I spent last Thursday and Friday in Baltimore taking part in the Mid-Atlantic Regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion, a meeting that I have been a part of now for three consecutive years. Just as a bit of advertising, there are always some very interesting papers. In any case, the keynote address this year was delivered by the distinguished and well-known liberation and feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether (hereafter, RRR).
It is always interesting when you get the chance to engage with a famed theologian in person as opposed to through their work and reputation only. For instance, RRR looks like your grandmother, or any grandmother that you might run into during your church’s coffee hour. But then she steps up to the podium and the incredible breadth of her knowledge and her grasp of the literature involved astounds. If my memory serves me, there is a passage in Scripture that talks about the possibility of entertaining angles unawares; we should all also be careful lest we entertain famed theologians unawares.
This has never happened to me (at least that I know of), but it puts me in mind of a story I once heard. Once upon a time, there was a MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary eating dinner alone at a table in Mackay (the cafeteria). An old man randomly sits down and begins to eat with our student and engage him in conversation about his studies. Along the way, the old man asked the student if he would be attending the lecture being held that evening by T. F. Torrance, and what the students thought of Torrance’s work. Our student had not planned to attend the lecture, but ended up going because the old man had pricked his interest. Imagine his chagrin when he realized what all of you, my very clever readers, have certainly by now realized – that he had just unknowingly had dinner with Tom Torrance!
Anyway, here are a few notes on RRR’s talk. They are not comprehensive, but should give the picture.
“Comparative Perspectives on Ecofeminism” - (3.26.2009)
Ecofeminism is about trying to see the interconnection between the domination of women and that of nature, and it goes on at the ideological (women seen as closer to nature, etc.) and socio-economical (women relegated to non public realms, etc.) levels. The former level provides the superstructure for the latter. Such analysis could be extended to class, racial, and ethnic levels. All this is connected to the Greek / Western tradition that tends to separate mind from matter. The Western view, as opposed to other patriarchal and urban cultures like Hinduism in India and Confucianism in China, does not retain a notion of nature’s sacredness.
There are three basic feminist responses to this state of affairs. First, some reject the association of nature with womanhood as a reproduction of the basic patriarchal hierarchy and playing into its ideology. Women are said to be just as rational, etc., as men. In fact, what occurs is that an elite class of women is made equal to men on male terms. Second, some affirm the connection and want women to claim their affinity with nature and push them to take the lead in caring for the earth. A third group (where RRR places herself) rejects such essentialist pictures and sees the connection as a social construct that naturalizes women and feminizes nature. If there is a connection, the connection arises from women’s social location in these realms in patriarchal culture.
RRR spends the bulk of her time comparing two emerging ecofeminist perspectives, one from India and one from Brazil. Both critique traditional western views on epistemology and the self. Underlying this critique is a serve for a more sustainable, more viable society. The search for an alternative vision represents a longing for finding ways of relating in a more sustainable way and of seeing nature as the living source of connectedness. RRR identifies some commonalities amongst ecofeminism:
(1) Tendency to reject or be disinterested in notions of a kind of transcendent divine self outside of nature. This builds on Paul’s notion of the God in whom we live and move and have our being; this is God as life-giving matrix.
(2) This view of God both sustains the renewal of life and motivates us to struggle against its destruction and distortion, which “threatens the very fabric of planetary life.”
(3) RRR’s favorite way of talking about this God and this sort of life is ‘Wisdom’.