Rosemary Radford Ruther, a leading theologian who brought feminist, racist and environmentalist approaches to bear on the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, died on May 21 in Pomona, California. She was 85 years old.
His daughter Mimi Ruther confirmed death at the hospital, but did not give a reason.
In the late 1960s, Rosemary Ruther was a prominent figure in a wave of progressive female theologians who, inspired by the feminist and civil rights movements, embraced the church’s traditional male-centered doctrines.
Ruther, whose academic training was in Patristics, the study of early Church writings, argued that in the first few centuries after Christ’s death, the Catholic Church split into two parallel and often opposing tracks: Rome and the global grassroots of the faith. based institutional hierarchy.
“Catholicism to me is a community of a billion people who represent many things, so I don’t identify with the Pope,” she said in a 2010 interview with Conscious, a liberal Catholic magazine. “My Catholicism is the progressive, feminist emancipation theology branch of Catholicism.
He lost his first teaching job at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in 1964 to write an article for The Saturday Evening Post in favor of birth control. And she remained staunchly in favor of abortion rights, insisting that a truly “pro-life” status meant giving women control over their lives and bodies.
His interests and intelligence were wide-spread, including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the climate crisis, and antisemitism among early Christians. He wrote or edited nearly 40 books and hundreds of articles, ranging from dense academic papers to current-events columns in an eclectic publication, The National Catholic Reporter.
But it was at the intersection of feminist theory and Christianity where she made her most lasting impression—notably, in her book “Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology,” published in 1983.
Ruther argued that beginning with the Gospel of St. John, Christian leaders defined their faith, and that all Catholics should adhere to the doctrines, through the experiences and perspectives of men—the teachings of Christ in the process. distorting the true meaning of.
Her project, she insisted, was not to replace one point of view with another, but to dismantle the singular patriarchal, hierarchical perspective that dominated church doctrine in favor of a pluralistic one, who had experienced a wide variety of adjusted to.
“The point of feminist theology, accordingly, is not only that women should have the right to name their experience,” she wrote, “but that the concept and order of words such as experience, humanity, and universal rights can be questioned. is and should be.”
Although she held important academic positions, including chair of the Department of Religion at Howard University and an endowed chair at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., she was never fully accepted by Catholic or academic religious establishments.
Not that he didn’t mind. She was more interested in working with women activists in developing countries, especially Latin America. The result was a legacy that was not overlooked by the founding of the Church, but was honored within progressive Catholic rank and file.
“In my view, she would rank with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas; she had that ability,” Mary Hunt, co-director of the Women’s Coalition for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, said in an interview. “What he did would rank with his work.”
Rosemary Radford was born on 2 November 1936 in St. Paul. His father, Robert Radford, was a civil engineer, and his mother, Rebecca Cresep (Ord) Radford, was a secretary. After her father died at the age of 12, Rosemary moved with her mother and two sisters to the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.
There she attended a school run by progressive nuns and found herself surrounded by her mother’s circle, in her 2013 memoir, “My Quest for Hope and Meaning,” she called a “matriccentric enclave.”
He joined Scripps College in Pomona with the intention of studying art. But after taking a class with Robert Palmer, a classics professor, he switched majors, graduating in 1958 with a degree in classics. A year earlier, he met a fellow student, Herman J. Ruther, who was studying political science.
Together with her daughter Mimi, she is survived by Hermann Ruther; another daughter, Rebecca; his son David; and two grandchildren.
Rosemary Ruther remained in Pomona for graduate school, earning a master’s degree in Classics and Roman History from the Claremont Graduate School in 1960, and a doctorate in Classics and Petristics from the Claremont School of Theology in 1965.
By then, she had given birth to their three children, and had lost her job at Immaculate Heart College; This was the last time she would teach at a Catholic institution. After a summer as a civil rights activist in Mississippi, she accepted a teaching position at Howard University, a historically black institution.
While in Mississippi, she first encountered the early stages of the Black Power movement. She was totally attached to it at Howard.
“What you experienced in Mississippi was looking at the United States from the southern black side,” she told Prudence magazine. “You see white supremacy and racism. It’s always been very important to me in terms of social justice: that you put yourself on the other side and you look at things from the context of the oppressed.”
Off campus, she participated in anti-war and civil rights protests, and more than once she ended up in prison. But her scholarship was of sufficient potential that she was invited to Harvard Divinity School as a visiting professor in 1972, with the understanding that she was vying for a potential faculty job.
It was here that he met Hunt, a first year student. Hunt recalled that Ruther was shocked to find her in the cafeteria wearing a purple pantsuit and carrying a briefcase with a sticker reading “Question Authority.”
It was all too much for the faculty of Harvard Divinity School, which at the time was dominated by white male Protestants. Rejected, she moved to Garrett, located on the campus of Northwestern University. It was a fertile place: she lived for about 30 years and wrote her most important work there.
She retired in 2002, but did not stop teaching. She and her husband moved to San Diego, and he taught classes at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.
During her long career, Ruther was often asked why she remained Catholic when many of her fellow feminist theologians had left the church in despair.
She told US Catholic Magazine in 1985, “As a feminist, I can give only one reason to remain in the Catholic Church: to try to change it.” “If you leave you’re never going to change it. That’s why I stick around.”