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Gender Curricula Roman Catholic Theology

Also relevant for: Religious Education/Protestant Theology

Course: Theology (Catholic)
Group of courses: Humanities

Course objectives:

Students studying Roman Catholic theology should learn to identify the ways in which the category of gender has been inscribed into individuals' religious realities, into scholarly reflections on faith in Roman Catholic theology, and into ecclesiastic structures.

The aim is to sensitise students aware of the relevance of 'gender’ in all areas and subjects of theology. They should come capable of to recognizing the significance of the category of gender (along with other social categorizations) with regard to biblical, historical, systematic, and practical questions of theology. Students should come to understand the specific issues, methodologies, and concepts of women's and gender studies in theology in these areas, and learn to connect them to one another. To adequately cover the different approaches of women's and gender studies that have emerged in theology, students should also be introduced to basic feminist theories and gender theories.

By engaging in gender issues, students are exposed to subjects, perspectives, and methods that extend and enrich the issues and methods addressed by theology. They become capable of making judgements in gender discourses both within and without theological discourse. Moreover, becoming sensitive to gender issues –, also as a result of reflecting on their own gender-specific experiences in a scholarly manner – will benefit their later interactions with people in schools, parishes, or the media, for example.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Women's and gender studies are relevant for all disciplines within theology. They raise issues of gender in the various classical subject areas of theology (biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theology) with the aim of developing a gender-sensitive and gender-equitable kind of theology.

The sheer multiplicity of issues and methods in the theological disciplines produces a broad range of issues and methods in theological women's and gender studies, complemented by concepts and methods unique to gender studies.

In addition, women's and gender studies in theology, if only because of their history, are characterized by a high degree of openness towards Christian ecumenism and an interest in inter-religious issues.

The various approaches of feminist theory/gender theory, including their various philosophical premises, result in a further extension of the range of interests that form the basis of women's and gender studies in theology.

These include ‘differentialist feminism’, which does not distinguish between biological and social sex/gender, but rather concentrates on women, seeking to raise the value of femininity and women's freedom. ‘Egalitarian feminism’, by contrast, analyses the relational nature of gender, argues that the differences between men and women have purely social and cultural roots, and calls for equal rights for women. ‘Deconstructivism’ in gender research, finally, regards the natural or symbolic gender dichotomy as a pure construct of the discourses in which humans participate and by which they keep reproducing these constructs. Accordingly, deconstructivists call for gender ambiguity and a multiplicity of genders. Women's and gender studies in theology adapt and integrate these theories in terms of issues and methodology in various ways and in line with the spectrum of theological disciplines.

One further implication of feminist theory is its awareness of the interrelation between gender, ethnicity, class, and other given or chosen constituents, such as religious belief. The fact that women and men differ not only from one another but also among themselves means that women's and gender studies in theology are always context-based. Moreover, queer theories have increasingly found their way into queer theologies. Finally, (critical) men's studies, which emerged as a discipline in the 1980s, are also referenced and addressed in theological women's and gender studies.

The following section outlines the most important issues in women's and gender studies in theology in the four classical areas.

Biblical exegesis and theology

Biblical studies courses in theology are designed to enable students to take an academic approach to the Bible as a historical source, as a literary work produced by certain ancient cultures, as Holy Scripture for Christianity (and in the case of the Old Testament, as a common Scripture for Judaism and Christianity), and as a relevant source for personal beliefs.

Women's and gender studies in biblical theology cover all of the areas, subjects, and methods in this discipline. Each of the established subdisciplines (especially introductory biblical exegesis, history of religions, exegesis of the various biblical books, Old/New Testament theology and Biblical Theology, hermeneutics) can include gender-specific or gender-inclusive perspectives:

