Intersectionality of gender, race and sophistication [Review]

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Broadening our theological horizons

A look back at

Contextual theology: intersectionality of gender, race and class
HiRho Y. Park and Cynthia A. Bond Hopson, eds.

Paperback: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2020
Buy now: (IndieBound) (Amazon)

Reviewed by Michael Shepherd

Contextual Theology: Intersectionality of Gender, Race and Class is a compilation of essays by scholars from around the world that demonstrate the influence of social location on the development and application of theology.

The collection of essays provides an inductive demonstration of theologization in the context of gender, race and class. The chapters deal with issues of biblical interpretation, church leadership, and sociocultural dynamics in theological settings. Contributors are African and Asian women who are actively involved in international academic theological leadership and participate on the General Board of Higher Education and the United Methodist Church Ministry.

I remember a quote from the late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who said, “When I'm sometimes asked when there is enough (women at the Supreme Court)?” And I say, “If there are any gives nine: people are shocked. But there were nine men and no one ever asked a question about it. "A similar feeling applies to this book, considering there are no male or white contributors. Can theology be complete without the inclusion of white men? Of course; many theological books have been (and continue to be) written without the input of women published) – especially by women from the majority world.

The essays generally focus on topics of social analysis of theological environments, biblical interpretations, and higher education. This corresponds to the backgrounds of the contributors and their current work. The theory and methods of contextual theology and intersectionality are not discussed as abstract concepts, but are put into reality through the chapters that live in the different worlds of the participants.

The content provides the breadth of material the book covers:

  • "The sum of its parts becomes a whole: intersections and transformations of race, class and gender" (Cynthia A. Bond Hopson, PhD)
  • "The Liberation of Mankind: Lessons from History and the Women of the New Testament" (Djessou Epse Atsin Djoman Brigitte, PhD)
  • "Who is" she "in Ecclesiastes 7:26 ?: An alternative reading against cultural prejudice" (Elaine Wei-Fun Goh, ThD)
  • "The Challenges of Women in Service: Involving Women in Pastoral Leadership in the United Methodist Church in Mozambique" (Helena Angelica Gustavo Guidione, BD)
  • "A Study of Ewa: A Focus on the Theory of Intersectionality" (Hyun Ju Lee, PhD)
  • "Breaking the Spell of Patriarchy and Establishing God's Rule: A Post-Colonial Reading of Patriarchy" (Memory Mhikosi, MA)
  • "Mutual Partnership: Negotiating Patriarchal Structures in Vietnam" (Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, PhD)
  • "The intersection of" The Fairy and the Lumberjack, "Judge 21, and the Burning Sun Club: Taking Women and Extracting Capital from Their Bodies" (Yani Yoo, PhD)
  • "Token Racist-Ethnic Women: Living in a Coexistence of Race, Gender and Class in Science and the Church" (HiRho Y. Park, PhD)

While some chapters address a specific niche, chapters like that by Hyun Ju Lee offer a way to look at intersectionality theory in a non-Western context. This is significant in that there are times when the Western view of the majority world misinterprets the meaning.

Memory Mhikosi's chapter questions the dominant Christian discourse on patriarchy as it off-centers white. The Quynh-Hoa Nguyen chapter similarly introduces patriarchal cultural practices that are underrepresented in this area.

HiRho Park's chapter, "Token Racial-Ethnic Women", sheds light on the social pressures that exist in Christian ministries and university spaces across borders. For readers who are invested in these areas and are trying to acknowledge and remedy the institutional disempowerment, this chapter will be particularly compelling.

My main criticism of the book is, by and large, the lack of cohesion. This is to be expected from the format, so it should not be interpreted as a defect. It may be a reflection of my own Western prejudices to want a discussion on unifying the theory or a proper application section as a conclusion. The chapters collectively show the meaning of contextual theology and intersectionality, just not as directly as the title would imply.

While the subject of intersectionality is critical to understanding the messages of contextual theology, there are other areas of study that need to be recognized. The gender category acts primarily as a cisgender binary and does not recognize trans or agender people. Likewise, there is insufficient dialogue with the interfaces between ability, sexuality, education and other socially controlled identities. There remains a worthwhile endeavor to bring forth the voices of scholars who represent gender, racial and class identity traits, particularly to empower scholars from outside North America and Europe.

These concerns should not detract from the meaning of a volume that introduces the reader to the theological worlds of women from the majority world, but rather offer an opening for further discussion of the topics and discussions with other partners. This book would be an excellent text for a course on world Christianity or theology, or as a complement to anyone looking for examples of rigorous theological reflection from outside the majority world. Non-academics will appreciate this book for the authors' ability to convey their perspectives and arguments as an entry point into a different approach to topics and texts than they may be known. By addressing the intersectionality of gender, race, and class, the reader should better understand the various contexts in which they live and interact with their community.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd is Associate Professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, California. You can find him on Twitter at: @mchlshepherd

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