Ruether, Rosemary Radford

views updated May 14 2018

RUETHER, Rosemary Radford

Born 2 November 1936, St. Paul, Minnesota

Daughter of Robert and Rebecca Ord Radford; married Herman J. Ruether, 1957; children: Rebecca, David, Mary Elizabeth

An educator, theologian, author, and lecturer, Rosemary Radford Ruether holds degrees from Scripts College (B.A., 1958) and Claremont Graduate School (M.A., 1960; Ph.D., 1965). Ruether's academic appointments have included positions at Howard University in theology and church history; Harvard Divinity School as lecturer in Roman Catholic studies; Yale Divinity School, and currently at both Northwestern University's graduate school and the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, where she is Georgia Harkness Professor of Theology. Ruether is also on the editorial board of Christianity and Crisis.

Ruether's written work explores the multifaceted area of theology and its relationship to contemporary society. Whether she is writing about sexist ideologies, the radical kingdom, anti-Semitism, or the eschatological community, Ruether attempts to destroy restrictive theological attitudes and reconstruct more liberating ones.

In The Church Against Itself: An Inquiry into the Conditions of Historical Existence for the Eschatological Community (1967), Ruether asserts the importance of the pilgrim nature of the Catholic church. The dialectic she poses examines the unresolved and timeless themes of institution and person, being and becoming, and receiving and giving in the context of the theological challenge presented by Vatican II.

Similarly, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (1974) calls for a complete rethinking of Christian theology vis-à-vis the Jews. Beginning with the pre-Christian classical world, Ruether traces the Jewish experience with the gentile world to the Holocaust of the 20th century. Her thesis, a critique of the "Christian Anti-Jewish Myth," looks to a Judeo-Christian tradition exorcised of the "Christian imperialist myth." Faith and Fratricide repeats Ruether's basic argument for an intellectual and human environment that encourages a radical approach to theological study.

New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (1975) explores the ideologies that support sexist behavior and the companion social structures (class and race) that are tending to the "denouement of the entire human project." This series of essays reveals the realism that is another quality of Ruether's work. Ruether addresses a wide range of complex and varied topics and appeals for a shared search for needed solutions.

Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (1979) is a collection of essays coedited with Eleanor McLaughlin. Ruether again asks for the destruction of false mythologies and the creation of new realities. By examining periods and figures in history to show women have made their mark in the male world, the book corrects the notion that women have always been denied leadership positions in churches and synagogues because of sex. As Ruether points out in the introduction, most people have been ignorant of the responsible roles of women in churches because of the "reconstruction of early church history from the point of view of male dominance,.…a social and theological mythology…that justifies the present ecclesiastic structures of male power."

Ruether, as a Catholic feminist liberation theologian, has three distinct strands to scholarship. First is the historical work of documentation, retrieval, and revision; second is her work toward the development of a feminist systematic theology; and third is her interest in the connection between Christianity and anti-Semitism and the religious and political issues of the Middle East. Of the six anthologies Ruether has published since 1980, four have contributed to her work of feminist historical retrieval. With Rosemary Skinner Keller, she edited the three-volume Women and Religion in America spanning the colonial period through 1968. Each volume contains essays with selected documents that address women's religious experiences in the designated time period with attention to various denominational, racial, and ethnic specificities. In 1985 Ruether published Womanguides, a compilation of historical and contemporary documents by and about women, including items that had existed either at the margins of Western Christian theological writing, such as the work of black Shaker eldress Rebecca Cox Jackson, or, like Aristotle's statement on "woman as defective male," had been central in proliferating patriarchal definitions. Ruether also included several contemporary stories she hoped would encourage other women to record their experiences as a legacy for future generations. In 12 chapters, each with its own introduction, Ruether organized the documents into theological topics that span systematic theology.

Women-Church also appeared in 1985. The first part of the book is a descriptive essay of the women-church movement, a network of women gathering in small groups to pray, reflect, discuss, and act. The second part is a collaborative effort to record liturgies devised by women for various occasions, such as creating community and healing wounds due to patriarchal violence, and life passages.

