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A Garland of Feminist Reflections

A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Exploration

Rita M. Gross
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    A Garland of Feminist Reflections
    Book Description:

    Rita M. Gross has long been acknowledged as a founder in the field of feminist theology. One of the earliest scholars in religious studies to discover how feminism affects that discipline, she is recognized as preeminent in Buddhist feminist theology. The essays inA Garland of Feminist Reflectionsrepresent the major aspects of her work and provide an overview of her methodology in women's studies in religion and feminism. The introductory article, written specifically for this volume, summarizes the conclusions Gross has reached about gender and feminism after forty years of searching and exploring, and the autobiography, also written for this volume, narrates how those conclusions were reached. These articles reveal the range of scholarship and reflection found in Rita M. Gross's work and demonstrate how feminist scholars in the 1970s shifted the paradigm away from an androcentric model of humanity and forever changed the way we study religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94366-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PART ONE Introductory Materials

    • Introducing A Garland of Feminist Reflections
      (pp. 3-22)

      ThisGarland of Feminist Reflectionsrepresents my lifelong concern to live deeply immersed in exploring and understanding questions of ultimate significance. It also represents my lifelong concern with how women have pursued such questions, or have been prevented from pursuing such interests by the prison of gender roles specific to their cultures. The first concern is core and the second is adventitious. Only circumstances forced me, willy-nilly, into lifelong concern with issues of sex and gender. That was not what I intended, and in an ideal world, it would not have been necessary. All these years later, I wish it...

    • CHAPTER 1 How Did This Ever Happen to Me? A Wisconsin Farm Girl Who Became a Buddhist Theologian When She Grew Up
      (pp. 23-44)

      Given current conditions of backlash, I have sometimes commented that it is important for those of us who are old enough to remember why the second wave of feminism ever emerged to record our memories. Most people are astonished at how dismal things were only a few years ago, in the 1960s in the United States, when women could not establish credit in their own names and almost no women went into advanced training in any field.

      Feminist reflections have always included the personal location of one’s work as a matter of honesty. Claiming that one feels something to be...

  4. PART TWO Five Essays on Method

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 45-54)

      I have written many articles on various issues in the methodology of religious studies during the nearly forty years of my career to date. What some might regard as an undue emphasis on methodological issues accords well with both my training and my inclinations. I was trained at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, when the doctoral program in the history of religions emphasized method and theory more than linguistic and historical studies in one’s area of specialization. The program emphasized that while it is important to have information at one’s disposal, it is crucial to know how...

    • CHAPTER 2 Androcentrism and Androgyny in the Methodology of History of Religions
      (pp. 55-64)

      The questions that a feminist scholar asks of her discipline when she is a historian of religions must be understood within the context of the paradigm shift that feminist thought requires of all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. That basic paradigm shift is the transition from an androcentric methodology to an androgynous methodology. The resulting transformation of the history of religions would be quite subtle and overwhelming, though not total. The unconscious androcentric presuppositions undergirding almost all work done to date in the history of religions cause serious deficiencies, especially at the primary level of data-perception and gathering,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Where Have We Been? Where Do We Need to Go? Key Questions for Women Studies in Religion and Feminist Theology
      (pp. 65-76)

      As someone who helped found the disciplines of women studies in religion and feminist theology and as someone who has written a great deal on these topics, I have a long vantage point from which to view our concerns. In this chapter, I seek more to review the essentials of our disciplines than to blaze new methodological trails. That is a task for younger scholars who have the freshness that I had in 1967 when I wrote my first paper on women and religion, which was then unexplored and novel territory that quickly became controversial.¹ I suggest that it is...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Place of the Personal and the Subjective in Religious Studies
      (pp. 77-93)

      Religious Studies is the academic discipline devoted to studying and commenting upon the extremely diverse religious beliefs and behaviors found in all cultures around the globe, in all periods of human history. Nevertheless, studying or teaching religion in the college or university is also a very politically sensitive enterprise because everyone has personal opinions, often very strong personal opinions, about religion. Because of the intensely personal, often passionate attitudes people have about religion, calls for neutrality and objectivity can be very strong in this field, and expressing one’s own personal interest in or subjective views about religion can be dangerous...

