Feminist Theological Pedagogy for Ministerial
Limatula Longkumer 
Gender justice in theological education is a serious concern today.
It is a fact that women’s issues are not adequately integrated in theological education
but are kept at the periphery of the theological curriculum. One of the obstacles to
integrating gender justice into the heart of present theological education is the
male-oriented theological education system itself. Gender discrimination is clearly
reflected in theological curriculum, models, contents, structure of theological
institutions, and also in the appointment of teaching faculty, which have consequences
upon the ministry of the churches. This paper will highlight the importance of feminist
pedagogy in ministerial program of theological education in Asia.
Following are some reasons why gender justice is not integrated in theological
(i) Male-oriented theological education: Gender inequality and gender
discrimination in theological education are well known facts. The present pattern of
theological education is male-biased and based on androcentric theology, patriarchal
culture and history. Thus, the problems of women in theological education are not
merely women’s historical lack of participation, but how theological education is
defined, formed and structured. Engendering
theological education is to take initiative to break the bonds of silence and make
women’s voices heard in theological discourses. Reshaping and re-envisioning the whole
of theological education by integrating women as subjects is a crucial issue today.
(ii) Male-biased Christian theology: Exclusion of women from the theological
enterprise is a theological problem. The present dominant Christian theology is
androcentric in its approach and contents. Throughout the history of the Christian
church, Christian theology has been done with the exclusion of women and their
experiences. The masculine genderization of theology as a systemic feature has
corrupted theological frameworks and theories of theology.
By and large, classical Christian theology reflects a negative bias against women in
its teachings. Male theologians like Augustine, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria,
Thomas Aquinas denigrated women and gave religious sanctions to the societal
denigration of women. Women who appeared in the
scriptures or in Christian traditions were often ignored or their roles downplayed to
fit patriarchal expectations of women. This masculine theology failed to treat women as
full human beings.
Similarly Christian theology, which developed since post-colonial era in Asia, utilizes
Asian religious philosophical thoughts to formulate theology. But such a theology is
not very transformative for women. For example, Indian Christian theology tried to work
within the Advaitic philosophical framework and perpetuated Brahmanic tradition. This Indian Christian theology is also a male-biased,
highly philosophical and abstract theology. It ignores women and the marginalized
people like the Dalits and the Tribals. This kind of hindunised theology is not
meaningful and relevant because women and marginalized people’s experiences are not
(iii) Theological models: The existing model of theological education in Asia
depends on two dominant theological expressions: western theology and Asian Christian
theology. The theologies that had been shaped in western patriarchal cultures were
transported to and transplanted in Asian soil. As a result, theological education in
Asia is basically a western model both in its method and content. This western model
ignores indigenous people’s heritage and local contexts – the experiences of women and
the marginalized people. The content of theological education remains highly abstract
and detached from the reality of the people. Asian Christian theology does no better
for women, the minjung, the dalits, and the indigenous people. Whatever theological
teaching is imparted from Asian Christian theology perspective is not reflective of the
stories related to women, the minjung, the dalits and the indigenous people. So, the
present pattern of theological education is not relevant and is unconnected to the
vibrant socio-religious life of the people.
(iv) Theological curriculum: Questions about relevance of theological curriculum
have become a subject of much discussion. Most theological colleges in Asia follow the
conventional western model of the seven-fold departments: Biblical Studies (Old and New
Testaments), Theology and Ethics, History of Christianity, Religions, Christian
Ministry. Some new courses are added like Social Analysis, Communication, Women’s
Studies, Missiology, etc. This curriculum is
basically pattered after a university model where theology becomes primarily the work
of theological faculties with departments of specialized branches.
This conventional model creates serious problems for women. First, a theological
curriculum that has developed to meet the needs in a specific cultural environment may
not be a successful instrument in another setting. Second, this specialized department
model creates hierarchy of courses between required and optional/elective subjects.
Third, this fixed framework of curriculum makes it very difficult to add new and
important courses. Even when a contextual course is added it is often framed within the
parameters already laid down rather than opening up new ways of doing theology. Very
often feminist concerns are placed alongside the classical theologies as an appendix to
the main curriculum. Often those courses on women’s concerns end up as a course
exclusively for a few women because courses on women’s concerns are mostly put as
optional/elective subjects. Thus, in the present set-up, feminist theology or Women’s
Studies department is like a "ladies’ compartment in the Indian train run by males." Instead of being confined to a special compartment,
women want the right to run the train, even to decide what trains to run and from
where. Women use the word "integrate" rather than
the word "add" because one cannot simply add new perspectives without changing
traditional ways of thinking. Integration of feminist concerns in theological education
is not only adding few feminist books on the reading list, offering a few elective
courses on women’s concerns and appointing a few women faculties. It demands
re-envisioning of the whole conceptual framework.
