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Augustine , and a pioneering Latin American feminist liberation theologian. Journal for the Study of Religion,Vol. In similar vein, Gebara has noted that although women do not have a recognised clerical status they often make up the majority of members of a church, and also constitute the unrecognised leadership of a religious community Gebara Gebara was born in into a middle-class Catholic family.
Her parents were first-generation Lebanese immigrants to Brazil. She told Carbajal: In , I began studying philosophy and at university I met some Catholic nuns who were very political and extremely involved with the struggle for liberation and against poverty.
I began seeing that as an alternative lifestyle for me. It was not very clear, but it seemed a better life, with more freedom than having a husband and a traditional family life. In , at only 18 years of age, Gebara formally entered the public and intellectual space dominated by men. She taught philosophy at a public college while also working as a secretary. Joseph Comblin, a liberation theologian and Belgian priest living in Brazil, became an influential figure in her life, teaching her the importance of critical thinking, particularly pertaining to the injustices endured by the poor.
In the absence of female role models, Gebara was forced to carve out her own path to becoming a critical thinker. This was just after Vatican II held , a time of great transformational change within the Catholic Church.
It was in , while still studying in Belgium, that she was invited to return to Brazil for three months in order to replace Comblin, who had been exiled due to his revolutionary theology Gebara Gebara returned from Belgium to Brazil during the sprouting of the liberation theology movement.
It is important to emphasise that she was in charge of the theological foundations of community development projects that focused on promoting social change through educational programs. Working as an educator became a form of experiencing freedom for Gebara Through her teaching, Gebara also learned from the experiences of those she educated — an important and methodologically central dynamic that would critically inform her later work.
Gebara, among other feminist liberation theologians, charged liberation theologians of being blind to the patriarchal power relations existing in the domestic sphere.
For instance, she argued that male liberation theologians failed to recognise the naturalisation of the caregiver role as oppressive and resulting from the same hierarchical and dualistic worldview that divided society on the basis of race and class.
Liberation theology gained force as male and female A History of Resistance 93 theologians from various Latin American countries pioneered a unique way of theologising as a form of political resistance against the oppressive systems of militarist regimes.
Their theology was essentially focused on the struggle of the poor. Positioning the poor and marginalised as their hermeneutical locus, liberation theologians opened up new and fertile avenues to socially engaged readings of the Bible by applying the methods of the social sciences to the study of social realities.
In essence, the CBCs were physical locations where strategic meetings were organised in order to educate poor people and offer informal theological education. This educational work was performed by religious women and men in various ways, such as adult literacy campaigns and night schools.
By engaging the current social issues, people in the CBCs began to develop methods of resistance within their own religion. Towards the end of the s and during the s, Latin American women liberation theologians began to identify the patriarchal oppression s existing within their Christian tradition.
Women liberation theologians started to conceptualise their own particular liberationist stance. Gebara was not a regular nun; she was never attached to a saint. During the s, the belief in a God of justice that sided with the poor formed part of the liberationist discourse. Her praxis-oriented theology uncovered a reality that had been overlooked by liberation theologians, including herself: liberation theologians argued for a liberationist praxis that allowed individuals to make connections between their own experienced realities and knowledge production.
Her liberationist methods led Gebara to not only critically engage with her socio-economic context and reread the Christian scriptures through a liberationist lens, but also to deconstruct knowledge from a liberationist theological perspective. She was able to discern the hidden forms of oppression that had been naturalised throughout the history of patriarchal and hierarchical ideologies.
She accompanied a parteira midwife to help a young woman in an extremely poor environment to give birth. The new father expressed his gratitude by presenting Gebara and the parteira with a chicken and a bottle of Coca-Cola. The shared energy and the fulfilment of that experience led Gebara to reflect on the joy of being alive.
The feeling of being alive could then also come from observing and sharing personal historic moments like this one. Like most liberation theologians, she taught that salvation starts now, in this life.
However, unlike most male liberation theologians, she articulated that salvation is for the present, not for the afterlife Gebara ; She taught that the hope for a better life should be focused on this Earth, instead of on a future Earth. Gebara also realised how profound was the gap between her theology and the lived reality of the people she had encountered in this particular context.
Gebara questioned whether the liberationist ideals were being effectively communicated to people experiencing various levels of oppression. A second story draws attention to the silent injustices experienced by women in Latin America. This anecdote illustrates the importance of listening as a significant self-reflexive lens. From to , Gebara worked with a group of industrial labourers.
Gebara provided theological training for this group in home meetings. Though frequently invited, this woman always declined to participate in the meetings. One Sunday, Gebara visited to ask the woman why she did not join in. Gebara was shocked by her answers.
The woman 96 A History of Resistance bluntly explained that she did not understand what was being discussed. The woman responded by explaining that Gebara spoke only about the male reality of the industrial labourers: their claims, their need for better pay, and their political struggles. You never speak about our sexuality and submission to men. Her eyes were opened to the fact that the oppression women undergo daily was never mentioned in mainstream theological discourses. This lack of awareness might have been because as a nun, and originally from a middle- class family, Gebara had not been exposed to the everyday grind of working- class women in her own life; or even though she may have been exposed to it, she was not yet aware of its oppressive nature.
