Christianity's Contribution to the Feminine Question

Interview With Angela Ales Bello of the Lateran University

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ROME, JUNE 2, 2005 ( Christianity has contributed decisively to the dignity of woman and her emancipation, says Angela Ales Bello, professor of history of contemporary philosophy the Lateran University.

Ales Bello’s two latest books are «On the Feminine: Writings of Anthropology and Religion» (published in Italian by Città Aperta) and «The Feminine between East and West: Religion, Literature, History, Culture» (published in Italian with Anna Maria Pezzella by Città Nuova).

The director of the Italian Center of Phenomenological Researches, Ales Bello shared some of her ideas with ZENIT.

Q: Two new books on the feminine question — why so much interest in woman and Christianity?

Ales Bello: Because I think that Western culture has given an extraordinary impulse to the feminine question, determined to a large extent by Christianity, in order to arrive at knowledge of the equal dignity of man and woman.

It is important to study this argument from the religious, philosophical and historical point of view, to endorse this project, to establish new relations between man and woman, and to delineate a dual anthropology.

Q: Is this dual anthropology proper to Christianity?

Ales Bello: Christianity has given us the theoretical guidelines to be able to speak about it. It has served an important historical and cultural function to teach it at the practical level and transform customs.

It is a function proper to Western culture. We speak of Western culture in reference to Europe, the Americas and Australia. As the West demonstrates, in regard to the assimilation of the fundamental principles of Christianity, the anthropological view is elaborated and the fate of the feminine is decided on the religious plane.

Q: There is no work that is prohibited to women. Edith Stein said it and you repeat it. What do your colleagues say about this?

Ales Bello: In general, it is difficult to have them share this view, but there is greater willingness and openness in cultural environments, though we must not be too optimistic.

The more acute problems are noted in other dimensions, at other levels. It is still something the West must address. From the theoretical point of view, much has already been done, also by the Catholic Church.

Q: Woman has been associated traditionally with life, but at times it seems that this connection with life distances her from the intellectual world, from the world of thought. According to you, this is a false position because life has been the topic, precisely, which has most stimulated thought.

Ales Bello: One can say that feminine nature is oriented to life, but this orientation is also conditioned by culture. Let’s not forget that woman has often been obliged to manifest only one dimension and has not had the possibility to develop other characteristics.

However, not all women — as not all men — are called to express themselves at the intellectual level. Each one has his or her own peculiarities, with equal dignity.

Equality has a very important juridical meaning, but this is not all. The dignity to which John Paul II referred is greater than equality, as it includes equality but has a stronger dimension.

Q: Therefore, is it necessary to insist on this dignity?

Ales Bello: I would say that there is a need to reflect more profoundly and to experience — because it is not only an intellectual fact — one’s dignity and to struggle for its recognition by all. Not with violence, but certainly with firmness, trying not to isolate oneself, but relating to others; ties can help.

Ecclesiastical institutions must also help women in this endeavor. I have always felt very comfortable in my university work. There are privileged people, such as me, who have had possibilities, but also others who do not have the same opportunities; therefore, we must give our testimony.

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