  • In introductory biblical exegesis (Old and New Testament), students could, for example, adopt a gender-specific point of view when studying the historical contexts in which biblical texts were produced and received; they could extend the concept of ‘authorship’, or address the problem of creating inclusive translations.
  • In the field of history of religions, the focus could be on any of the following gender aspects of women/men in social, political, economic, and cultic contexts: kings/queens; prophets/prophetesses; cults for/of women/men; gods/goddesses associated with the Bible; women/men in the Jesus movement and in the early post-Easter communities.
  • In Old and New Testament exegesis, students could make use of the many interpretative strategies of gender-sensitive text analysis. In biblical narrative literature, for example, female and male characters may be profiled against each other and in their relation to one another, or the rhetoric of gender-specific power distribution may be analysed. Prophetic literature offers a rich source of gender-specific metaphors; wisdom literature reflects and produces structures of a political/social and cosmic order, including the female character of wisdom. Reader-oriented approaches that look at gaps or textual ambiguities may also be applied – they would eventually lead to queer perspectives on the biblical texts.
  • In Old Testament theology, students could pay particular attention to the drama and rhetoric of the relationship between the God of Israel and his female partners (Jerusalem/Israel as a ‘woman’). In New Testament theology, they could address the relationship between Christ and the church in a similar manner. Additionally, teaching could deal with the structures and contours of gender-inclusive biblical theology in critical-constructive conjunction with inner-biblical structures (e.g. God's ‘people’ as a community of men and women).
  • Biblical hermeneutics could explicitly reflect on the interference of gender-sensitive perspectives with other important sensibilities, particularly towards Judaism, but also by integrating postcolonial approaches. Doing so also forces us to reflect on the importance of context in every kind of exegesis. Moreover, the use of the Bible in the Church could be considered with regard to gender-inclusiveness in the community of believers.

Historical Theology (History of the Ancient Churches and Patrology/ Medieval and Modern Church History)

The historical disciplines within theology deal with the history of Christian lives, activities, and thought, from their beginnings in New Testament times up to the present day. This includes research into specific ecclesiastical and denominational structures. The historical disciplines discuss the lives of Christians and the settings of the church/churches in the context of their respective societies, enquiring into religious mentalities and their embodiment in the form of outstanding individual Christians and religious groups and in the everyday practice of Christianity. They aim to use the same basic methods and hermeneutics as general historical disciplines. Contemporary perspectives and ethical/political issues are part of these investigations, just as they are in other areas of historical study, because responsible historiography calls for reflecting on one's own position.

Gender is extremely relevant for history: gender is a basic historical category. Women's and gender-specific perspectives can be found in all historical areas, subjects, and methods:

  • For the period of the Ancient Church, for example, the position and functions of women in the Christian communities and within their own families are very revealing. Living ascetically, as an alternative to starting a family, with a larger sphere of influence, was attractive for educated women interested in theology. Current studies analyse various images of men and women in patristic literature and discuss the history of their reception. It is worth noting that very few texts were written by women, and the sources as a whole contain information mainly on women from the upper echelons of society. In order to place the findings in context, it is also essential to look at women's situation in Judaism and in Roman pagan society.
  • For the medieval period, the various stages of women's religious movements and steps to liberation are an important issue. Religious forms of life or allegedly female and male approaches to mystic theology can be studied from a gender perspective. The female tradition of writing and owning books is also a new research field.
  • For the early modern period, the now very detailed research in history and Church history regarding the persecution of ‘witches’ is of great gender-specific interest. Courses/classes can also address the question of women's education, which went beyond the walls of the convents to a far greater extent than in the Middle Ages.
  • For the 19th and 20th century, the range of subjects is much broader. Possible subjects include the specific social, political, and religious positions of women and men within the development of society, Christian women's activism in the first and second women's movements, the development of a specific Catholic literature influenced by female writers, the discussion on an alleged or actual ‘feminisation of Christianity’ in the 19th century – a discussion of high relevance for recent developments in Germany – , and the history of Catholic and Christian women in the period of fascism. The history of feminist theologies and their protagonists has in itself become a suitable topic of historical research.
  • Historical hermeneutics can start to build up a gender-differentiated history of Christianity in a search for forgotten or repressed structures, characters, and groups in history. This search, however, must not be guided by a one-dimensional perspective of victimization.