Her encounters with marginalised women enabled Gebara to clearly articulate specific and located issues for women, and allowed her to realise her own imbrications within a power structure that naturalised male experiences. Gebara increasingly realised that the socio-economic analysis adopted by liberation theology was not enough to liberate the oppressed from the complex production of cultural injustice and despair Gebara Hence, during the s, Gebara began seeking alternative ways of thinking that were not grounded in dualistic or hierarchical perspectives.
She started participating in feminist groups in Recife, and reading national and international feminist scholars. Furthermore, perhaps largely due to her own resourcefulness, Gebara did not literally absorb these new feminist perspectives that she so much appreciated.
Rather, she integrated new feminist knowledge and appropriated it to her own socio- cultural context. As a result of local and international feminist insights, as well as her own situated experience, she developed an alternative feminist liberation anthropology, and challenged liberation theologians to rethink their perspectives via both local and global cross-cultural and interreligious dialogue. She charged liberation theologians with failing to deal sufficiently with the multiple forms of oppression that poor women undergo daily within the domestic sphere.
One of the main concerns of liberation theologians was to clarify the Christian responsibility of not only providing the poor with spiritual food guidance , but also to find ways to help the population meet their physical needs.
Gebara invited liberation theologians to re-adjust their views about dualism, pointing out that this split was replicated at every juncture of human relationships on Earth: between rich and poor, white and non-white, and male and female b: Gebara a emphasised that dualistic thinking negatively influences Christians to accept the naturalisation of hierarchical gender social roles. In the same way that the inferiority of the poor was theologically contested within liberation theology, other forms of inferiority should be revoked and explained as not predetermined by God b: 12, By immediacy, Gebara means the culture of despair: a cultural dynamic that arises in the context of exacerbated poverty.
She argued that many children and adults were no longer attending educational programs because they had to find ways to support their families. Despite the efforts made by liberation theologians to empower the population in resistance to oppressive political systems, the new economic reality of the s provoked actions and reactions dictated by a new challenge: the immediacy of survival.
Gebara emphasises that these new forms of economic oppression promote the resurgence of uncritical religious dualistic thinking within the population.
For Gebara , the refashioning of old rituals, symbols, and prayers, and the belief in a heaven free from suffering, bring comfort to the oppressed; but they also perpetuate a dualistic theology that limits liberation for all. Gebara observes that while women seek to redefine their position and self-understanding in relation to God, they also become increasingly aware of the limited ways in which their personhoods are constructed: i.
In response to this challenge, Gebara developed a feminist theology that could A History of Resistance free men and women from the naturalised patriarchal standards of Catholic theology. In , Ivone Gebara earned international notoriety for being silenced by the Vatican and sent for two years of theological re-education in Belgium. In this interview Gebara expressed for the first time, publicly and nationally, her views on abortion.
She was the first liberation theologian — and remains one of the few — to claim that abortion is not necessarily a sin. Recounting the reality of poor women throughout the Brazilian slums, Gebara argued that any woman not emotionally or psychologically prepared to bear a child should have the right to end her pregnancy Nanne and Bergamo 7. Gebara raises pertinent issues that can be read through the following questions: How can abortion not be legal in a country that offers little means for poor women to avoid pregnancy?
And, how can women deal with newborn children when they themselves are malnourished and often without the prospect of income? Nanne and Bergamo Gebara also highlighted the lack of education, information, A History of Resistance and health facilities as disadvantaging poor women.
In the interview ibid. For this reason she was silenced and sent into exile. Her work became influential among a variety of Latin American feminist theologians. Following her period of theological re-education, Gebara returned to Brazil and continued her critique of the androcentric basis of the Christian tradition, seemingly undeterred by the actions taken against her by the Vatican. She became active in writing and speaking on the reinterpretation of key elements of the Christian tradition, now also incorporating an ecofeminist perspective ; Gebara was one of the main founders of the largest ecofeminist magazine and network in the global south, Conspirando, based in Santiago, Chile.
The Conspirando collective has made a great contribution in promoting cross-cultural exchange among women situated in the global south, as well as fostering dialogue between these women and feminist liberation theologians situated in the global north. Northern ecofeminists such as Heather Eaton ; and Rosemary Radford Ruether have identified Gebara as A History of Resistance the leading scholar in developing a Latin American ecofeminist perspective. Standing up to Christian theological authoritarianism, she has infused her vocational career with the theological perspective that God has called on the whole human race to seek justice and freedom for all.
For Gebara, any real attempt to reconstruct theology must always be grounded in what is experienced in the present, locally and globally. Her own location in a region of violent economic contrasts, shaped by colonialism and reshaped by neo-colonialism, have led her to reflect on the daily experiences of those who were excluded from processes of religious construction.
This generosity and humility, as a mode of relationship, reflects her on-the-move theology, including the central themes of social justice and ecological ethics. In my reading of Gebara, a liberation feminist epistemological praxis takes place through embodying a dynamic state of openness characterised by the aforementioned humility and generosity. From the conflicting spaces of her journey, she has developed ways to transform and re-imagine theology according to new challenges.
Through her scholarship Gebara has demonstrated the nature of her vocation. Perhaps, without her calling, Gebara would not have developed her feminist liberation theology. From her conscious relationship with the Divine, Gebara has inspired individuals to continue their search for a more purposeful and vital religious ethics that welcomes the marginalised and excluded. Entering into the religious life allowed Gebara to continue learning and achieving the freedom she sought.
Ivone Gebara: “El feminismo se está satanizando dentro y fuera de la Iglesia”
Books by Ivone Gebara