Feminist Scholarship on the New Testament

Davina C. Lopez and Todd Penner

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
Feminist Scholarship on the New Testament

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In terms of feminist interpretation of the New Testament and early Christianity, this entry largely details the scholarship indebted to “second wave” feminism (that feminism of the 1960s and early 1970s). To be sure, there were predecessors, going back well into the 1800s, and one cannot draw a hard and fast line between periods. That said, the shifting social and political structures of the 1960s through the 1980s created a context for a significant shift in traditional scholarly historical-critical interpretation of early Christian literature and history, an enterprise that was largely a male-dominated one up until that point. Within ecclesial contexts, feminists were arguing for radical reform across a range of differing denominations and traditions. Certainly, women’s ordination was one of the key facets of engagement, but there were many other issues too (e.g., attention to female reproductive rights). As a result, more women entered the academy, both secular and theological, and in the process there was an increasing emphasis on reading texts against the “male-centered” grain. A feminist hermeneutical lens focuses both on the relativistic nature of epistemology and the social location of the interpreter, including the relationship of the two. Feminists, drawing on the changes taking place elsewhere in academic discourses of the time (e.g., the “linguistic turn” and post-structuralism), including a strong indebtedness to liberation theology (which was coterminous in its development), asserted that interpretation was to be contextualized within particular institutional and personal locations. There was no “value-free” or “objective” standpoint. Thus, one had the ethical obligation to engage the political and social structures that shaped interpretation itself. In this case, feminist scholars of the Bible were particularly invested in challenging male-dominated, androcentric interpretative frameworks. Essential to feminist interpretation of the New Testament, then, is its unapologetically political character. The organization of this entry seeks to elucidate both the genealogy of feminist interpretation and the growth and development of diverse strands as they are reflected in specific aims of interpretation (e.g., reconstructive, theological) and the broadening of application beyond nonwhite/Western social locations (e.g., womanist, mujerista, African, and Asian feminist interpretations). One also has to bear in mind that, on the current scene, we find increasingly multi- and interdisciplinary/intersectional interpretative approaches that integrate traditional feminist concerns with a variety of other modes of analysis (e.g., postcolonial, queer). Thus, in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, there emerged a multiplicity of hermeneutical stances adopted by interpreters, many of whom claim a strong feminist positionality for their interpretative work. The current entry intentionally delineates the feminist work that best fits within the earlier framework. For a comprehensive treatment of the latter approaches, the reader needs to consult the Oxford Bibliographies article Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the New Testament and Early Christianity, which traces the feminist themes in their more recent configurations.

Article.  14972 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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