Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses
Revue canadienne / A Canadian Journal
Volume 28 Number 2 / 1999Gender, Genre and Religion: Feminist Reflections
Morny Joy and Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay, editors
Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press for the Calgary Institute for the Humanities, 1995. xiv + 305 p.
The essays in this volume were originally presented at a 1991 seminar entitled ``Plotting the paths forward: The future of women and religious studies.'' Sponsored by the Calgary Institute for the Humanities, the seminar brought together a ``who's who'' list of feminist scholars from across Canada to contemplate and discuss the past, present and future of their intersecting disciplines. Each scholar has since revised and updated her contribution for this publication.
Editors Morny Joy (University of Calgary) and Eva Neumaier-Dargyay (University of Alberta) provide an introductory chapter which contextualizes the 16 essays which follow. They suggest that feminist critique and theory has changed religious studies. Gender and interpretations of genre are two significant analytical concepts within this wide field. While both gender and genre are dynamic qualities, they provide entry points from which religious traditions -- and the place and role of women within them -- may be examined. An essay by Mary Gerhart highlights the complexity of these concepts and the apparent incongruity between Anglo-American and French feminisms.
The remaining essays are then divided into two parts. The first part is entitled ``Gendered perspectives.'' The focus here is on inherited traditions which are undergoing transformation and re-conceptualization within various religions and disciplines. Norma Baumel Joseph discusses the impact of feminism within Judaism. Eileen Schuller examines biblical hermeneutics and feminism. Pamela Dickey Young and Monique Dumais provide essays which explore the development and variety of feminist theologies within Christianity. The oral tradition and experience of Aboriginal women is addressed by Doreen Spence. Western colonialization and neo-traditionalism as it relates to Muslim women is examined by Sheila McDonough. Male God assumptions within psychoanalytical theory are critiqued by Naomi Goldenberg.
The second part is entitled ``Genre explorations.'' In this section, scholars reflect on various genres as they appear within traditions and cultures. Eva Neumaier-Dargyay re-examines Buddhist texts and concepts to uncover what they say about women and laypeople. Katherine Young utilizes popular Indian films to analyze Hindi perceptions of women. Francine Michaud employs 13th-century Massilian wills to highlight aspects of feminine spirituality in the Middle Ages. Fan Pen Chen examines the Chinese novel Hsing-shih yin-yuan from a feminist perspective. Essays by Marilyn Legge on Christian feminist ethics, Winnie Tomm on the debate between social constructionism and essentialism, Marsha Hewitt on philosophical understandings of self (comparing Herbert Marcuse and Mary Daly), and Morny Joy on truth and women's experience complete the section.
The book shows that feminist analysis within numerous interdisciplinary areas related to religious studies has provided and continues to provide new directions for addressing historical and contemporary understandings of women. The strength of the volume is in the variety it exemplifies. Differences within feminist reflections are blatantly clear. The range of topics included, however, is perhaps too wide to be contained in a single volume. In addition, as happens with these kind of publications, the essays are of mixed quality. Determining the quality of essays, however, may depend on the specializations and interest of specific readers. This observation may support Morny Joy's point in her final essay, namely, that truth is hermeneutical and inevitably linked to one's own context and situation. Eleanor J. Stebner Faculty of Theology, University of Winnipeg
Eleanor J. Stebner
Faculty of Theology, University of Winnipeg