The Unattainable Body: Reconstructing a Theological Anthropology of Disability

“Extended states of dependency are not related to fallenness or sin, but instead represent human ontology by revealing that our dependency on one another prefigures our dependency on Christ. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Katherine Karam McCray University of Toronto Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

In North America, autonomy, individuality, and self-determination are core attributes of the human being. Where human nature is autonomous, disability is a failure to exert basic human independence, and when inscribed into religious contexts that failure represents sin. Early modern thinkers, from Luther to Kant, emphasize personal responsibility to exercise autonomy as an individual moral agent before God. In North America the individual subject remains standard for theological anthropology, especially strains of Western virtue ethics that emphasize social independency as a sign of faith. Early modern values represent themselves as ancient, deriving from the Greek classical age, and the perception amongst many Western disability theologians is that no alternatives to the hyper-autonomous subject existed. I argue that this is a colonial vestige that simultaneously narrows discourse about disability while obscuring that Greek speaking peoples throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean vehemently opposed the individual moral subject and the association between sin and dependency. The early moderns’ use of Aristotle as Christian framework creates a false sense that no disability-positive theologies existed in historical communities of faith. I argue, then, that a decolonial approach to theological anthropology involves recentering diverse epistemologies with inclusionary views of disability. I habilitate theologies from historically marginalized peoples in the Christian East and deploy alternative disability-positive models which arc from the early church to present day. In this reoriented anthropology, personal agency is distributed amongst trusted others, autonomy is facilitated, and human nature is participatory rather than performative. This reconstructed anthropology provides North American Christians with moral alternatives for disability inclusion from within a rich and diverse story of faith.