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Reports from Asia-Pacific Theologians

  1. Dr. Agnes M. Brazal, St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University, Manila, Philippines

  2. Dr. Emmanuel S. de Guzman, St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University, Manila, Philippines

  3. Prof. Antony Kalliath, Dharmaram Vidhyakshetram University, Coimbatore, India

  4. Rev. Sr. Patricia Santos, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium (Pune, India)

  5. Rev.  Dr. James   McEvoy, Australian Catholic University, Adelaide SA, Australia


Dr. Agnes M. Brazal St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University Manila, Philippines

Professional Women Theologians in Asia: Opportunities and Challenges

By “professional women theologians,” I am referring to women who have obtained a doctorate in sacred theology (SThD) or a PhD in Theology/Religious Studies/ Christian Studies/Applied Theology or a Doctorate in Ministry. Based on a very rough estimate, there are more than 110 Catholic Asian women with these degrees.[1]   This is a highly tentative estimate as there are many who remain invisible even to theologians in their own country.

(1) In the last decade or so, what is one theological development in your region and/or country that you consider promising?

For professional women theologians, one significant development is the founding in 2002 of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia, an association of Catholic women doing theology in Asia. This has provided a venue for them to engage other women theologians within Asia, peer-review each other’s works, and publish to reach a broader audience. It is precisely the aim of EWA to encourage Asian Catholic women to engage in theological research, reflection and writing, and provide a support community for them.

Through its publication of six anthologies that were fruits of its biennial gatherings (2002-2011), EWA has given visibility to Asian women’s theologizing.[2] In addition to this, it has initiated videoconferencing some sessions of the past two conferences to five theological institutions in the US in 2011 and in Europe and Africa as well in 2013.

EWA facilitated the founding of the Myanmar Ecclesia of Women in Asia in 2005, and in coordination with EATWOT members in the Philippines, the informal forum of Bay-i Theologians of the Philippines (2011).[3] It has a synergistic relation with the Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF); all the active Indian members of EWA are active members too of the IWTF.[4] It has initiated contacts with the Association of Catholic Korean Women theologians. Like most of these other women theologian societies, EWA is not only composed of professional women theologians but includes also women doing theology in the pastoral and grassroot contexts. On the one hand, this membership policy of these various groups may have been conditioned by the limited number of professional women theologians[5] but on the other hand, the mixed membership helps mutually enrich the theologizing on various levels, as they draw from each other’s theological reflections.

(2) As you think about the coming decades, what do you foresee as a significant opportunity for the development of theology in your region and/or country?

The more dialogical approach of Pope Francis is an opportunity for Asian women theologians to push for a greater recognition of their role in the Church. In Evangelii Gaudium, he underlines, “I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church (EG 103).[6]

In Asian countries where Christians are a minority, it is very difficult for women with PhD in Theology and related studies to get a teaching and research employment in Catholic universities or theological institutions. We have heard personal stories of women theologians in some countries teaching without pay until they get tenured.[7] In the Philippines which is a predominantly Catholic country, those with theological degrees can be employed full-time, teaching mostly undergraduate students in the many Catholic universities. However, only a handful of women are employed full-time in seminaries/theological institutions.

It is thus understandable why relatively very few Asian women would opt to specialize in Theology or related studies. In India, Fr. Arulsevalm Rayappan notes that even if the religious sisters outnumber the priests four times, the number of those who have specialized in the ecclesiastical sciences is almost insignificant, especially when compared to sisters (and laity in general) who specialized in other fields even including higher mathematics.[8]

On the part of the future clergy, the 2004 Benchmark Survey of Philippine Seminaries show that though seminarians no longer believe in the natural inequality of women and men, “[a]lmost half of respondents (44.8%) are undecided or gave no response when asked to describe their relations with females who are involved in their training,” and are likewise “undecided” or “gave no response” when queried about equality of men and women in assuming leadership position in church organizations. They ranked women and gender issues as among the least of their concerns.[9]

If the Pope is serious about expanding the role of women, he must institute gender mainstreaming[10] in the Church on all levels. With regards the role of academic women theologians, the following can be proposed. First, seminaries/theological institutions should employ at least one full-time woman theology professor (and much better if she