Rosemary Radford Ruether has arguably been the most prominent feminist voice within Christian theology. Ruether’s feminist orientation focuses on the power relations between male and female, criticizing the male bias within Christian thought and theology that, firstly, asserts a dualism – a rigid, unchangeable difference – between male and female, and secondly, asserts a hierarchy of power between the two, claiming the superiority of the male over the female. According to this dominator hierarchy view, women are inferior and subordinate to men, and this gendering and inequity is how God created human being. The dualism and subordination extends into a host of further associations that have become characteristic of the dominant western Christian worldview: reason/emotion, intellectual/sexual, mind/body, active/passive. Christian monotheism has historically been a male monotheism (in this regard, similar to both Judaism and Islam as the other major monotheistic religions).

Ruether recognized early in her career that the dominator hierarchy view was not only evident in the gendered power relations of traditional Christianity. These extended further into its understanding of nature and the earth. Like the dualism between male and female, there is a dualism between human being and nature; human being as “higher and better than” nature, is entitled to dominate it as inferior and subordinate. This dualism too is extended into a whole host of further hierarchies: spirit vs. (and over) matter, pure vs. polluted, free thinking vs. passively determined, conscious intelligence vs. unthinking instinct. In arguing for the reach of the dominator hierarchy view extending beyond gendered power relations into our anthropocentric misunderstanding of, and damaged relation to, the natural world, Ruether is clearly an ecofeminist.

Beyond gender and nature, her critique of dominator hierarchy extends into how the privileging of male & human being vs. and over female & nature has manifested historically in colonialism, racism, nationalism, and militarism. In every case there is an “other” to what is powerful that is constructed as inferior and denigrated, that is rendered invisible, that is exploited and subjugated. The colonized, the indigenous, the other race, the other nation, the enemy, are in every case dehumanized as “them” over against a superior “us”. Thus Ruether views social and economical inequalities and oppressions through an ecofeminist lens and understands race, class, and ethnic injustice as an extension of the original dominator hierarchy that was applied to denigrate femaleness, women, the Earth, and nature.

Sallie McFague (1933-2019) is another prominent Christian ecofeminist. Other prominent non-Christian ecofeminists are Starhawk, Carol Christ, and Vandana Shiva. Both Starhawk and Carol Christ draw heavily from “pagan” traditions for affirming an alternative understanding of the relation of humans to the earth and of male to female, while Vandana Shiva draws from her Hindu tradition.

Learn more:

Christian Ecofeminism Today

About Starhawk

Vandana Shiva: Navdanya

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