That means developing a new paradigm to integrate women’s concerns properly in
(v) Pedagogical concerns: The banking model of education still dominates the
teaching-learning process in theological studies. The banking model comes with a
teacher-centered education wherein the higher authority dominates the selection of
educational programs without looking at the real needs of learners. This model creates
various problems in theological education. It creates hierarchical relationship where
teachers exercise power and authority over the students. The present theological
education emphasizes more on cognitive or intellectual development rather than
developing the whole person. The emphasis is more on accumulation of facts and
information, passing examinations, and getting degrees rather than real learning in
life. This makes theological education a degree-oriented education. Such a method is
not liberating for both teacher and learner. There is a need to develop pedagogical
methods that allow both students and teachers to critically engage in theological
articulation and to develop relationships of partnership, interaction and mutuality.
There is a need to develop feminist theological pedagogy in theological education in
order to bring gender justice for all.
Feminist pedagogy is a liberative education process that attempts to promote gender
justice by bringing the women’s experiences from the periphery to the center of
education process. It challenges the traditional classroom teaching, and its methods
and content are issue-based, praxis-oriented and participatory.
Feminist pedagogy emerged out of critical pedagogical movement and feminist movements.
In the 1970s a new sociology of education emerged as a critical response to the way
public education was reduced to mere formal learning known as schooling paradigm. Educators criticized the traditional pedagogy as
authoritarian, limiting the learners to a passive role in meaning-making, and failing
to produce a type of political knowledge that can expose and challenge the production
and reproduction of oppressive relationships.
Similarly, feminist movements conscientized women to see that the whole education
process was one-sided, male-dominated and ignored women. This critical consciousness
paved the way for a radical feminist pedagogy, one that is holistic and just. The aim
of feminist pedagogy is described in the following:
Feminist pedagogy embraces the idea of treating female and male
students equally. It embraces the idea of transforming the curriculum to make it more
gender-inclusive. But it does more than that. Feminist pedagogy addresses the very
methodology we use for transmitting knowledge in our classrooms. As many of us know,
the traditional classroom, utilizing as it does the language of distance and
replicating patriarchal power relations, is hardly conducive to genuine learning.
Knowledge that is handed down from above does not empower the listener. It frequently
serves only to fuel the ego of the dispenser of such knowledge. True learning seldom
takes place in such a suffocating environment.
Feminist pedagogy shifts the locus of attention from the teacher to the students so
that all become members of a community of learners. It encourages students to take
control of the material and to relate it to their everyday experiences…. Students
participate in collaborative, connective learning.
Hence, feminist pedagogy proposes to debunk the traditional banking
model of education in which students’ knowledge and experience are valued less than
official knowledge. Feminist educators radicalized
the discourse on teaching by elucidating the power of pedagogy and articulating
alternative and subversive ways of thinking about pedagogy. Feminist educators
challenge the structure of power, authority and knowledge-making process in education, because women’s roles and status have been denied and
discriminated in these relations.
Feminist theological pedagogy
Feminist pedagogical concern in theological education can be called ‘feminist
theological pedagogy.’ It tries to genderise theology with a humanizing vocation to
transform dehumanization and distortion in theological education. It is concerned with
feminist liberation theology, liberating pedagogy and gender perspective in theological
education. Some of the concerns of feminist theological pedagogy are:
(a) Task of feminist theological pedagogy
First, feminist theological pedagogy takes seriously "the women’s question", and
focuses on the oppressed women and marginalized people in society.
Women have inherited a legacy of unequal, inferior status, distorted image, forced
socialization and hegemonic masculinities. This legacy of inferior status and image is
being denounced by feminist liberation theologians who urge for a deconstructive
approach and explicit attention to concrete things pertinent to the daily life of
women. The maltreatment of women demands a denouncing of oppressive elements and calls
to liberate life through the reconstruction of our own subjectivity.
Deconstruction and reconstruction require three steps. The first step is to carry out a
critical deconstruction of texts, translations, personalities, discourse, perspectives,
practices, and socio-historical conditions. The second step is reconstruction through
rereading, rediscovering, revaluing and reinterpreting the texts, discourse and social
realities in order to liberate women and other marginalized sectors.
The third step is redemptive appropriation of our own voice and status in society. It
means making women’s faces visible by creating spaces to raise our voices in church and
society. These three steps redefine feminist
theological pedagogy as a discourse with biblical, theological and pedagogical
foundations that includes corporeality, committed spirituality and daily reality of
women and marginalized people.