During the 1980s Ruether wrote three topical theological volumes reflecting her interest in the revision of systematic theology. To Change the World (1981) develops Christological themes based on an analysis of political theology from Europe, Latin-American liberation theology, and feminism. This work also relates Christology to her long-standing interests in Jewish-Christian relations and ecology. In Disputed Questions: On Being a Christian (1982), her most autobiographical piece, Ruether connects her personal experience to her investigation of the credibility of Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, feminism, and politics and religion in the U.S. and delineates the critical dimensions of each of these issues. Contemporary Roman Catholicism (1987) examines three critical issues for the church at the end of the 20th century: "1) the challenge of democratic values and human rights in the church's institutional life; 2) the demands of women for full participation in the church's ministry, and the crisis over the church's teachings on sexual morality; and 3) the challenge of the Third World liberation struggles and the church's alignment with the poor."

Ruether's feminist systematic theological reflections culminate in Sexism and God-Talk (1983). Here, Ruether uses a topical outline similar to Womanguides but also including Christology and Mariology. She follows a consistent methodological pattern of tracing the history of the topic and calling the question for the contemporary situation. Noted for expanding the resources used in theological reflection, including pre-Christian, pagan, heterodox, and post-Christian sources, Ruether's goal is to undo the dichotomous thinking that theology has inherited through Western philosophy and to unravel the deformations of the prophetic tradition at the heart of the biblical message.

After establishing her interest in anti-Semitism in her early work Faith and Fratricide (1974), Ruether collaborated with her spouse, Herman J. Ruether, a political scientist and former acting director of the Palestinian Human Rights Campaign, on Wrath of Jonah (1989). Convinced that an accurate historical portrayal of the Israel—Palestine conflict is key to a just settlement of the tensions, the Ruethers discuss the attitudes of exclusivity in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the development of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism; and the Christian relations to Judaism, the Holocaust, and Zionism. Not without its critics, it was generally well reviewed. Ruether provided a brief synopsis of the historical analysis in "The Occupation Must End" in Beyond Occupation, an anthology she edited with Marc H. Ellis. Her concluding essay, "Beyond Anti-Semitism and Philo-Semitism," urged the distinction between anti-Semitism and critical analysis/ criticism of Israeli policy.

Faith and Intifada: Palestinian. Christian Voices (1992), an anthology of papers given at the First International Symposium on Palestinian Liberation Theology, includes Ruether's essay "Western Christianity and Zionism," in which she discusses the deficits in "four key religious arguments that are still operative in linking Christians in America to Israel."

Ruether teamed with Rosemary Skinner Keller for In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writing (1995), a continuation of their earlier work Women and Religion. This volume is a readable documentary history of women's religious writings with commentary by the editors. It includes material from the earlier work along with new material, bringing the history up to the mid-1990s. It is an ecumenical work, ever mindful of the religious diversity in the United States, and includes introductions to evangelical, Pentecostal, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish traditions in America.

Women Healing Earth (1996) is a collection of writings by 14 women of Latin American, Asian, and African heritage on eco-theological issues. Ruether spent several years studying the environmental crisis from religious and feminist perspectives and suggests that eco-advocates in the North have much to learn from the experiences of those in the South. Ruether remarks: "Deforestation means women walking twice as far each day to gather wood.… Pollution means children in shantytowns dying of dehydration from unclean water."

In Women and Redemption (1998), Ruether examines gender in theological anthropology, making an original and important contribution to feminist tradition. This volume traces the history of the theological paradigms of "women and redemption" and the implications of them for women's interests. In particular, Ruether deals with a major shift in the Christian model of gender and redemption in the 16th and 17th centuries that was based on a view of women as equal to men and that condemned the subordination of women as a sinful act. Based on extensive travel and networking with women around the world, Ruether is one of the most competent interpreters of international feminist reconstruction of gender and redemption.