Systematic theology

The central issue of systematic theology is to give responsible reasons for faith as the form of thought, life, and structure of the church(es). Women's and gender studies in theology regard gender issues as a necessary factor to be taken into account when providing justifications of faith. Students should recognise the relevance of gender issues for theological concepts of God and humans with all their associated topics. They should learn to recognise whether traditions and theological reflections are gender-neutral or androcentric, to question their effects, and to formulate gender-inclusive approaches to faith.

The following issues and subjects appear central in this context:

  • In philosophy, it would be important to explore ‘forgotten’ female philosophers and their ideas, and to look at women (and gender) as they are represented in philosophy. This would be the right place to teach basic theories on the category of gender and on gender relations.
  • In theological hermeneutics, students could study and discuss how feminist theology uses liberation theology to formulate its principles. This would also be the right place to investigate the feminist critique of religion and the question of a feminist theology after the Shoah.
  • In anthropology, students should study and discuss the traditions (and interpretations) of images of women in theology (e.g. Eve and Mary), along with gender-conscious and gender-inclusive approaches to the theological concepts of humans.
  • As to theologia (θεολογια) in its genuine sense as ‘discourse on God’, the question of an appropriate God-talk (i.e. one that does justice to all genders) should be addressed; traditionally male images of God and new feminist concepts of God should also be discussed. Further subjects could be the Trinity and pneumatology (the spirit of God and his/her female and meta-gender connotations).
  • In Christology and soteriology, students can debate the masculinity of the saviour and discuss accusations of anti-Judaism that have been levelled at Christian feminist theology; Sophia Christology (Jesus Christ as a teacher and personification of wisdom) and feminist perspectives on theologies of the Cross can further broaden the traditional curriculum.
  • Regarding the question of sin, guilt, and mercy, students could consider the androcentric nature of traditional theological teachings. Further subjects could be: women's sin as a new definition of sin, ‘Eve’ as a personification of the power of sin, sexism as a structural sin, co-perpetration as a form of women supporting patriarchal society.
  • Creation theology should address eco-feminist approaches in theology (the connection between creation, liberation, and justice):
  • In ecclesiology, students should discuss the structures and questions of holding office in the Christian churches. Students may also be taught concepts of feminist ecclesiology (e.g. the concept of a ‘women's church’).
  • In Mariology, students should look at ‘Mary’ from various perspectives (New Testament, history of dogmas, pastoral practice, popular religion, art) to analyse how her figure, oscillating between the ‘woman of Nazareth’ and the ‘queen of heaven’, influences factual reality, how that figure is viewed by believers, how it is used as a benchmark of ecclesiastical openness towards women, and how it is reconfigured in critically constructive feminist ideas on Mariology:
  • Eschatology is a discipline in which the theological and anthropological questions raised so far converge. Especially the question of the ‘bodily’ dimensions of hope could be addressed here. For example, starting with the Bible and Christian tradition, the body of the resuscitated has not been conceptualised in simple, gender-specific terms anymore:
  • In moral theology, students should be taught to practice a gender-sensitive perspective in discussions of the body and sexuality. Topics should include sexual violence against women and children and bio-ethics from women's point of view. Most recent events have revealed an urgent need for the Churches to also become more sensitive to the specific forms of violence against boys. Christian social sciences should address the relevance of the category of gender for women and men's professional/private lives, including the debate on ‘equality’ versus ‘recognition’.

Practical theology

Women's and gender studies in practical theology have the task of critically reflecting on and accompanying church practice. Gender researchers in practical theology ask where and to what extent church practice is gender-inclusive. They also study and support the practice of faith. People's practice of faith and their search for meaning are studied in conjunction with living in today's world, which is experienced as gender-differentiated. If Christian communities’ actions and behaviour need transforming to become gender-inclusive, scholars in women's and gender studies develop concepts for the many different fields of ecclesiastical practice, enquiring into the specific characteristics of men and women's personal experiences of religion in the reflection of the practice of faith and life. Students should recognise the necessity of gender-specific approaches to the fields of ecclesiastical practice, and become familiar with concepts of gender equity and inclusiveness in the church. This will allow them to gain the skills needed for their own future professional practice. They should also acquire the tools and knowledge they need to describe and research religious life in terms that correspond to reality.

