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Feminist Theological Pedagogy for Ministerial Formation

Limatula Longkumer [1]


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 education.

(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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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 integrated fully.

(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.[6] 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."[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] That means developing a new paradigm to integrate women’s concerns properly in theological education.

(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

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Hence, feminist pedagogy proposes to debunk the traditional banking model of education in which students’ knowledge and experience are valued less than official knowledge.[13] 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,[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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 process.

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.[20] 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.[21]

(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:

  1. an intimate relationship between theology, pedagogy and gender;

  2. systematic articulation of gender perspective across a broad range of subjects;

  3. constant incorporation of emerging theoretical and methodological advances in gender theory and pedagogy;

  4. emergence of a gender consciousness that permeates all institutional and academic theological and pedagogic work.[22]

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.[23] All these issues demand a perspectival change in theological education. Rethinking theological education is therefore pertinent.

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.[24] The focus of theological education should begin with real life experiences of people – their misery, poverty, suffering, pain, oppression and struggles.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27] 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 and theory/practice.[28]

(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.[29] "We know things with our lives and we live that knowledge, beyond what any theory has yet theorized."[30] Sharing experiences can provide space to raise voices and construct women’s knowledge. Feminist theological pedagogy stresses the suppressed experiences as sources of critique,[31] 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.[32] 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.

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.[33] 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.

Theological teachers

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 learning environment.


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.


  1. Limatula Longkumer is a lecturer at Eastern Theological College, Jorhat, Assam. She serves as the Director of Women’s Study of the College.

  2. Rebecca S. Chopp, Saving Work: Feminist practices of Theological Education (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster Press, 1995), 8.

  3. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2001), 84.

  4. Protus O. kemdirim & Mercy A. Oduyoye eds. Women, Culture and Theological Education (Nigeria: WAATI, 1998), 24.

  5. P. Mohan Larbeer, "Deconstruction of Academic Theology and Reconstruction of Dalit Theology", in Ministerial Formation 100 (January 2003): 19.

  6. K. C. Abraham, "Theological Education in India: Some Challenges", in National Consultation on the Priorities of Theological Education in India, Chennai, 22-25 May 2001, 3.

  7. Gabriele Dietrich, A New Thing on Earth: Hopes and Fears Facing Feminist Theology (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001), 87.

  8. Ibid., 88.

  9. Diana M. A. Relke, "Feminist Pedagogy and the Integration of Knowledge: Towards a More Interdisciplinary University", in Women’s and Gender Studies, http://www.usak.ca/wgst/journals/conf3.htm (February 1994, last modified 30 May 2001), 7.

  10. Anza A. Lema, Pedagogical and Theological Presuppositions of Education (Hong Kong: L.S.A.C., Education Curricula Committee, 1977), 4.

  11. Audrey Thompson & Andrew Gitlin, "Creating Spaces for Reconstructing Knowledge in Feminist Pedagogy", in Educational Theory 45/2 (Spring 1995). http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/Educational-Theory/Contents45_2_Thompson_Gitlin.asp (May 31, 2000).

  12. "Feminist Pedagogy in Community Colleges," The Journal of American Association for Women in Community Colleges (April 1997): 22-25; http://www.kckcc.cc.ks.us/human/women/ art2.htm, p. 1 of 4.

  13. Leonie Rowan & Kylie Harris, "Doin’ the Feminist Teaching Thing: Mapping New Directions in Gender Education," http://ccub.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/femped.htm, 2.

  14. "The Struggle and Solace of Feminist Pedagogy," Emory Report 50/6 (September 29, 1997): 1 of 2, http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/1997/September/erseptember.29/9...

  15. Wong Wai Ching Angela, "Fostering Gender Equality in Theological Education," in Ministerial Formation 97 (April 2002): 24.

  16. Anaida Pascual Moran, "Theo-Feminist Pedagogy," 35.

  17. Ibid., 38.

  18. Rebecca S. Chopp, "Emerging Issues and Theological Education," in Theological Education, Vol. xxvi/2 (Spring 1990): 116.

  19. Anaida Pascual Moran, "Theo-Feminist Pedagogy," 37.

  20. The Mud Flower Collective, God’s Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and Theological Education (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1985), 204.

  21. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, "Theological Education: Biblical Studies," in The Education of the Practical Theologian: Responses to Joseph Hough and John Cobb’s Christian Identity and Theological Education, ed. Don S. Browning, et. al. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 18-19.

  22. Anaida Pascual Moran, "Theo-Feminist Pedagogy," 36-37.

  23. A. Wati Longchar, "Globalization: A Challenge for Theological Education, A Third World Perspective," in Ministerial Formation 94 (July 2001): 8.

  24. Gnana Robinson, "In Solidarity with New Humanity and New Creation in Christ: A Task of Theological Education in India," 58.

  25. K. Thanzauva, Theology of Community, 58.

  26. Daniel S. Schipani, Religious Education Encounters Liberation Theology, 13.

  27. Carter Heyward, et.al., "Christian Feminists Speak," Theological Education xx/1 (Autumn 1983): 98.

  28. Kate Siejk, "Toward a Holistic Religious Education," 272.

  29. Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again, 108.

  30. Mar C. Baildon, "The Death of the Teacher: A Reconceptualization of Teaching Practice," http://www.msu.edu/~baildonm/baildonfinal_paper917.htm, 5 of 13.

  31. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, "Theory and Practice: Theological Education as a Reconstructive, Hermeneutical, and Practical Task," Theological Education, Vol. xxiii (Supplement 1987): 121.

  32. Edna J. Orteza, ed., In Search of a Theory: Towards a Feminist Pedagogy (Geneva: WCC, 1998), 53.

  33. "The Struggle and Solace of Feminist Pedagogy," Emory Report 50/6 (September 29, 1997): 1 of 2, http://www.emory.edu?EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/1997/September/erseptember.29/9....


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