The concept of freedom in the work of Rosemary Radford Ruether
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Freedom is a central concept in contemporary theology. However, what freedom means is blurred and unclear. To try to understand more precisely, the thought of a theologian who stands at the mid-point of the debate has been studied. Rosemary Ruether is a modern feminist theologian who has considered Christian origins and the human quest of liberation in detail as well as in considerable breadth, touching upon a wide variety of concerns that contribute to her concept of freedom. In Ruether's work certain key themes emerge. She stresses the ideas of creation (as a continuum that includes redemption and new creation), gnostic and apocalyptic dualism, ecclesiology, eschatology, and christology. From these preoccupations arises Ruether's understanding of freedom as wholeness, mutuality, struggle towards the future, and participation in the people of the promise. For Ruether, freedom means salvation in the biblical and Hebraic sense. Although the theology of the women's movement covers a broad spectrum, Ruether's concept of freedom is consistent with that of most other feminist theologians. The feminist concept of freedom, as expressed by Ruether, has much in common with the socio-political liberation theology of Gustavo Gutierrez. Like Latin American theology, Ruether's theology is biased towards the oppressed; it is based on a corporate understanding of faith, and it proposes a new way of doing theology which arises out of the context. But Ruether does not regard Marxist analysis as sufficient, and sees the limitations of apocalyptic tendencies in liberation theology. In ways, Ruether's theology is less dependent on traditional approaches than that of Gutierrez. The self-actualisation psychology of Abraham Maslow also has a number of resemblances to Ruether's feminist idea of freedom: both emphasize wholeness, humanism, mutuality, transcendence, utopian hope, and struggle. But Ruether's theology of freedom is not merely an adaptation of Maslovian psychology, since they differ on their commitment to the poor, on theism and organised religion, and on Maslow's emphasis on the individual. The concept of freedom held by Rosemary Ruether (and by many other feminist theologians) has much in common both with the liberation theology of the poor world and with the approach to freedom through personal fulfilment that is characteristic of affluent culture. Ruether is correct in saying that woman's growing awareness stands at the intersection between the freedom movements of the first and third worlds. But Ruether's freedom is not merely a combination of the two, but a unique contribution to modern theology. Despite some limitations, Ruether has contributed significantly to the theological quest for the meaning of freedom and can be expected to continue to do so.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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