The following list outlines the central issues of women's and gender studies in practical theology according to its subdisciplines:

  • Pastoral theology should deal with women in the community, as well as with gender-sensitive and inclusive pastoral work. Students should reflect on the role and importance of women in the service of the church (i.e. the question of paid and voluntary work, and women’s structural subordination to the priest). A central aspect of pastoral theology is sensitivity to the gender-specific nature of faith and religious experience, and to the development of faith in the context of lives and backgrounds influenced by gender. Students should therefore learn to work with findings coming out of various disciplines within the humanities (including studies on gender aspects). The topics should also cover feminist and gender-sensitive concepts of pastoral care.
  • In religious education, students should learn about the gender-specific aspects of women's and men's religious socialisation and about the various forms of gender-inclusive religious education. Here again, they should be taught to work with relevant empirical material. Feminist concepts and models for designing religious education lessons and gender-sensitive educational concepts should be addressed, along with theories and practical guides for (educational) social work with girls and boys, women and men in the church. (For more detailed information, see Stefanie Rieger-Goertz’s recommendations on religious education as a separate discipline.)
  • In homiletics, questions of feminist linguistics (e.g. the question of using inclusive language in religious services) can be discussed.
  • In liturgy, students should study the language of liturgical texts, hymns, and prayers, asking whether it does justice to all genders. Classes should also introduce students to feminist liturgies and models for religious services, and make students aware of the gender-specific interpretations of symbols and art in liturgy. Classes should also cover gender-specific approaches to spirituality, in particular women's mysticism.
  • In canon law, students should look at the history of canonical laws from a gender-sensitive perspective. The topics should cover the position of women in CIC and ecclesiastical law (e.g. different rights for women and men under canonical law). This would also be the right place to deal with feminist studies in law.
  • In missionology, students can reflect on the role of men and women in Christian missions; they should be made aware of the context-bound nature of gender-inclusive theology and the nexus of gender, culture, and religion. Postcolonial studies in conjunction with gender issues are a most important new field of research and teaching (including the history and contemporary reality of ‘mission’).

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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

According to the aforementioned teaching and course objectives, gender issues should be integrated into all theological disciplines at the bachelor's level. Lecturers teaching first and second semester introductory modules in theology may either voluntarily cover the relevance of gender issues for the subject in question in at least one teaching session, or they may be required to do so.

Alternatively, a seminar on ‘Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies in Theology’ could be offered approximately every second semester (depending on what is feasible for the lecturers responsible for gender issues), possibly with a different focus each time.

Depending on feasibility, a required elective module on gender in theology may also be offered in the further course of undergraduate study. In this case, the gender experts need to cooperate with scholars in the other theological subject areas.

Women's and gender studies in theology can be integrated into modules throughout the bachelor's phase. When planning individual modules, lecturers should keep in mind that gender issues are cross-cutting themes that imply a diversification of perspectives, issues, and methods. We strongly recommend that gender researchers in theology collaborate with researchers in other relevant disciplines, for example in an interdisciplinary module within the ‘General Studies’ field. This module should introduce students to the relevant basic gender theories in all disciplines, combined with specific issues from each individual discipline. Students would thus come to understand the relevance and implications of a gender-sensitive perspective for a wide range of subjects, interests, and focuses.

At the master's level, we recommend dealing with individual topics of women's and gender studies in theology in greater depth within the modules. As at the undergraduate level, gender studies researchers and researchers from other areas of theology may want to teach gender-related courses collaboratively.

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Degree Stage:

The basics of women's and gender studies in theology (i.e. theories on gender and gender relations, and the relevance of gender to all areas of theology) should be taught at the bachelor's level. Master's programmes can go inter greater depth and provide specialisations in selected areas.