up a whole new field of enquiry and allows for the development of new horizons in the encounter of religions. But much work needs to be done before this will really happen, for at present much of interreligious dialogue is not all that relevant to women; much of it is hurtful and exclusive, and much of ittakes no account at all of current developments in either women’s spirituality, or women’s critical work onreligion, nor are the dialoguing men aware of the new dialogue among women today.Contemporary feminism presents a considerable challenge for interreligious dialogue, although atpresent, this challenge has not yet been fully articulated. But one can also look at this unequal relation theother way round and ask: What is the challenge of the predominantly male interreligious dialogue forgender-critically aware women?Secular feminism debates racial and cultural, but never religious pluralism. Feminist theologians, onthe other hand, have been primarily concerned with a critical resifting of the Jewish and Christian religioustraditions rather than with the encounter and relations between different religions. A few works, such asMaureen O’Neill’s
Women Speaking, Women Listening
have looked at women’s involvement withinterreligious dialogue, but there has been little of a feminist reception or critique of the interfaithmovement and theological debate about dialogue so far.
This is also evident from the World Council of Churches 1995 publication on
(Ortega 1995), which celebrates the theological workundertaken by women during the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (Ortega 1995:75), but thewomen’s debate is carried on entirely within the Christian universe of discourse, without explictly reflectingon the new theological developments linked to interreligious dialogue among Christians themselves. The existence and lively debate of interreligious dialogue challenge some of the limitations of feminist theology itself, and invite it to widen its horizons and draw on theological and spiritual resourcesfrom different religious traditions. Amongst feminist theologians it is particularly those from the non-westernworld, especially from Asia, who are more open to reflect on the challenge of religious pluralism. Religiousdiversity is more acknowledged but not necessarily theoretically more fully reflected upon, as can be seenin the readings found in my anthology.Given the great wisdom traditions of Asia, and the numerically small presence of Christians on theAsian continent, it comes as no surprise that Asian religious feminists organized a women’s interfaithmeeting for Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim women, as well as those from indigenoustraditions in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. In their report (Abraham et al. 1989), they stressed as their objectivesamong others the "deepening of one’s own and other faiths, from a woman’s perspective," and "fosteringmutuality, respect, solidarity, and sisterhood by overcoming divisive barriers." In each case the womenexamined both the liberative and oppressive aspects of their respective religions, and looked at thepractical social, legal, and economic effects of the religious and socio-cultural discrimination of women. Their vision is to reclaim the positive values for women in their respective cultures and religions, but also "toconscientize women and men" about their objectives. This is one example of women themselves becoming actively engaged in interreligious dialogue,although these women did not reflect on current international discussions on dialogue among men orcritique it. Yet it is especially in Asia, so much at the crossroads of the encounter of cultures and religions,that we find a particularly challenging and fertile environment for the mutual impact of feminism andinterfaith encounter. In this context, it is interesting to note, that the German feminist theologian ElisabethGössmann, who knows Asia well through her many years of teaching in Japan, has included a whole sectionon feminism and interreligious dialogue in her wide-ranging article on the "Feminist Critique of UniversalClaims to Truth," wherein she highlights the thoroughly androcentric character of traditional Christiantheology which is an all-male theology—and that applies also to the theology of religions. Thus, the process of dialogue is still very gender specific and restricted. Whereas men’sinterreligious dialogue does not dialogically appropriate the insights of women’s dialogue, women’sinterreligious dialogue, where it exists, does not yet critically analyze and call into question theandrocentrism and exclusiveness of male dialogue. These two different forms of dialogue mutuallychallenge each other.
Gender Challenges to Institutional Structures of Interreligious Dialogue
Today, women writers on religion are critiquing the patriarchal framework of all the religions of theworld. They are recovering women’s own voices and contributions, their religious roles and rituals, feminineimages and metaphors used for constructs of Ultimate Reality, and women’s heritage in spirituality andmysticism. The feminist critique of religion has been furthest advanced in Christianity and Judaism, butwomen from other religions—whether Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Chinese, Japanese, or Africanreligions, or native religious traditions—are now applying gender-critical analyses to their respective faiths.Similarly, women scholars from different religious traditions around the world are producing newscholarship, as is evident from the many entries on different religious traditions found under the entry on"Gender and Religion" in the new
Encyclopedia of Religion
. Thus, women are working on the transformationof world religions from within their own traditions by critiquing the androcentric and patriarchal frameworkof their scriptural and doctrinal heritage, and by recovering muted female voices and experiences from the