Rosemary Radford Ruether (born 1936) was an internationally acclaimed church historian, theologian, writer, and teacher specializing in the area of women and religion. She was a major voice in raising a feminist critique of the traditionally male field of Christian theology.
Rosemary Radford was born on November 2, 1936, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Rebecca Cresap Ord and Robert Armstrong Radford. In 1957 she married Herman J. Ruether. They had three children: Rebecca, David, and Mimi. She resided in Evanston, Illinois.
Her collegiate career began at Scripps College where she received her B.A. in philosophy and history in 1958. At Claremont Graduate School she earned both her M.A. in ancient history in 1960 and her Ph.D. in classics and patristics in 1965. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled Gregory Nazianzus Rhetor and Philosopher. During her graduate work at Claremont, she was a Danforth fellow in 1960-1961 and held a Kent fellowship from 1962 to 1965.
Ruether was the Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a faculty member in the joint doctoral program with Northwestern University. She previously taught at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles (1964-1965) and Howard University School of Religion (1965-1975). She was a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Boston College, Sir George Williams University, and Heythrop College, University of London. She was also a Danforth Lecturer at the Universities of Lund and Uppsala in Sweden. She held honorary degrees from St. Olaf's College, Minnesota; St. Xavier's College, Chicago; Wittenburg College, Ohio; Emmanuel College, Boston; Hamilton College, New York; Walsh College, Ohio; and Dennison College, Ohio.
Active beginning in the early 1960s in civil rights and peace movements, and later in the feminist movement, Ruether was thoroughly Catholic and radically reformist in her scholarly approach to various topics essential to contemporary religious discussions. Her works in areas such as the history of women in Western religions, liberation theology, and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity were based on theological and historical data, utilized methods taken from the different liberation theologies, and drew upon a variety of personal experiences of and reflections on the condition of powerlessness. During the 1960s she worked in the Watts section of Los Angeles and with Delta Ministry in Mississippi. She traveled worldwide, including trips to Asia, Nicaragua, and the Middle East.
Ruether felt the church had two parallel traditions, one which identified with the state and institutions of the church and was inherently conservative, and another which traditionally defended the downtrodden. Feminist theology, liberation theology, and other forms of social activism fell solidly in the tradition of what she called prophetic faith. Indeed, she said, liberal causes, historically as well as currently, were often spearheaded by groups with strong religious convictions. Far from being on a political/religious fringe, Ruether felt she was firmly in one of two parallel mainstreams.
In a 1986 article in America, Ruether said Catholicism faced three major challenges: that of democratic values and human rights in the institution of the church, reacting to feminism and a crisis of sexual morality in church teaching, and responding to third world liberation struggles. "How the Catholic community responds to these three challenges will determine in large part whether Catholicism will be able to use its enormous human resources as a witness for truth and justice in this critical period of human history or whether it will lose its creative leadership and its opportunity for both its own renewal and its witness to the world." she wrote.
One of the most prolific and readable Roman Catholic theologians, she was the author of nearly 500 articles and more than 30 books. She also contributed to numerous anthologies. Ruether's work represents a significant contribution to contemporary theology, especially in the area of women and the church. Among her best known works are The Church Against Itself (1967); Communion Is Life Together (1968); Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power (1972); New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (1975); and Mary—the Feminine Face of the Church (1977). With Eugene Bianchi she co-authored From Machismo to Mutuality: Essays on Sexism and Woman-Man Liberation (1976).
Acting as both editor and contributor, Ruether produced two major anthologies on women and Western religious history: Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (1974) and Women of Spirit (1979) with Eleanor McLaughlin. In collaboration with Rosemary Skinner Keller, Ruether published a three volume docu-history, Women and Religion in America (1986). A contributing editor to Christianity and Crisis and The Ecumenist, Ruether was also published in such periodicals as America, The Christian Century, Commonweal, Cross Currents, Dialog, Explor, Fellowship, National Catholic Reporter, Theological Studies, and Theology Today.
Both the theory and the practice of religion came under her scrutiny as she spoke out against theologically based discrimination. For example, in Faith and Fratricide: The Theoretical Roots of Anti-Semitism (1979), she examined traditional Christology and discovered that it is inherently anti-Semitic in both theory and application. In To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (1981), Ruether's method was that of deconstructing traditional categories; in a later related work, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983), she set out to reconstruct a new theology based on previously excluded women's sources and experience. In two later books, Womanguides: Readings Toward a Feminist Theology (1985) and Woman-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (1986), she moved beyond criticism and reconstruction of the past, seeking to create a new culture through women's stories and liturgies. In The Wrath of Jonah (1989), a book she co-authored with her husband, she cast her eye toward the origins of Zionism, Christian support for Zionism, and attempts to accommodate both Israeli and Palestinian claims to disputed lands in the Middle East.
Other recent books by this much-published author include Contemporary Roman Catholicism: Crises and Challenges (1987); Disputed Questions: On Being a Christian (1989); Beyond Occupation: American Jewish, Christian and Palestinian Voices for Peace, edited by Marc H. Ellis (1990); Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992); A Democratic Catholic Church: The Reconstruction of Roman Catholicism, edited with Eugene C. Bianchi (1992); 'The Woman Will Overcome the Warrior': A Dialogue With the Christian/Feminist Theology of Rosemary Radford Ruether (1994); God and the Nations, with Douglas John Hall (1995); At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Rosemary Radford Ruether, written with Merton and edited by Mary Tardiff (1995); and In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writing, edited by Rosemary Skinner Keller (1995).
Ruether was a member of numerous professional associations, including the Society for Religion in Higher Education, the American Theological Association, and the Society for Arts, Religion and Culture. She served with Ross Kraemer and Lorine Getz as national co-chair of the Women's Caucus: Religious Studies and was a board member of the Program of Women and Religion at Harvard Divinity School and of Chicago Catholic Women.
Further Reading on Rosemary Radford Ruether
Rosemary Radford Ruether is listed in the Who's Who of American Women. No biographies of Ruether have appeared to date. However, she published an autobiographical essay under the title "Beginnings: An Intellectual Autobiography," in Journeys, Gregory Baum, ed., (1975). An introduction to her work by Mary Hembrow Snyder appeared in 1988, entitled Christology of Rosemary Radford Ruether: A Critical Introduction.
Among her hundreds of articles were these cited above: "Crises and Challenges of Catholicism Today" in America (March 1, 1986); and "Jerusalem's Future" in The Christian Century (Feb. 28, 1996).