Other Works:

Gregory of Nazianzus, Rhetor and Philosopher (1969). The Radical Kingdom: The Western Experience of Messianic Hope (1970). Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power (1972). Mary: The Feminine Face of the Church (1977). The Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (1983). Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992). God and the Nations (with Douglas J. Hall, 1995). Introducing Redemption in Christian Feminism (1998).


Ramsay, W., Four Modern Prophets: Walter Rauschenbuscb, Gustavo Gutierrez, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosemary Radford Ruether (1986). Snyder, M. H., The Christology of Rosemary Radford Ruether: A Critical Introduction (1988). Vaughan, J., Sociality, Ethics, and Social Change: A Critical Appraisal of Reinhold Niebuhr's Ethics in the Light of Rosemary Radford Ruether's Works (1983).

Reference works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Booklist (15 Apr.1995). Interpretation (Apr. 1999). National Catholic Reporter (2 Feb. 1996).




Rosemary Radford Ruether

views updated May 18 2018

Rosemary Radford Ruether

Rosemary Radford Ruether (born 1936) was an internationally acclaimed church historian, theologian, writer, and teacher specializing in the area of women and religion. She was a major voice in raising a feminist critique of the traditionally male field of Christian theology.

Rosemary Radford was born on November 2, 1936, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Rebecca Cresap Ord and Robert Armstrong Radford. In 1957 she married Herman J. Ruether. They had three children: Rebecca, David, and Mimi. She resided in Evanston, Illinois.

Her collegiate career began at Scripps College where she received her B.A. in philosophy and history in 1958. At Claremont Graduate School she earned both her M.A. in ancient history in 1960 and her Ph.D. in classics and patristics in 1965. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled Gregory Nazianzus Rhetor and Philosopher. During her graduate work at Claremont, she was a Danforth fellow in 1960-1961 and held a Kent fellowship from 1962 to 1965.

Ruether was the Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a faculty member in the joint doctoral program with Northwestern University. She previously taught at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles (1964-1965) and Howard University School of Religion (1965-1975). She was a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Boston College, Sir George Williams University, and Heythrop College, University of London. She was also a Danforth Lecturer at the Universities of Lund and Uppsala in Sweden. She held honorary degrees from St. Olaf's College, Minnesota; St. Xavier's College, Chicago; Wittenburg College, Ohio; Emmanuel College, Boston; Hamilton College, New York; Walsh College, Ohio; and Dennison College, Ohio.

Political Action

Active beginning in the early 1960s in civil rights and peace movements, and later in the feminist movement, Ruether was thoroughly Catholic and radically reformist in her scholarly approach to various topics essential to contemporary religious discussions. Her works in areas such as the history of women in Western religions, liberation theology, and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity were based on theological and historical data, utilized methods taken from the different liberation theologies, and drew upon a variety of personal experiences of and reflections on the condition of powerlessness. During the 1960s she worked in the Watts section of Los Angeles and with Delta Ministry in Mississippi. She traveled worldwide, including trips to Asia, Nicaragua, and the Middle East.

Ruether felt the church had two parallel traditions, one which identified with the state and institutions of the church and was inherently conservative, and another which traditionally defended the downtrodden. Feminist theology, liberation theology, and other forms of social activism fell solidly in the tradition of what she called prophetic faith. Indeed, she said, liberal causes, historically as well as currently, were often spearheaded by groups with strong religious convictions. Far from being on a political/religious fringe, Ruether felt she was firmly in one of two parallel mainstreams.

In a 1986 article in America, Ruether said Catholicism faced three major challenges: that of democratic values and human rights in the institution of the church, reacting to feminism and a crisis of sexual morality in church teaching, and responding to third world liberation struggles. "How the Catholic community responds to these three challenges will determine in large part whether Catholicism will be able to use its enormous human resources as a witness for truth and justice in this critical period of human history or whether it will lose its creative leadership and its opportunity for both its own renewal and its witness to the world." she wrote.


