I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether a few weeks before a celebration at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary honoring her twenty-five year tenure as the Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology.
Dr. Ruether will retire from Garrett this spring, but this milestone does not mark a withdrawal from her own brand of theological activism. She will move with her family to the West Coast and continue teaching at the Pacific School of Theology in the consortium of seminaries that make up the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley (GTU). While there are many front-page issues that we could have focused upon in our conversation, I asked that we discuss her career. Many of the founders of the modern feminist movement in religion such as Beverly Harrison, Letty Russell, and Rosemary Radford Ruether are leaving their long-held posts in the academy. It seemed a good time for younger scholars to begin a dialogue with these women as we attempt to fill their shoes. The conversation tripped along a range of issues from Rosemary's start in the Civil Rights Movement and a discussion of her legacy to her involvement with Third World Feminisms, activism in the Catholic Church, the influence of family on her scholarship and , finally, the work she will be doing on the West Coast.
From her position at Garrett, Rosemary has created a prolific body of work that, in her own words, could be the foundation for a feminist religious studies curriculum. With thirty-six books and over 600 articles to her credit, her corpus is no less astonishing for its depth in quantity than for its breadth of range. Indeed, courses on Feminist Theology, Eco-feminism, Anti-Semitism, Jewish/Palestinian Relations, Third World Feminisms, U.S. Religious Feminism, and Christian Church History could be designed without moving outside of her authored and edited volumes and articles.
While many of us debate how to write an inclusive and embodied theology that respects difference and engages a postmodern critique of universalism that both acknowledges our status as victims and accounts for our sinful limitations, Rosemary has unassumingly created, not only a body of work, but a model of scholarly activism that we would do well to emulate. In other words, like Rosemary, we would do well to ground our scholarly reflections in the marginalized communities with whom we are engaged, rather than in exhaustive critiques of one another's scholarship in the hopes of advancing our positions within the academy. Each book of Rosemary's represents personal friendships, an activist front and a feminist community engaged in bettering their world whether in Africa, Palestine, the Philippines or Latin America. She digs deeply into the world around her and uses her relationships as the wellspring of her inspiration and a vital source of knowledge. Yet, she delves into the questions of injustice with what hi storians call a long view of history and she tends to answer interview questions with a social and historical contextualization of the problematic. Rosemary has an instinct for forging relationships with underrepresented communities within her social horizon and finding ways to articulate their needs. In a word, she is prophetic. With a career rooted in the Civil Rights Movement, Rosemary seems to relish a good fight for a just cause. When I asked what the underlying motivation for her career was, Rosemary responded, "Basically I don't like injustice and I don't like to see religion used to justify injustice and oppression."
We began our conversation at a logical starting place, the beginning of her career in the academy.
Rosalind Hinton: Can you talk about when and how you got involved in the feminist movement?
Rosemary Radford Ruether: There wasn't a feminist religion movement when I started. There was NOW, but I didn't belong to the feminist organizations. …