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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.



Feminist Criticism and Related Aspects

Marie-Theres Wacker

Feminist Criticism or Feminist Criticism?

Following Dorothee Sölle, feminism can be defined as ‘the emergence of women from a state of submission for which they themselves were responsible or which others had attributed to them’. Feminist exegesis is correspondingly a scientific engagement with the Bible with the intention of contributing to the emancipation, liberation, and empowering of women. Feminist exegesis is thus not simply a method of biblical interpretation in the sense of a particular technique for analysing texts, but a critical hermeneutic of engagement with the Bible and in this sense feminist criticism. It employs already existing methods of biblical scholarship, but also subjects these methods to a feminist critique, and in that way contributes to the development of methods.

The adjective ‘feminist’ has in any case not been regarded as a suitable description for their activity by all those who have sought to contribute to the emancipation, liberation, and empowering of women in their scholarly work. It suggests a limitation to the problems of white, West, Christian, heterosexual middle-class women. Therefore, there are currently quite a number of alternative approaches. There is ‘Womanist’ biblical criticism as practised by black American women; there is the approach of the ‘mujeristas’, the women of Central and Latin America, as well as the Bible readings of Asian ‘women theologians’ or the approach of African women. Christian feminist exegesis has other procedures and thematic concerns compared with a Jewish feminist engagement with the Bible; and criticism of society, politics, and the economy is not carried out with the same sharpness by all of these. Lesbian and queer (gender-confusing) exegetical approaches bring in yet other perspectives. The designation ‘queer’ indicates in addition the debate about the deconstruction of ‘gender’ which, from its side, also brings pressure to define afresh the contours of ‘feminist’ theology and exegesis. The following discussion deals first with basic hermeneutical questions (I) and then turns to methodological perspectives (II).

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