    • CHAPTER 5 Methodology: Tool or Trap? Comments from a Feminist Perspective
      (pp. 94-110)

      Questions as to how best to study religion and to understand religion have fascinated me from early in my studies of religion. In this chapter, I want to reflect on questions about how scholars construct, accept, and reject methodologies, more than to argue for or against any specific methodology. I agree with scholars of religion who take methodology very seriously. Whether one is deeply self-reflective about or largely unconscious of one’s methodological assumptions, those assumptions determine what data one sees and how one organizes those data. Methodologies should be tools that improve our studies of religion, but they often become...

    • CHAPTER 6 What Went Wrong? Feminism and Freedom from the Prison of Gender Roles
      (pp. 111-124)

      In his novelThe Town Beyond the Wall,Elie Wiesel tells the story of a time when God and humans changed places, and the human, now God, refused to revert to the original order. But after infinite amounts of time, “The past for one, and the present for the other, were too heavy to be borne.” He continues: “As the liberation of the one was bound to the liberation of the other, they renewed the dialogue whose echoes come to us in the night, charged with hatred, with remorse, and most of all with infinite yearning.”¹

      After thirty years of...

  5. PART THREE Theory Applied:: Three Tests

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 125-130)

      Chapters 7, 8, and 9 are somewhat technical discussions of three very different topics, all resulting from the paradigm shift in models of humanity initiated by feminist scholarship. Thus, they could be seen as test cases, or applications of the effectiveness of that paradigm shift. They demonstrate that what one sees can change when one’s model of humanity changes. More important, they demonstrate that changes inhowone organizes or puts together the data follow from internalizing that paradigm shift. Both demonstrations are equally important. Sometimes, the androcentric model of humanity makes it difficult to see certain data, as demonstrated...

    • CHAPTER 7 Menstruation and Childbirth as Ritual and Religious Experience among Native Australians
      (pp. 131-142)

      The subjects of this chapter are menstruation and childbirth as they figure in the religious lives of both Australian Aboriginal women and men. In the religious lives of women, these biological experiences are the occasion of significant rituals. In the religious lives of men, who of course cannot experience them directly, they are often ritually imitated. The significance of menstruation and childbirth in both women’s and men’s religious lives has not been especially noted or studied by most scholars of Aboriginal traditions. I believe that this oversight is a result of the fact that Aboriginal religions have usually been studied...

    • CHAPTER 8 Toward a New Model of the Hindu Pantheon A Report on Twenty-Some Years of Feminist Reflection
      (pp. 143-155)

      One of my favorite unfinished and unpublished manuscripts is titled “The Significance of Gender in the Hindu Pantheon.” This chapter represents my return to that manuscript, which has spent more than fifteen years in my to-do pile. Both manuscript and chapter circle around my dissatisfaction with the model of the Hindu pantheon found in most textbooks. My dissatisfaction applies equally to the chapter on Hinduism found in world religions textbooks and to textbooks designed for a first course on Hinduism. Having taught introductory courses on Hinduism many, many times, and as a feminist scholar on the lookout, I found the...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Prepatriarchal Hypothesis An Assessment
      (pp. 156-170)

      The prepatriarchal hypothesis is both a popular sacred history—the sacred history of the feminist spirituality movement—and a scholarly hypothesis which argues that “the creation of patriarchy” is a historical event occurring in the relatively recent past due to certain causes and conditions.¹ Many scholars and popularizers also speculate about what religion and society were like in the prepatriarchal world, frequently portraying it as a “feminist utopia.”

      Located at the interstices of several disciplines, including prehistory, archeology, anthropology, mythology, history, and the comparative study of religions, as well as being of considerable importance to feminist discourse, the prepatriarchal hypothesis...

