sands approves her adoption of a Foucauldian analysis which rejects alien moral absolutes and which locates knowledge and power in the discursive activities of dominating or subjugated groups.
Feminism is a peculiarly literary movement and many of the intellectual and political leaders of the women's struggle have been celebrated writers. Women's literature has been very useful to religious feminists. This chapter discusses canonical narrative theology with Hans Frei's important book, The Decline of Biblical Narrative. The project Frei initiated stands in contrast to the attempts of liberal and liberation theologians to discover, through conversation with secular culture, an appropriate register in which to reiterate Christian convictions. In the canonical narrative theologies of Frei and Stanley Hauerwas a distinction is being implicitly drawn between the realistic narrative and the values of contemporary culture which are illusory, seductive, immoral and dangerous. Through making this distinction literature becomes available as a resource that can be used to construct a theological position which then erases its vital contribution.