I’m currently developing a book that considers how theological and ethical considerations in architectural design can define good architecture. My book discusses five virtues related to the architectural design process that promote human participation in bringing out God’s intention of flourishing for humanity and creation. Those five virtues (or values) are: empathy, creativity, discernment, beauty, and sustainability. In the book, I’ll explain how these virtues orient design tasks to the social and ethical aims of architecture.
In this virtual space, I want to have a discussion about what these virtues mean from a feminist standpoint. In my writing, I draw from theological ethics, architectural theory, and feminist theory to emphasize community discernment and participation. It’s fitting, then, to claim opportunities in my work to acknowledge the feminists who have influenced me while also opening up the dialogue to the feminists in this community who continue to inspire and guide me to do my best work.
As I’ve been writing and reading about writing, I’ve spent time considerable time thinking about creativity and the nature of the creative process. What purpose does creativity serve? Why should we honor creativity? Dorothee Soelle helped me understand that human creativity is a form of co-creation with God. She’s not the first–nor hopefully the last–to claim that humanity participates in the ongoing task of shaping our world, a process Christians believe is initiated by God, the Creator, or the Trinity. Yet Soelle so powerfully helped me understand that co-creation must be a task of liberation if it is to be relevant, meaningful, or beneficial to our world.
Many of our contemporary issues and debates result from destruction and division. Environmental degradation and crisis, continual warfare and violence, racism, economic exploitation, sexism, LGBT bias and exclusion, and most biomedical ethical issues like abortion and euthanasia concern the creation of life, destruction of life, and devaluing of some lives over others. Soelle, a postwar German theologian, suggested that liberation is the proper response to the crises that confront us. We address these crises by affirming our role as co-creators. She explains:
Creative power is something we all have but often ignore or relinquish. My creative power is my power to renew the world for someone or for a community. Through it I attempt to rebuild the house of life out of the ruins in which we now live. – p. 37, To Work and To Love
Soelle’s book To Work and to Love: A Theology of Creation was published in 1984, so it may not be familiar to some contemporary feminists. It originated from a series of lectures entitled “Creation, Work, and Sexuality” delivered at Union Theological Seminary in the spring of 1983. As the title suggests, Soelle develops a new understanding of the Christian doctrine of creation that addresses the nature of work and labor, the image of God and humanity, reconciliation with nature, and human sexuality.
This feminist thinker revealed the interconnected realities of creative power, creation, and sexuality to me. She exposed the sins of alienation and exploitation that maintain power imbalances in our work patterns, our love lives, our economic structures, and our political arrangements. And so she convinced me that liberation is where our creative work must begin.
Artists embrace the call to be creative. Creativity is absolutely essential to the practice and discipline of any kind of art. Creativity is the impulse that drives designers of every sort: architectural designers, graphic designers, industrial designers. But creativity does not belong to the professionals alone. Each one of us is creative when we shape the world around us. When we make something possible that was not possible before, we are exercising our creativity. Whether the task before us is as common as preparing a meal or as uncommon as composing the musical score to a summer blockbuster, humans continually create and shape the world around us.
When we consciously attempt to reconcile people with one another, with the divine, or with nature, we are bringing the task of liberation into our role as co-creators. Liberation, in a theological sense, is about freedom from all kinds of sins, especially structural sins. When we use love as a force to bridge divides of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, we ground our liberative work in the highest virtue. Soelle’s writings reaffirmed for me that feminists have an important role to play in co-creating our world by challenging problematic conceptions of creation and work and love. We have the ability and responsibility to create new ways of being in the world that are more just.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the risks associated with creativity. As writer Julia Cameron points out, there are so many false myths and toxic beliefs about artists, so I chose to begin this series of posts by affirming the necessity and value of artists and others who do creative work. Dorothee Soelle was not the first theologian or feminist writer I encountered who influenced my view of creativity. But her work has touched me profoundly, and I cited her in my essay about creation as creative activity in Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice edited by Jenny Daggers and Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Other feminists and womanists who inspire and influence my views on creativity include bell hooks, Emilie Townes, Deborah Haynes, and Angela Y. Davis. I look forward to discussing them. In the meantime, please comment below. What do you think about creativity? Which feminists or religious thinkers have influenced your views?
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.
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