  6. PART FOUR Feminist Theology

    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 171-176)

      The very first paper i wrote after I finished the final draft of my Ph.D thesis in 1974 was an essay I called “Female God Language in a Jewish Context,” and that essay eventually became what is reprinted here as chapter 10, “Steps toward Feminine Imagery of Deity in Jewish Theology.” If I had been following scholarly conventions, I would never have written that essay. Technically speaking, it was completely outside my supposed field of specialization, and in those days such indiscretions were quite dangerous. But I followed my inclinations. I don’t remember for sure if there was a publication...

    • CHAPTER 10 Steps toward Feminine Imagery in Jewish Theology
      (pp. 177-188)

      The most profound, intriguing, and inviting of all Jewish theologies—theKabbalah—teaches us thatgalut—exile—is the fundamental reality and pain of present existence. It teaches that one of the causes ofgalutis the alienation of the masculine from the feminine in God, the alienation of God and theShekhinah. But it also teaches, especially in its Lurianic phases, that each of us can effect the turning ofgalutby dedicating all our efforts to the reunification of God and theShekhinah. Now that the masculine and feminine have been torn asunder and the feminine dismembered and...

    • CHAPTER 11 Is the (Hindu) Goddess a Feminist?
      (pp. 189-197)

      Is the Goddess a feminist? That’s a good question. In my view, the only possible answer is, “It depends.” Initially, I want to suggest that it depends on two things. It depends on how the termfeministis defined. And it depends on who the Goddesses’ devotees are.

      Depending on how the termfeministis defined, various Hindu and Buddhist goddesses could be shown to be either feminists or nonfeminists in their traditional manifestations. But, in the long run, if the Goddesses’ devotees are feminists, then the Goddesses will either come to be seen as feminists or be abandoned by...

    • CHAPTER 12 Life-Giving Images in Vajrayana Buddhist Ritual
      (pp. 198-210)

      To discuss women changing ritual and ritual changing women, I will return to a problem that has haunted me for years. This issue concerns the visual forms that are central to Vajrayana Buddhistsadhanameditation-rituals. First, some words about ritual in Buddhism and about which rituals I could comment on as a woman insider discussing how women might change these rituals and be changed by them. As a historian of religions, I am sensitive to the centrality of ritual in religion and in no way sympathetic to the usual Western rationalist disregard for ritual. Nevertheless, both as a religious studies...

    • CHAPTER 13 Feminist Theology as Theology of Religions
      (pp. 211-228)

      Not long ago, I sat in a gathering of feminist theologians. The topic was “diversity”; numerous complaints about lack of diversity were being voiced, but it was clear that lack of diversityamongthe Christians, not absence ofreligiousdiversity, was being protested. I pointed out that the diversity amongChristiansrepresented was far greater than the diversity amongreligionsand that the discussion presumed a Christian context, which I, a non-Christian, found problematic. The conversation paused momentarily to allow me to make my comment, then returned to its previous direction, as if I had never spoken. I felt as...

  7. PART FIVE Buddhist Feminism:: Feminist Buddhism

    • [PART FIVE Introduction]
      (pp. 229-234)

      The following chapters need little introduction; enough stories giving their background and context have been told throughout parts 1 through 4 of this garland. However, because I have written so much on Buddhism, even on women or feminism and Buddhism, this section is highly selective. I will explain the principle of selection.

      Part 5 begins with the most current version of what I have always considered to be my most important reflection on Buddhism and feminism, my comments on the transmutation of anger into clarity and peacefulness that was the unexpected, totally surprising first result of the Buddhist meditation practices...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Clarity in the Anger
      (pp. 235-244)

      When dualistic worldviews prevail, Buddhist political thinking and acting become very difficult, if not impossible. Fundamentally, Buddhism discourages “us and them” analyses as much as it discourages evaluating complex situations as “black and white” dichotomies. Buddhism claims that all beings are equal in the sense that they share the same basic nature, whether they are friends or enemies. Sharing the same basic nature is more important than status as friend or enemy, which is impermanent in any case. Though duality and the difference between friends and enemies, between those who are right and those who are wrong, can feel very...

