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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

"Gustavo Gutierrez's Liberation Theology: Traditional Catholicism from the Perspective of the Afflicted Poor" by Kimberly Anne Humphrey

This article turns to the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutierrez to explore a Catholic theology that directly addresses the problem of life in the Third World. Gutierrez focuses his argument on a God of history who worked for and lived with the marginalized, most notably in the Exodus and the Christ event. Furthermore, Gutierrez argues that the Church must be a light for all people who lives amongst the oppressed, and beckons the rest of the world to follow its lead. Humphrey concludes that Guti̩rrez's theology should be considered in light of the inhumane poverty that has become commonplace in many countries. True reflection and action upon his theology is a near-impossible challenge for many people in the First World, but social change inspired by his metaphor for God as one of the oppressed could mean a new respect for human rights.

"Abraham: First Patriarch, First Prophet: Genesis 12-23 as Motive and Model for the Hebrew Prophetic Voice" by Eleanor Swensson

In this article Swensson claims not only that Abraham is the first prophet to appear in the Hebrew Bible, but also that his intimate, friendly relationship with God is the perfect model for the relationship between humanity and divinity. Swensson identifies four markers that differentiate Abraham's relationship with God from all other human-divine relationships previously available in the text: 1) a reciprocal call between the human and the divine, 2) the gradual revelation of God's will, 3) Abraham's direct and honest communication with God, 4) an "anomic, deviant existence" that shows Abraham's complete devotion to the will of God. The reciprocal call between Abraham and Yahweh can be seen in Genesis 12 when Yahweh calls to Abraham with a command and a promise. Abraham, however, is also frequently described as "invoking" God. These two call upon and respond to each other. Additionally, God's call to Abraham is not immediately clear, but is revealed over time. This is significant because it means that God does not call Abraham and abandon him, rather they walk together, and so the call of God is constantly changing, calling humanity forward to a better future. This begins to show a more intimate relationship between Abraham and God than had previously existed in the text. Finally, Abraham's prophetic role, and the relationship with God that it implies, is solidified in that he is required to live outside of the normal bounds of society. This is made most obviously clear when he is asked to sacrifice his son. God must know that Abraham is willing to abandon the order proclaimed by society and do away with his own ego to trust wholly in God. Finally, Abraham's role is solidified, Swensson argues, because he is the "father of all the nations," and all the future prophets and believers are his descendants.

"Harnessing Shakti: The Social Implications of Vedic and Classical Hindu Interpretations of Female Power" by Olivia Cox

This essay argues that the role of women in Hindu culture during different time periods has not been defined by theological change so much as social and political change. The concept of Shakti, or woman's power, has always been present in Hindu theology, but the way in which that power has been understood differed depending on the socio-historical context. For instance, the relative stability of the Vedic period and the emphasis on domesticity and family during that period made for an atmosphere in which women were of the utmost importance. Therefore, their power was available in private life as well as public life, and their role in ritual as representation of fertility was highly prized. However, the Classical period was characterized by social unrest"there was a constant influx of invaders, as well as the encroaching influence of Jainism and Buddhism. Hinduism was under threat. The response to this by some "paranoid" male leaders was to limit the power of women strictly to the home, and to subject women to the influence and rule of their husbands and fathers. Cox comments that Shakti never disappeared from Hindu theology, but socio-political circumstances made for very different interpretations of that power. This example, Cox argues, makes it very clear that theology is not the only illuminator of religion, and that religious study must include consideration of social, historical, and political circumstances as well.

"Women of Genesis: Mothers of Power" by Olivia DePreter

This article argues against the common argument that women have little or no power in the biblical narrative. DePreter acknowledges that the stories of the Hebrew Bible occur during a time of patriarchy, but she does not agree that women are stripped of their power because of this. Women of the Bible are often criticized for seeming to represent a stereotype of cruelty and manipulation. DePreter argues that this should not be attributed to women's nature but rather to a marginalized group doing what they have to do to fulfill the covenant. This is seen most apparently in the stories of Sarah and Rebecca. Sarah schemes to get rid of Hagar and her son, and Rebecca helps one son to masquerade as another in order to be chosen by his father. On first impression these acts could seem to come from selfishness or favoritism, but it is important to note that God does not punish either of these women for their actions. It seems prudent to conclude that the result is what God desired, and the women had to use manipulation only because the culture of their time did not allow for them to solve the problem more directly. The women of the Bible are not cruel nor are they devoid of power, rather their status as part of the marginalized forces them to use manipulation to do their part in fulfilling the covenant.

"Modernity"Man's Precarious Reality" by Bror Welander

This article examines the instability that modernity creates in life. By studying the work of sociologist Peter Berger, Welander explores some of the most important questions spawned by modernity. Traditional societies boasted a high understanding of normative values, frequently through religious institutions, whereas modernity, characterized by industrialization, urbanization, technological innovation, bureaucratization, and globalization, lacks those common, binding principles. Economic, social, ideological, and technological changes have also resulted in a new level of pluralism. While one or two societal institutions previously were able to rule society's consciousness and stabilize morality, now hundreds of thousands of institutions vie for power. Overloading people with options makes it impossible for them to choose among them, and all the institutions find their power questioned and diminished. Therefore, subjectivity rules the modern context. Each individual is required to create his or her own identity without any significant help of institutions, making identity crises far more prevalent. There have been two primary responses to deal with the crisis inspired by pluralism: relativism and fundamentalism. Moral relativism proclaims that there can be no absolute truth: everyone's beliefs are equally valid and equally untrue. On the other hand, fundamentalism proclaims the superiority of one option over all others. While this gives certainty to the group that believes in one option, it frequently makes for civil unrest. Neither of these reactions to pluralism answers how to find certainty in pluralism. Welander argues that while no easy answer appears to be forthcoming, it is of the utmost importance to continue to question and study responses to modernity because an unawareness of the implications of modern society will continue to result in frequent crises and conflicts.

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