Senior Thesis

Document: Does the Category of Women’s Experience Limit Feminist Theology?

Advisor: Dr. Garrett Paul
Completed: May 1996

Summary: Does the category of women’s experience limit feminist theology? In light of the criticisms of feminist theologians, how can an appeal to women’s experience provide any sense of unity among women? How can women that have such different experiences hope to understand each other and work together in a common movement? And, if one accepts the relative, historical nature of all experience, as many postmodern scholars do, how can one claim that women’s experience is universal? Finally, even if one accepts women’s experience as a good source for theological constructions, how can one define either women or experience?

All these questions raised are pressing and must be fully explored in order for feminist theology to recover from the attacks it has received. However, a full exploration of each question, which would require volumes to articulate, is not feasible in this thesis. Instead, my thesis will focus on finding and developing some ways in which to initiate a discussion on the topic of women’s experience: both reviewing the category of women’s experience and suggesting reformulations that will enable it to be better utilized in feminists’ theological frameworks.

First, then, I will examine the problem of women’s experience in further detail, reviewing how it has been formulated in the works of many important theologians, and its limits, as articulated by black feminist theorists, black feminist theologians, Mujerista theologians, and postmodern theologians. Second, and more importantly, I will attempt new ways in which to view experience by uniting the fields of feminist theology and postmodernism. Looking both to the work of theologian Sheila Greeve Davaney and several postmodern feminist theorist-philosophers, I will describe “women’s experience” as historical, relative, and socially bound. In doing this, I will address the problems of diversity and nihilism and offer suggestions for the future of the category in the hopes of providing at least some answers to the questions posed in this introduction.