    • CHAPTER 15 Why (Engaged) Buddhists Should Care about Gender Issues
      (pp. 245-249)

      It seems to me that if Buddhists really followed their central claims about gender, engaged Buddhists would not need to be concerned about gender issues. But we live in a situation that is far from the Buddhist ideal or norm regarding gender; therefore engaged Buddhists do need to care about gender issues among their many other concerns. In this brief chapter honoring Sulak Sivaraksha, I will try to explain why I continue to focus on gender in my work as an engaged Buddhist, even though it would be far more pleasant and easier to give up that work, and giving...

    • CHAPTER 16 The Dharma of Gender
      (pp. 250-262)

      A classic meditation practice in Vajrayana Buddhism, called the Mahamudra Investigations, invites the meditator to search for the nature of unfettered mind by exploring several pithy questions. Does the mind have a color? Does the mind have a shape? Is the mind inside the body? Outside the body? The meditator is instructed to search diligently, exhausting all possibilities, instead of concluding on the basis of knowledge of Buddhist doctrine that unfettered mind could not possibly be found in any of these places. These investigations are more like Zen koans—baffling puzzles that have no unvaryingly correct intellectual or conceptual answer....

    • CHAPTER 17 Yeshe Tsogyel Enlightened Consort, Great Teacher, Female Role Model
      (pp. 263-280)

      Two English translations of Yeshe Tsogyel’s biography constitute an important resource for those interested in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism who do not read Tibetan.¹ Yeshe Tsogyel, probably Tibet’s most influential and famous female religious teacher and one of the world’s most significant female religious exemplars, lived in the eighth century CE. An important teacher in her own right, she was also, in her early life, the student of Padmasambhava as well as one of his principal consorts until he left Tibet. Padmasambhava is a semilegendary figure, the first great tantric master to come from India to Tibet to teach Vajrayana Buddhism....

    • CHAPTER 18 Buddhist Women and Teaching Authority
      (pp. 281-290)

      The primary feminist criticism of Buddhism is that most often, dharma teachers are men. Feminists have responded with two solutions to this problem. One obvious solution would be to make structural changes to ensure that women are trained as teachers, and then to make sure that women are promoted as teachers. Other feminists have proposed a different solution, stating that giving dharma teachers any real authority is itself a patriarchal practice which cannot be redeemed by encouraging women to become dharma teachers.

      Many Westerners are deeply suspicious of the authority a Vajrayana or Zen dharma teacher has over his or...

    • CHAPTER 19 Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? A Feminist Assessment of Buddhism at the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century
      (pp. 291-310)

      Even relatively casual observers of Buddhism often note that doctrinally Buddhism is free of the myths and symbols that make some other religions so intractable to feminist reforms. There is no Ultimate Reality spoken of as a male, no Ultimate Father or Male Savior; there is no myth of a rebellious female starting the world on its downward spiral. Those same observers also comment that, nevertheless, Buddhism and Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxylookquite similar: many men in elaborate costumes in positions of authority, with very few women to be seen. Why? What is being done about this contradiction...

    • CHAPTER 20 Being a North American Buddhist Woman Reflections of a Feminist Pioneer
      (pp. 311-318)

      In this final chapter I would like to reminisce about some of my key experiences and insights as a North American Buddhist woman and scholar-practitioner. How did I become a Buddhist in the first place? What was it like thirty years ago to be both a Buddhist and a feminist? Why do I think that Buddhists still need to be feminists? What has been most important to me about being a Buddhist? I would also like to reflect on what I have always considered the most important topic for Buddhist women—the presence of women teachers.

      One may well wonder,...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 319-340)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 341-341)