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Persistent becoming: women’s religious thought and the global

Abstract

This essay attempts a ‘state of the field’ examination of a branch of feminist thinking within the global, namely women’s religious thought. Variants of religious feminism and women’s religious have long been existent and have recently ‘remerged’ across the globe. Some argue for the reinterpretation of religious systems that are consistent with orthodox dogma (Tomalin in Oxf Dev Stud 37(2):81–100, 2009), while others look for dialogue and intersection with secular feminist thinking. Transnational networks of religious women, both ordained and lay, exist and have encouraged serious reflection upon and provide significant challenge to unequal and oppressive gender hierarchies within religious traditions and religious societies as well as suggesting provocations to secular organising. There is, arguably, a kind of strange revolution here, where traditional hierarchies are challenged, but also ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ structures are found wanting. In the urgencies and reflections from women’s religious thought in Asia, Latin America and in Africa, both Western imperialism and locality must be reckoned with. Conceptually, this is an essay on what or who is silenced, meditating on silence, and, why silences appear. We can argue that the secular bent of theory and study in International Relations can and does silence the interventions of feminist as well as womanist religious activity and women’s religious thought. Hence, the question, overall, raised by this essay is what could further study and engagement with such religious thought bring to the study of the international? In doing so, this essay looks at the ‘strangeness’ of women’s religious thought with celebration, reflecting generally on the parameters of such thought in its global form, particularly in terms of the sub-fields of religion and also feminist theory. It also discusses what challenges and provocations the voices of women religious bring to the study of the international, and what further study and attention to transnational movements of such religious thought could mean for alternative sites for the discussion of the global.

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Acknowledgements

This article was written partially during a Visiting Researcher period at Oxford Brookes University, UK. The author is also grateful to the resources made available via Catherine of Siena College at the University of Roehampton, the Bodleian Social Sciences Library, and the Tulana Research Centre in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. I am grateful for conversations with Professor Tina Beattie, Sr Dr Rasika Peiris, Professor Aloy Peiris SJ, Dr Christiane Smith, Ms Beverley Harry and Dr Claudia Marques-Martin that help shape these writings.

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Ranawana, A. Persistent becoming: women’s religious thought and the global. Int Polit Rev 8, 100–127 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41312-020-00076-9

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Keywords

  • Feminist
  • Womanist
  • Religious thought
  • Global
  • Nun
  • Buddhist
  • Catholic
  • Global south
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Class