Second, feminist theological pedagogy concerns with epistemological shift in theology
in order to bring changes in theological education. Conventional theology, biblical
criticism and theological pedagogy put women and other marginalized sectors in a
subordinate role, even making them invisible in theological process. Feminist
theological pedagogy challenges the fundamental assumptions of the theological
discipline and announces its inadequacy. The task
of feminist theological pedagogy is to offer a systematic approach to integrate women
and marginalized people as a category in our theological reflection and to overcome the
western rationalist perspective, andro-centric, patriarchal structure, and the
pedagogical practices connected with them. It
seeks to represent, to critique and reconstruct present practices of theological
education. This new form of discourse will surely lead to critical changes in the shape
of theological education.
Third, the task of feminist theological pedagogy is to change the traditional paradigm
prevailing in theological education, i.e. the banking and teacher-centered model,
education that is more of transmission than transformation. Reminist theological
pedagogy suggests liberative pedagogy in theological education - an inclusive,
equitable and emancipating way that promotes holistic growth, gender consciousness and
mutuality. This requires greater flexibility in the roles of teachers and learners
through reciprocal learning. Feminist theological pedagogy is concerned with developing
an integrated, participatory and interdisciplinary approach to teaching-learning
Fourth, justice is the central theme in feminist theological pedagogy. The struggle for
justice involves hearing voices that have been marginalized. Women’s issues are justice
issues. Feminist theological pedagogy is a quest for recognition, identity and
acceptance as a subject in theological articulation. Theological education is not just
about justice but doing justice. Hence, the fundamental goal of theological education
should be doing justice. Elisabeth Schüssler
Fiorenza places "the doing of justice" at the center of theological education:
I have argued that theology and theological education must be
conceived as a transformative and discursive praxis that critically reflects on the
concrete historical-political configurations and theological practices of Christian
communities which have engendered and still engender the exclusion and dehumanization
of "the others" of free born, educated and propertied men in Western society. At the
same time it must seek to articulate alternative communal visions and values for the
human community on the brink of atomic annihilation. Such a conception of theology
cannot just limit itself to a critical reflection on religious and ecclesial
practices. It is foremost a critical reflection on the social-cultural-political
practices in which religious communities have been and still are embedded and to
which they contribute.
(b) Goals of feminist theological pedagogy
The goal of feminist theological pedagogy is to promote holistic and gender justice
in theological education by reforming theological curriculum, theology and pedagogy.
Anaida stated that the goal of feminist theological pedagogy is to promote:
an intimate relationship between theology, pedagogy and gender;
systematic articulation of gender perspective across a broad range
constant incorporation of emerging theoretical and methodological
advances in gender theory and pedagogy;
emergence of a gender consciousness that permeates all
institutional and academic theological and pedagogic work.
Towards a paradigm shift in theological education
Feminist theological pedagogy urges a paradigm shift in theological education. The
emerging issues like gender justice, globalization, ecology, conflicts and peace,
HIV/AIDS, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, massive poverty, etc., demand a
paradigm shift in theological education because the present theological education is no
longer adequate to address the growing societal issues. Women and marginalized people
and their struggle for new life have been overlooked in our theological research. We
should aim to integrate the perspective of women and marginalized people in the whole
theological education. All these issues demand a
perspectival change in theological education. Rethinking theological education is
The new paradigm for theological education should be contextual, people-centred and
issue-based aiming at preparing people to opt for life, to be in solidarity with those
whose life is threatened, are marginalized and oppressed, and to struggle for their
liberation through working towards creating a new humanity in Christ.
The focus of theological education should begin with real life experiences of people –
their misery, poverty, suffering, pain, oppression and struggles.
Therefore, theological education should consider contextual realities of Asia –
plurality of religions, injustice, globalization, peace, environmental degradation,
gender justice, rape and prostitution, migration, racism and classism, and massive
poverty. Theological education is an ongoing process in which participants are engaged
in creating, sharing, interpreting, mediating and analyzing each one’s faith
experiences and religious meanings in relation to one’s contexts, traditions and
communities. This paradigm demands radical changes in the theological education system,
its structure, content and teaching methodology.
Pedagogical models of theological education
(a) Praxis pedagogy
Feminist theological pedagogy suggests praxis model of education. Praxis is an
action-oriented approach that engages with critical knowing and reflection on present
realities of both women and men. It is a dialectical relationship of
action-reflection-theory upon the world in order to bring transformation. In educational praxis, the dialectical poles -
theory/practice, reflection/action - are not separate moments that ‘happen’ in
different locations. Praxis does not convey a ‘back and forth’ movement between the
streets and the classroom. To work in praxis does not mean that we go out and act and
then come in and think or theorize about what we do when we are elsewhere. To work in
praxis means that we reflect here and now on what we are doing, how we are relating,
how we are feeling, the significance of what we are talking about or reading or
writing. To suggest that we learn by doing actually means that we learn in so far as we
think about what we are doing in the classroom, and outside.
