Tribune

The Eco-Feminist Theology
of Rosemary Radford Ruether

03 September 2022

Theologian, Catholic, feminist, and eco-feminist. When she passed away May 21, at the age of 85, Rosemary Radford Ruether, an American from Minnesota, was remembered for her convinction, almost stubborn, commitment as a scholar-activist. A leading figure among the great progressive theologians of the second half of the 20th century, along with Mary Daly and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.

A woman, and a pioneer, who dedicated her life to bringing together theology and the fight against any form of subordination, whether that be of peoples, of minorities, of women, or of nature. In addition, she did this not only through her writing and teaching, but by building networks of relationships in universities and in the social sphere, and collaborating with men and women of different religions; moreover, she committed herself to facilitating with scholarships, so women from different countries of the world could study, and promote the reflection of feminist theologians from developing countries in particular.

Rosemary Radford Ruether’s life is an exemplary story.

After graduating in 1960 with a degree in ancient history from the Claremont Graduate School, she completed a doctorate in classical studies and patristics in 1965 with a thesis on Gregory of Nazianzus. Then, she embarked on an academic career that led her in her later years to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, where she taught feminist theology until 2005.

As a consequence of her study of history and the experience gained immediately after 1965 (in the summer of that same year she worked for civil rights in Mississippi and in the following decade taught at the Black Howard University School of Religion in Washington) Radford Ruether elaborated, starting from the need to repair the horrors of the past, a reconsideration of the bond of sorority and fraternity with all that is defined as “other” in order to liberate it.

In fact, women bear on themselves and on their history the experience of alienation and subjugation at the hands of a patriarchy that has made such a system essential.  To emancipate oneself from such a way of thinking means to liberate not only oneself but above all, in view of an eco-feminist theology, to work for the building of relationships based on cooperation and reciprocity between human beings and between these and nature.

“My Catholicism is the progressive and feminist wing of the liberation theology of Catholicism”, she wrote.

Her desire was, in fact, to make theology not only an intellectual endeavor but also a practical support for Christian and non-Christian communities, by providing heuristic tools - that is, models for understanding reality - and methodological tools for building a world in which equality and justice for all are realised. In her 47 published books and some 600 articles, she dealt with topics such as the early church, anti-Semitism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US history, the environmental crisis, and first and foremost, as a guiding thread, the theological contribution of women seen through the eyes of a feminist theologian. Her texts, Sexism and God-Talk: Towards a Feminist Theology (1983), which has unfortunately never been translated into Italian, and “Gaia and God - An Eco-Feminist Theology for the Healing of the Earth” (1992) are essential reading.

by Maria Bianco
Theologian, Hurtado Centre - Gregorian University