One of the most prolific and readable Roman Catholic theologians, she was the author of nearly 500 articles and more than 30 books. She also contributed to numerous anthologies. Ruether's work represents a significant contribution to contemporary theology, especially in the area of women and the church. Among her best known works are The Church Against Itself (1967); Communion Is Life Together (1968); Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power (1972); New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (1975); and Mary—the Feminine Face of the Church (1977). With Eugene Bianchi she co-authored From Machismo to Mutuality: Essays on Sexism and Woman-Man Liberation (1976).

Acting as both editor and contributor, Ruether produced two major anthologies on women and Western religious history: Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (1974) and Women of Spirit (1979) with Eleanor McLaughlin. In collaboration with Rosemary Skinner Keller, Ruether published a three volume docu-history, Women and Religion in America (1986). A contributing editor to Christianity and Crisis and The Ecumenist, Ruether was also published in such periodicals as America, The Christian Century, Commonweal, Cross Currents, Dialog, Explor, Fellowship, National Catholic Reporter, Theological Studies, and Theology Today.

Both the theory and the practice of religion came under her scrutiny as she spoke out against theologically based discrimination. For example, in Faith and Fratricide: The Theoretical Roots of Anti-Semitism (1979), she examined traditional Christology and discovered that it is inherently anti-Semitic in both theory and application. In To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (1981), Ruether's method was that of deconstructing traditional categories; in a later related work, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983), she set out to reconstruct a new theology based on previously excluded women's sources and experience. In two later books, Womanguides: Readings Toward a Feminist Theology (1985) and Woman-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (1986), she moved beyond criticism and reconstruction of the past, seeking to create a new culture through women's stories and liturgies. In The Wrath of Jonah (1989), a book she co-authored with her husband, she cast her eye toward the origins of Zionism, Christian support for Zionism, and attempts to accommodate both Israeli and Palestinian claims to disputed lands in the Middle East.

Other recent books by this much-published author include Contemporary Roman Catholicism: Crises and Challenges (1987); Disputed Questions: On Being a Christian (1989); Beyond Occupation: American Jewish, Christian and Palestinian Voices for Peace, edited by Marc H. Ellis (1990); Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992); A Democratic Catholic Church: The Reconstruction of Roman Catholicism, edited with Eugene C. Bianchi (1992); 'The Woman Will Overcome the Warrior': A Dialogue With the Christian/Feminist Theology of Rosemary Radford Ruether (1994); God and the Nations, with Douglas John Hall (1995); At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Rosemary Radford Ruether, written with Merton and edited by Mary Tardiff (1995); and In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writing, edited by Rosemary Skinner Keller (1995).

Ruether was a member of numerous professional associations, including the Society for Religion in Higher Education, the American Theological Association, and the Society for Arts, Religion and Culture. She served with Ross Kraemer and Lorine Getz as national co-chair of the Women's Caucus: Religious Studies and was a board member of the Program of Women and Religion at Harvard Divinity School and of Chicago Catholic Women.

Further Reading

Rosemary Radford Ruether is listed in the Who's Who of American Women. No biographies of Ruether have appeared to date. However, she published an autobiographical essay under the title "Beginnings: An Intellectual Autobiography," in Journeys, Gregory Baum, ed., (1975). An introduction to her work by Mary Hembrow Snyder appeared in 1988, entitled Christology of Rosemary Radford Ruether: A Critical Introduction.

Among her hundreds of articles were these cited above: "Crises and Challenges of Catholicism Today" in America (March 1, 1986); and "Jerusalem's Future" in The Christian Century (Feb. 28, 1996). □

Ruether, Rosemary Radford

views updated May 17 2018

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. A Roman Catholic theologian at the forefront of feminist theology. Ruether has written extensively on the question of Christian credibility, addressing issues of ecclesiology and its engagement with Church–world conflicts; Jewish–Christian relations; christology; politics and religion in America; feminism and feminist theology; and God and creation. Two of her books, Sexism and God-Talk (1983), and Woman-guides: Readings Towards Feminist Theology (1985) have served as key texts in her own teaching. She has been involved in writing over twenty-two books and at least 500 articles. Her other most notable works are Gaia and God (1992); Women-Church … (1986); New Woman, New Earth … (1975).