Praxis pedagogy promotes integrity, relatedness, wholeness and liberation in
theological education by overcoming traditional dichotomous knowledge in teaching and
learning and transforming the traditional dichotomy between objectivity/subjectivity
(b) Experiential pedagogy
As an experiential model, feminist theological pedagogy places the experiences of
women and marginalized people at the center of the theological enterprise. In
traditional theological enterprise, women’s experiences were completely ignored and
sidelined. In feminist praxis of education the most important source is "live-world
experience" of people. "We know things with our
lives and we live that knowledge, beyond what any theory has yet theorized." Sharing experiences can provide space to raise voices
and construct women’s knowledge. Feminist theological pedagogy stresses the suppressed
experiences as sources of critique, redemption and
reconstruction. Experiential pedagogy is also concerned with creating subjectivity.
Subjectivity constitutes a person’s sense of self, thoughts, emotions, modes of
understanding the world, the sense of individuality and uniqueness. Women’s
subjectivity is a big issue because theological teachings reinforce the cultural notion
that women are inferior objects and subordinate beings. Subjectivity embodies lived
experiences and feelings. Subjectivity recognizes
partnership and interdependence of all human beings. Theological education can play a
crucial role to recover the subjectivity of women. Hence, subjectivity should be
incorporated in theological education.
(c) Interdisciplinary and integrated pedagogy
Theological education follows disciplinary approach and is too compartmentalized.
This is not sufficient to unravel the complexity of emerging social issues. The reality
of our experiences is complex and we need a confluence of tools to unravel its
significance. Hence, there is a need to develop an interdisciplinary character of our
theological study and research. Interdisciplinary pedagogy can involve either or both
of two things. One way is through team teaching, where a course may be taught by a team
of teachers from different disciplines. Another way is through issue-oriented approach
where courses can be designed around particular issues or themes. Women’s issues in
theological education cannot be solved by inserting few courses on the existing
curricula but through developing issue-oriented theological education curricula.
Issue-oriented theological education can only deal sufficiently with emerging social
issues. Thus, interdisciplinary model of education should be taken seriously in
Theological education must be an integrated approach if gender perspective is to be
carried out successfully in theological education. Gender perspective should undergird
every branch of theological education.
Radical democratic models of teaching-learning
Teaching-learning process is democratic. It is not a one-way traffic of teaching or
imparting knowledge to a group of passive learners, but both teachers and learners
equally engage, dialogue and struggle in the learning process. The teaching-learning
process does not take place in isolation but always in a context of group activities.
It is a community-oriented education to nurture and liberate the whole community. To
fulfill this democratic model, the nature and content of education should be integrated
approach and integral learning. Integral learning promotes holistic education that
integrates intellectual mastery of the tradition with pastoral competence, personal,
and spiritual capacities of the learners. It also creates space for dialogical set of
capacities to engage the pluralistic, diverse, local-global context of theological
education and ministry. Feminist theological pedagogy upholds this integrated
multi-dimensional approach to theological education to make education liberative and
relevant for all. Teaching-learning system and methods should be tuned up to this
process of democratic and integrated perspective of learning.
Feminist theological pedagogy concerns with transformation of classroom environment.
Classroom should provide a space where both teachers and students come together to
raise their voices, interact freely, exchange ideas, and participate equally to become
empowered. Classroom environment is also a moment
where the learners are nurtured to develop values, attitudes, and social relationships
in a healthy way. Therefore, free and open exchange of ideas should be encouraged to
enhance creativity, articulation and participation. For this, feminist theological
pedagogy proposes interactive and participatory methods of teaching-learning. Through
participatory and interactive methods multiple and divergent voices and ways of knowing
are respected, emotional and intellectual growth is supported, and the teacher is
enabled as a collaborator and co-learner. Through an ethic of care, responsibility, and
community, such an interaction is made possible. Mutual affiliation, love and caring
thus become pedagogical practices. Participatory methods provide diverse experiences of
people to help them understand each other’s uniqueness as a dynamic human force that is
enriching rather than threatening.
Teachers are political agents for teaching is a political act. The notion of teachers
as facilitators, enablers, guides and co-learners with the students need to be explored
in theological education by discarding the authoritarian nature of taskmasters.
Teaching in theological education may be characterized as a communal, formative, and
critical activity. Feminist theological pedagogy seeks to develop mutuality, cordial
relationship by decentralizing authority and introducing collaborative and mutual
Theological education is a process of equipping and molding God’s people for the
variety of leaderships in church and society. God called both women and men equally to
be involved in this task of ministerial formation. Therefore, there should not be any
discrimination on the basis of gender. This demands a paradigm shift in theological
education, theology and pedagogical perspectives to bring justice to both men and women
in theological education.
Limatula Longkumer is a lecturer at Eastern
Theological College, Jorhat, Assam. She serves as the Director of Women’s Study of
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