Vulnerability, Resilience, and Resistance: A Theology of Divine Love Restricted; Files & ToC

Gandolfo, Elizabeth O'Donnell (2013)

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This dissertation is a constructive theological project that lays out structures of the human condition that dispose humanity to vulnerability, suffering, and redemption. In this sense it participates in the methods of both fundamental and liberation theologies. I argue that the human condition is essentially vulnerable; that there is a dynamic, causal relationship between vulnerability, anxiety, and violence; and that divine love offers human beings existential and practical resources for redemption, experienced as resilience and resistance.

The project is divided into two parts. The first half of the dissertation is an analysis of human vulnerability and its relationship with anxiety, egocentrism, privilege, and violence. Here I posit that the fundamental dimensions of human life that make created existence and happiness possible also threaten the human telos by exposing us to pain and suffering. The anxiety surrounding suffering often causes human beings to collectively mismanage vulnerability in systems of privilege, which exacerbates the problem of vulnerability and leads to greater anxiety and violence. This analysis of the human condition lays the foundation for the theological heart of the dissertation, in which I argue that divine love responds to vulnerability by empowering human beings with resources needed for resilience in the face of harm and resistance to violence and oppression. This redemptive power of divine love has a Trinitarian structure to it, offering 1) the invulnerable power of preservative love, 2) the power-in-vulnerability of solidarity with the human condition, and 3) empowerment for creative transformation in the Spirit of holy longing for abundant life. The project concludes with an analysis of three practices that have the potential to nurture the growth of divine love in Christians, and human beings in general: dangerous memory of suffering, contemplative kenosis, and solidarity.

Throughout the dissertation, my argument is informed by women's diverse and multi-faceted experiences of maternity and natality. I place maternal narratives and practices in mutually critical conversation with Scripture, historical theology, feminist theology, philosophy, and ethics. Drawing on these sources, my constructive proposal suggests that vulnerability is both the site of our deepest wounds and the condition for the possibility of experiencing redemption.

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