Introducing Asian Feminist Theology

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In Chapter 5, entitled “Speaking about God,” Kwok Pui-lan states the following, which will prove to be worthy of further investigation:

When Asian feminists talk about God, they do not begin with the abstract discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, the debate on the existence of God, or the affirmation of God as omnipotent, unchanging, and immovable. Rather, they focus on God as the source of life and the creative, sustaining power of the universe.[1]

Here, what Pui-lan makes clear about how Asian feminists do theology is not from a perspective grounded on “abstract discussions” but, instead, is one that places chief importance on the epistemological situation. If the way that Asian feminists do theology comes from, as Pui-lan suggests, a “focus on God as the source of life” in conjunction with recognizing that God is “the creative, sustaining power of the universe,”[2] then it is safe to assume that she is referring to a specific kind of situation—she is referring to an epistemological situation framed a certain, specialized understanding of the ontology of existence. To say that God is “the source of life” means that Pui-lan is not only concerned with moving beyond “abstract discussions” but is chiefly concerned, then, with the concrete, ontological manifestation of the human existence. That is, she is precisely determined to extrapolate from humanity’s ontological existence an understanding about what it means to be human and, therefore, places “abstract discussions” as the foundation upon which to do theology from the bottom up. To be clear, this kind of situation is epistemological, since it uses theology as a τεχηε to develop an existential επιστημη. Pui-lan seems to suggest this through what is clearly a bottom-up approach to theology, an approach that brings to mind the theologies of Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, and John Macquarrie. However, Pui-lan’s theology is much more political in tone and, accordingly, ventures into a political-theological territory that, among the three aforementioned theologians, only Tillich gestures towards. Like Tillich, Pui-lan’s bottom-up theology has three tent-poles: love, justice, and power—this triangularity comes to bear on the intersectionality of socio-political institutions, systems of knowledge, and being-in-the-world. This kind of bottom-up theology is associated with what I would call a “low hermeneutic” (i.e. a low Christology, a low soteriology, etc) since it is concerned with the concrete ramifications of meaning-making. Pui-lan seems to agree with this, particularly when she takes into account that God is a source of hope and empowerment for “people struggling to acquire basic necessities and human dignity.”[3] As Pui-lan argues, “God is often seen as the compassionate one” focused on the epistemological situation in which people live. For Asian feminists doing theology, God is at the center of all existence, capable of “bring[ing] peace amidst ethnic strife, alienation, and oppression.” To this end, when Asian feminists embark on theology, they do so through a God-talk that, as Pui-lan asserts, is employed in a religiously pluralistic context.

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[1] Kwok Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press Ltd., 2000), 66.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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