Rosemary Radford Ruether

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Rosemary Radford Ruether
Rosemary Radford

(1936-11-02)November 2, 1936
DiedMay 21, 2022(2022-05-21) (aged 85)
Herman Ruether
(m. 1957)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisGregory of Nazianzus (c. 1965)
Academic work
School or tradition
Doctoral studentsGina Messina Dysert
Main interests
Notable works
  • Sexism and God-Talk (1983)
  • Gaia and God (1994)

Rosemary Radford Ruether (1936–2022) was an American feminist scholar and Roman Catholic theologian known for her significant contributions to the fields of feminist theology and ecofeminist theology.[1] Her teaching and her writings helped establish these areas of theology as distinct fields of study; she is recognized as one of the first scholars to bring women's perspectives on Christian theology into mainstream academic discourse.[2][3] She was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s,[2] and her own work was influenced by liberation and black theologies.[4] She taught at Howard University for ten years, and later at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.[2] Over the course of her career, she wrote on a wide range of topics, including antisemitism and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[5]

Ruether was an advocate of women's ordination, a movement among Catholics who affirm women's capacity to serve as priests, despite official church prohibition. Since 1985 Ruether served as a board member for the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice.[6] Her public stance on these topics was criticized by some leaders in the Roman Catholic Church.


Ruether was born Rosemary Radford on November 2, 1936, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.[7] She was the youngest of three daughters born to her parents, Rebecca Cresap Radford (née Ord) and Robert Radford. Her father, an Episcopalian, worked as a civil engineer. Her mother worked as a secretary, and was a Roman Catholic.[7][6]

Ruether's father died when she was 12 and afterwards Ruether and her mother moved to California. Ruether attended several Catholic schools staffed by the Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, who, in conjunction with her mother's friend group, offered Ruether a strong feminist and activist foundation that informed her later work.[8] She pursued a college education at Scripps College from 1954 to 1958. She entered with an intention to study art, but one professor, Robert Palmer, influenced her decision to switch to classics. Palmer's passion for classical Greek and Roman culture introduced Ruether to the philosophies and histories of the era. She received an MA in classics and Roman history, and later a doctorate in classics and patristics at Claremont School of Theology.[9]

Education and career[edit]

Ruether held a BA in philosophy from Scripps College (1958), an MA in ancient history (1960) and a PhD in classics and patristics (1965) from Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California.[10]On January 22, 2000, Ruether received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Theology at Uppsala University, Sweden.[11] In 2012, Ruether received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (LHD) degree from Whittier College.[12]

She was Visiting Professor of Religion and Feminist Theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. Her first appointment was as professor at Howard University in Washington, DC, from 1965 to 1975.[4] She was Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union, and retired from her long-term post as Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.[13] Ruether was the author of 36 books and over 600 articles on feminism, eco-feminism, the Bible, and Christianity.[14]

In 1977, Ruether became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[15] WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.

Feminist theology[edit]

According to Ruether, women are excluded in academic and leadership roles within theology, which has led to the proliferation of male-centric attitudes and beliefs. Without women able to contribute to the important discussions and decisions surrounding Christian theology and practice, there will never be an equal representation of women's experience in theological beliefs and traditions.[16] Ruether believed that classical theology and its traditions ignore the female experience, which perpetuates the idea that women are secondary in relation to men. As stated by Ruether, feminist theology can expose and work to change the inherently discriminatory system. Her belief is that anything that lessens the humanity of women must not be a reflection of divine intent. The most important principle of feminist theology, according to Ruether, is the promotion of the full humanity of women in Christian theology and traditions. To do this, not only does the female experience have to be acknowledged and codified, but the very understanding of things such as experience and humanity must be reevaluated.[1] Ruether's work has been influential in the field of feminist theology,[17][18][19] influencing scholars such as Beverly Wildung Harrison[20] and Pauli Murray.[21]

Civil rights activism[edit]

Ruether participated in civil rights activism during the 1960s in Mississippi and Washington, DC. She worked for the Delta Ministry in Mississippi where she was exposed to the struggles of African American communities and the realities of racism. She became immersed in black liberation theology literature during her time of teaching at the Howard University, School of Religion. She dedicated her time to the peace movement in Washington, DC, and she often went to jail with other radical Catholics and Protestants because of marches and demonstrations.[9]

Despite her radicalism, Ruether remained in the Catholic Church alongside other religious activists. Her first book, The Church Against Itself (1967), criticizes the doctrine of the church and the church's views of sexuality and reproduction.[9]

Personal life[edit]

She married Herman Ruether, a political scientist, during her last year of college. They had three children together.[7] Ruether had a love for growing tomatoes, and was known for the small plot of land where she grew tomatoes in front of her office window at Garrett-Evangelical.[22]

Ruether died on May 21, 2022, in Pomona, California, after suffering a long-term illness.[7]

Selected writings[edit]

