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The essays in this section provide examples of scholars engaging feminist theory with materials from South Asian religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The papers were originally presented on a panel, "Feminist Theory and the Study of South Asian Religions," which was jointly sponsored by the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group and the Religion in South Asia Section at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio, Texas, in 2004. I organized the panel, the chair was Rita D. Sherma, and the respondent was Carol Anderson. The essays have been revised for publication.
The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (JFSR) is a vibrant forum for scholarly discussion of feminist theory and religion from a multiplicity of disciplines, including theology/theology, cultural studies, gender studies, and history. Critically reflective discussions in the journal call for expanded discussion of non-Western traditions, amplifying the pioneering path of Rita Gross, a contributing editor of the journal, in feminism and Buddhism. (1) By now, there have been many studies of women and goddesses in South Asian traditions, especially Hinduism, a number of which explicitly engage feminist theories. (2) However, one of the issues that came up during the discussion following the presentation of these papers was that such studies might not be as visible to feminist scholars of religion as they could be. A suggestion was made that this lack of visibility may be due to the leading role that theological and thealogical studies have played in defining feminist studies of religion, rather than studies that are historical-textual (represented in this section by Susan Landesman's and Karen Pechilis's essays) or ethnographic (Carla Bellamy's essay).
At that time, panel and audience members proposed ideas on what distinguished theaology and theology, on the one hand, and the history of religions mode of study, on the other. Notably, when various topics were raised, such as dialogue with traditions outside of one's own, critical analysis, and theoretical discourse, members of each camp claimed these aspects for their modes of study. By the close of the session, many of us could see that there were considerable regions of overlap, but there was not a theoretical discussion of why this might be the case. In thinking further about this issue after the conference, I noted with interest an attempt by preeminent current theorist of religion Jonathan Smith to articulate the terms of commonality. For Smith, much of the imagination of difference between theological and humanities studies of religion is basically a red herring--he later identifies it as politically motivated--which obscures fundamental issues in the study of religion:
The history of the history of religions is not best conceived as a liberation from the hegemony of theology--our pallid version of that tattered legend of the origins of science, whether placed in fifth-century Athens or sixteenth-century Europe, …