Women and Redemption : A Theological History. 2nd ed. By Rosemary Radford Ruether.Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2011.
Having been critically impacted by the work of Rosemary Radford Ruether, I was anxious for the release of the second edition of her crucial book, Women and Redemption: A Theological History. Redesigned with illustrative material, research questions, and suggested reading for further research, as well as the addition of a new chapter exploring recent developments in feminist theology, this text does not disappoint.
With this newest edition, Ruether acknowledges the ongoing journey in the field of feminist theology and emerging issues faced by women in religion and society. Examining the Christian claim of an inclusive and universal redemption in Christ, she traces paradigm shifts in understandings of gender over the last two millennia. Ruether offers an historical exploration of women and redemption in the first five chapters followed by a global survey of contemporary feminist theologies in the final four chapters, which includes a concluding section that gives attention to “Fourth World” feminisms and post-colonialism in an effort to “bring this volume up to date” (xvii).
Ruether’s historical investigation reveals a diverse range of interpretations in relation to women and redemption in early Christianity. The suggestion that gender hierarchy had been overcome within the “new humanity” by Jesus’ ministry led to a theology that assumed baptism restored unity and resulted in “no more male and female.” Women were particularly impacted by Jesus’ message and were crucial in the development of the early Christian movement. This being said, Paul and other early Christian leaders argued that the breakdown of gender hierarchy and full redemption was only achieved spiritually and thus maintained the subordination of women.
The patristic era produced Augustine’s claim that while women’s souls possessed the same potential for redemption as those of men, women were subordinate to men in their physical existence. This belief dominated Christian thought until the Reformation when medieval women mystics challenged Augustine’s claim and the relation of spirituality to maleness. In an effort to counter-balance the male symbols of God and Christ, emphasis was placed on Wisdom traditions’ female sophia.
Ruether explains that the first major paradigm shift was initiated by Agrippa of Nettesheim who argued that although men and women were created equal, females were superior to males. In the seventeenth century, the Quakers sought to further develop this idea and encouraged women’s participation in missionary work. However their sectarian views impeded the recognition of women’s full humanity within society. The American Abolitionist feminists, including the Grimke sisters and Lucretia Mott, concentrated on shifting the focus from the spiritual to the physical and demanded social equality among men and women creating the second major paradigm shift. According to these feminists, redemption occurred wherever justice and peace were reflected by social and legal relations.
Moving toward a contemporary focus, Ruether turns her attention to the Western European and North American movements and surveys the work of key feminist theologians from the 1960’s forward. She devotes space to a wide range of theological perspectives including Catholic, Protestant, Womanist, Mujerista, Latin American, African, and Asian. The new and concluding chapter in this second edition offers insight into the recent developments within the global Christian feminist theological movement. Ruether explains that “the most important new foci of interpretation in liberation and feminist theologies in the ensuing thirteen years has been post-colonialism” (xvii). She groups together the new voices utilizing a post-colonial lens in theological thought and biblical hermeneutics as “Fourth World” spokespersons, or “people from stateless, indigenous, and marginalized peoples within post-colonial, as well as First World nations” (232). An overview of post-colonialism and theology is offered followed by a survey of feminist theologies that have arisen from Fourth World contexts. Ruether examines Native Americans of North America, Australian Aborigines, Dalit, African Latin American, feminist Palestinian, and indecent theologies.
Particularly interesting is Ruether’s examination of Jean Zaru’s Palestinian liberation theology. This “Christian expression” of the struggle for justice by the Palestinian people is told through the lens of Zaru’s own experiences in Occupied with Non-Violence. She deconstructs the misrepresented Palestinian reality while calling for peace and justice on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian struggle. Likewise, Ruether’s analysis of Marcella Althaus-Reid’s indecent theology is compelling. This theology, which attributes indecency to anyone who challenges the status quo, is committed to “the vision of “preferential option” for the poor, while expanding awareness of the diversity of those who are poor” (247). Althaus-Reid calls us to expose theologies that enforce power systems that create poverty.
This second edition of Women and Redemption is a crucial work that will impact students and scholars alike. Its exhaustive content and redesigned format makes this text an excellent option for the classroom exploring women in religion. While student friendly, Women and Redemption is invaluable to scholars; it offers a comprehensive look at the paradigm shifts in understanding gender and redemption and its exploration of recent developments offers important insight into post-colonial perspectives in theology.
Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D. is the Professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont School of Theology. She is a founding mother of the feminist theology movement and author of multiple articles and books including Sexism and God-Talk, Gaia and God, Women Healing Earth, and Women and Redemption: A Theological History.