  • The Church Against Itself. New York: 1967, Herder and Herder, ISBN 9780722005040
  • Gregory of Nazianzus. Oxford: 1969, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780198266198
  • The Radical Kingdom, The Western Experience of Messianic Hope, New York: Paulist Press, 1970 ISBN 0809118602
  • Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. New York 1974, Seabury Press, ISBN 978-0-8164-2263-0.
  • "Courage as a Christian Virtue" in Cross Currents, Spring 1983, 8-16,
  • Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, Beacon Press (1983) ISBN 0-8070-1205-X
  • Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, Harper-Collins (1994) ISBN 978-0-06-066967-6, ASIN 0-06-066967-5
  • In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writing (ed. with Rosemary Skinner Keller), Harper-Collins (1996) ISBN 0-06-066840-7
  • Women Healing Earth: Third World Women on Ecology, Feminism, and Religion. New York, March 1996, ISBN 978-1570750571
  • Introducing Redemption in Christian Feminism (editor), Continuum (1998) ISBN 1-85075-888-3
  • Christianity and Ecology, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Dieter T Hessel, eds, Harvard University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-945454-20-1
  • Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family, Beacon Press (2001), ISBN 978-0807054079
  • Fifth chapter of Transforming the Faiths of our Fathers: Women who Changed American Religion, edited by Ann Braude. (2004) ISBN 1403964602
  • The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Augsburg Fortress (2002) ISBN 0-8006-3479-9
  • Integrating Ecofeminism Globalization and World Religions, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (2005) ISBN 0-7425-3529-0
  • Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2005, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23146-5
  • America, Amerikkka: Elect Nation & Imperial Violence, Equinox (2007) ISBN 1-84553-158-2
  • Women and Redemption: A Theological History. Fortress Press. Minnesota, (2012), ISBN 978-0800629458
  • My Quests for Hope and Meaning: An Autobiography. Wipf & Stock. Oregon (2013), ISBN 978-1620327128
  • Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century: Technology, Dialogue, and Expanding Borders (ed. with Gina Messina-Dysert), Routledge (2014). ISBN 9780415831949.


  1. ^ a b Ackermann, Denise (2008). "Rosemary Radford Ruether : themes from a feminist liberation story". Scriptura: Journal for Biblical, Theological and Contextual Hermeneutics. 97: 37–46. doi:10.7833/97-0-712. ISSN 2305-445X.
  2. ^ a b c "Rosemary Radford Ruether, a founding mother of feminist theology, has died at age 85". Retrieved 2022-06-21.
  3. ^ Bouma-Prediger, Steven (1995). The greening of theology: the ecological models of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Joseph Sittler, and Juergen Moltmann. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press. ISBN 978-0-7885-0163-0. OCLC 33105042.
  4. ^ a b LaRosa, Patricia (March 2008). "Finding Aid for Rosemary Radford Ruether Papers, 1954–2002" (PDF). The Burke Library, Columbia University. Retrieved June 21, 2022.
  5. ^ "Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: Rosemary Radford Ruether". Retrieved 2020-11-28.
  6. ^ a b Hunt, Mary E. "The Life of 'Scholar Activist' Rosemary Radford Ruether", National Catholic Reporter, October 15, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Risen, Clay (2022-05-27). "Rosemary Radford Ruether, Feminist Theologian, Dies at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  8. ^ "The life of 'scholar activist' Rosemary Radford Ruether". National Catholic Reporter. 2014-10-15. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  9. ^ a b c "Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: Rosemary Radford Ruether". Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  10. ^ "Rosemary Radford Ruether". CST Claremont School of Theology. Retrieved 2022-05-29.
  11. ^ "Honorary doctorates - Uppsala University, Sweden".
  12. ^ "Honorary Degrees | Whittier College". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  13. ^ "Website of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary".
  14. ^ LaRosa, Patrician. "Finding Aid for Rosemary Radford Ruther papers" (PDF). Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  15. ^ "Associates |  The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  16. ^ RUETHER, ROSEMARY RADFORD (1981). "The Feminist Critique in Religious Studies". Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 64 (4): 388–402. ISSN 0038-1861. JSTOR 41167486.
  17. ^ Miller, Patti (June 2011) [2010]. "Rosemary Radford Ruether" (PDF). Conscience. Vol. 32. Washington: Catholics for Choice. ISSN 0740-6835. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  18. ^ Ackermann, Denise (2008). "Rosemary Radford Ruether: Themes from a Feminist Liberation Story". Scriptura. 97: 37. doi:10.7833/97-0-712. ISSN 2305-445X.
  19. ^ "Renowned Professor Improving After Accident". United Methodist Insight. August 29, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  20. ^ Jarl, Ann-Cathrin (2003). In Justice: Women and Global Economics. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8006-3568-8.
  21. ^ Pinn, Anthony B. (1999). "Religion and 'America's Problem Child': Notes on Pauli Murray's Theological Development". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 15 (1): 29. ISSN 1553-3913. JSTOR 25002350.
  22. ^ "Remembering Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Pioneering Feminist Theologian, Emerita Professor, and Tomato Grower". Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-06-13.

Further reading[edit]

  • Also see biographical information in Emily Leah Silverman, Whitney Bauman, and Dirk Von der Horst, ed., Voices of Feminist Liberation: Celebratory Writings in Honor of Rosemary Radford Ruether (London: Equinox Press, 2012).

External links[edit]