Race, Culture, and Identity
The Merits and Limits of a Gendered Epistemology: Muslim Women and the Politics of Knowledge Production
At their essence, feminist epistemologies argue that traditional male epistemologies have systematically removed the voice of women from knowledge production, effectively barring women from being “knowers”. How does the gendering of knowledge affect those with a particular perspective of viewing the world? This article explores the merits and limitations of a gendered epistemology by employing standpoint theory as a tool of analysis. Through the lens and context of the intersection of religion, gender, and Western academia, I trace the politics of knowledge production as it relates to Muslim women working within an Islamic paradigm. This article first explores gender as a category of analysis that came out of feminist epistemologies. It discusses the merits of allowing gender to be the primary and focal point of our knowledge, and consequently, how it has been employed within a particular Islamic paradigm. By drawing on the works of postcolonial theory, it then considers the limitations of such a process. The gendered epistemologies associated with Western secular thought – by placing gender as the primary category of analysis – have led to a uni-dimensional and monolithic understanding of what it means to be “gendered” for “Third World women”, particularly Muslim women. I interrogate this notion of a gendered epistemology as the only way of knowing by suggesting that a cross-cultural and intersectional “set of perspectives that place the category of gender within the category of other frameworks of ‘difference’” (Nye, 2003: 97) – in this case religion – pursues a more nuanced approach that is attune to a variety of epistemologies rather than a single unified gendered epistemology.
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