Women and Interreligious Dialogue
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
Catherine Cornille, professor and chair of the BC theology department, joined the Boisi Center on October 14 to discuss her scholarly work about women and interreligious dialogue. Her talk touched on two recent book projects, Women and Interreligious Dialogue and The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue.
Cornille noted that women have been generally been excluded in formal interreligious dialogue efforts, whether between faith authorities or among scholars in academic settings. At the same time, women have often participated informally in interreligious dialogue through neighborhood networks or discussion groups, to much success. Such examples of dialogue go beyond mere theological discussion, and treat religion in a holistic way by celebrating the aesthetic, social and cultural aspects of religions.
A central point of contention in the symposium that led to Women and Interreligious Dialogue was whether women bring anything unique to interreligious dialogue, or whether including women is beneficial simply because doing so makes dialogue less patriarchal. Including women in interreligious dialogue, Cornille argued, can help expose patriarchal aspects of tradition; for example, Muslim-Christian dialogue that includes women can reveal how Western feminists have been complicit in the denigration of Islam as misogynistic and backwards. On the other hand, there was some resistance among the symposium participants to agreeing that women make a distinct contribution to interreligious dialogue, based on the perception that to do so essentializes women, and thereby fails to appreciate the diversity that exists among women in different traditions. Nonetheless, Cornille noted the cooperative spirit that was present in the symposium itself, where participants tried to find points of agreement with each other rather than simply arguing for their own position.