Women Doing Theology in Latin America

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In Ivone Gebara’s section entitled “Women Doing Theology in Latin America,” the expression of “women doing theology” is infused with linguistic empowerment. As Gebara notes, when applying such a proposition to Latina women, there are certain issues that are being directly addressed. She outlines this in the following way: “the fact that women have entered the world of economic production and, more broadly, into politics and culture and the consequences for change in society.”[1] In this regard, then, the role that Latina women must embrace is one that deserves, as Gebara suggests, “deeper reflection” particularly in the various churches that become communities that hinge on economic production, politics, an culture.

To do theology as a woman in Latina America means situating one’s theologizing through intersectionality—the intersectionality of the economy, politics, and culture—and developing a theological self that can successfully navigate through the various spheres of a broad, multipositional society. What this means, I would argue, is understanding that the shared experiences of Latina women are not static, but dynamic—these are experiences that change over time, to the extent that the historicality of what it means to be Latina and do theology comes to bear from an overarching historicity. I would argue that Gebara is also concerned with the relationship between historicity and historicality—a difference that I would call historical experience and historical space, respectively—when she denotes the “shared experience” of Latina women that arises “from the simple fact of sharing life.”[2] To be sure, “sharing life” is about sharing a facticity of “being,” sharing an existential selfhood that has a specific meaning to a kind of human existence. For Gebara, Latina women doing theology is grounded “from the simple fact of sharing life,” but also, I would add, the extent to which that “shared life” provides a unique perspective to what it means to be human. This is particularly important when considering, as Gebara argues, that:

…Many women are especially gifted with a deep intuition about human life and are able to counsel, to intuit problems, to express them, to give support, to propose solutions, and to confirm the faith of many people.[3]

Here, what Gebara has highlighted is what I would call the hermeneutics of existence: one that is generalized and specialized. I am thinking about this kind of hermeneutics as Schleiermacher is, but extending it to Gebara as a way of positioning the self as a Foucaultian hermeneutical subject. In doing so, Gebara is describing two very important components of how Latina women do theology: “specialized” to the individual’s unique experiences in the world as a hermeneutical subject, and “generalized” within the community’s experiences as hermeneutical objects. I see these two ways of doing theology—that is, both using subjectivity and project that subjectivity as subjective objectification—become critical to essentialist theological discourse used to “confirm the faith of many people.”

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[1] Ivone Gebara, “Women Doing Theology in Latin America.” In With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 125.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] Ibid.

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