Integrating Ecofeminism: Globalization and World Religions

Integrating Ecofeminism: Globalization and World Religions

Marian Ronan

Integrating Ecofeminism: Globalization and World Religions

Rosemary Radford Ruether

Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. 195pp. $19.95 (paper)

Rosemary Radford Ruether, one of the pioneers of American Christian feminist theology, has to date written twenty-eight books and edited ten more. The latest of these is Integrating Ecofeminism Globalization and World Religions, in which she examines the interconnections between a number of grave contemporary problems and offers a potent resource for their resolution.

The task that Ruether undertakes in this book is a very important one. Many believe that a major reason for the success of conservative movements in recent years is the ability of economic, religious and political conservatives to agree on goals and programs. Liberals and progressives, however, continue to fragment around various movements and issues. As so often in the past, Ruether is in the forefront of critical thinking, displaying the crucial connections between these areas. Until we begin to come to terms with these connections, progress with regard to the oppression of women, ecological harm, and global corporate exploitation will be hampered.

Another of the strengths of Integrating Globalization Ecofeminism and World Religions is the extraordinary amount of relevant scholarship that Ruether brings together. I myself spent some months studying women, corporate globalization and the world water crisis during a recent sabbatical; the job that Ruether does connecting and elucidating these issues in her first chapter and throughout the book is quite amazing. Students cannot help finding the lucid integration of so much material a great help in becoming oriented toward the book’s subject matter and thesis.

There’s also a downside to Ruether’s use in this book of her extraordinary talents for summarizing and integration, however. Some will find troubling her decision to offer summaries of all of the religions of the world, their ecological teachings, and prescriptions for improving those teachings in four to seven pages each. This inappropriate assumption of authority in relation to others’ religious traditions is reinforced by Ruether’s unfortunate decision, following Martin Marty, to use a term specifically descriptive of early 20th century American Protestant groups, “fundamentalism,” to characterize diverse groups within a number of the world religions (26-27 and throughout). While there are some similarities between these groups, even many American conservative evangelicals object to being characterized as fundamentalists. Surely Hindus, Confucians, Muslims and Jews deserve more nuanced treatment.

Similarly troubling is Ruether’s negative evaluation of much Jewish environmentalism for its failure to apply sabbatical/Jubilee legislation in the book of Leviticus to what is being done today to Palestinians by the nation of Israel. Such a critique of Jewish teaching on the environment may be accurate, of course. But the overall tone contrasts strikingly with Ruether’s far more balanced, even optimistic, evaluation of Christianity. This optimism is based in what Ruether perceives as recent improvements in the Christian approach to the environment and women, much of it introduced by the discourse she herself pioneered, ecofeminism. Ruether has, of course, done ground-breaking work on Christian anti-Judaism as well on as the negative environmental impacts of Christian teaching. Many readers will be ignorant of this background, however, and will have good reason to find Christianity the more ecologically enlightened of the two faiths because of Ruether’s assessment here. By positioning Christianity or North American (really US) ecofeminism as culminating examples in three of the book’s chapters, Ruether seems, in fact, to suggest the superiority of her own religious and US feminist traditions in the struggle against global corporate environmental degradation.

Underlying these and a number of other troubling aspects of Integrating Globalization Ecofeminism and World Religions is the author’s failure to acknowledge her own social location as a US national of the professional managerial class who is–as I am–deeply implicated in inflicting some of the worst environmental degradation the world has ever known. The production of paper, for example, is one of the causes of the world water crisis, but academic feminists continue to publish their work on paper rather than, for example, on the Internet, and to contract with profit-making corporations for these publications.

Instead of integrating her own social location into her analysis, Ruether adopts a universal point of view authorized by superior knowledge. Her putative intellectual superiority, in turn, justifies her prescriptions to a wide range of groups. To organized labor:

Local union struggles need to network together across borders to

insist on decent wages and working conditions throughout the world

…. Only when such global standards are recognized and enforced

will it no longer be possible for corporations to engage in a “race

to the bottom” by exploiting low-waged and unprotected labor pools.

(149) (Emphasis mine).

Union leadership in the US, struggling to reverse membership losses and offset the enormous financial power of corporations in its effort, for example, to organize WalMart workers, will no doubt be grateful to Professor Ruether for letting them know exactly what they should do.

Since the elections of November, 2004, there has been much soul-searching about what might have caused the defeat of many liberal candidates and initiatives. Many believe Americans’ minds will be changed by presenting them with correct knowledge: “the truth will set you free,” as linguist George Lakoff characterizes it. On the contrary, Lakoff argues, to bring some conservatives over to the progressive point of view requires the use of emotionally infused values to reframe the beliefs that motivate them.

“The truth will set you free” is the conviction that underlies Integrating Globalization Ecofeminism and World Religions. In discussing the ideologies of corporate/military dominance and American messianism, for example, Professor Ruether writes, “These dominant ideologies need to be intellectually refuted, alternatives to them proposed, and their hegemonic control over social communication dismantled” (166). But Professor Ruether and a number of the ecofeminists she profiles have been intellectually refuting these and related ideologies for many years.

The 2004 elections suggest something different–that liberal strategies have largely failed. The kind of scholarship that characterizes Integrating Globalization Ecofeminism and World Religions is in some respects analogous to the economic theory that undergirds corporate globalization. In each case hierarchical structures, uprooted from local communities, use reason–facts–to advance their position. Reason is necessary, of course, but it’s going to take a good deal more than that for us to instill in our neighbors and ourselves, on our way to the mall, a new vision of ecological justice for all God’s creatures.

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