Friday 22 February 2008

Theology and disability

Elizabeth Lynch reviews a new book on theology and down syndrome. Which reminds me: in a local bookstore, I recently met a chap who is very interested in exploring theologies of disability. He asked me for some reading suggestions, but it’s not an area that I know much about. So if anyone wants to offer some good reading tips, I’d be glad to pass them on to him.


Anonymous said...

The Disabled God by Nancy L. Eisland (1995)

Critical Reflections on Stanley Hauerwas' Theology of Disability (ed. John Swinton, 2005)

Suffering Presence by Stanley Hauerwas (1986)

Face to Face by Frances Young (T & T Clark, 1990)

kim fabricius said...

John M. Hull, Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness (London: Arrow Books, 1990).

Patrick McManus said...

Samuel Wells' Improvisation: the Drama of Christian Ethics (Brazos, 2004). One of his chapters (I don't have it in front of me) deals with theology and disability, engaging both Hauerwas and Frances Young.

Hull, John, In the Beginning there was Darkness; a Blind Person's Conversation with the Bible (SCM Press, 2001).

Hauerwas, S., Truthfulness and Tragedy (UNDP, 1977), chp. 10-14.

Vanier, Jean, From Brokenness to Community (Paulist Press, 1992).

McCloughry, Roy & Wayne Morris, Making a World of Difference: Christian Reflections on Disability (SCM, 2002).

The Frances Young title that Andy recommended above is one of the best I've read and I remember Kim posting something about a year and half ago on a lecture by Frances (if memory serves correct).

There's also the essay by Hauerwas "Timeful Friends: Living with the Handicapped" in Sanctify them in the Truth (Abingdon, 1998), 143-56.

In the Festschrift for Stanley, God, Truth, and Witness (Brazos, 2005), Hans Reinders takes up conversation with him, specifically in reference to the above essay, 'Timeful Friends'.

That's all I got.

Eleanor Burne-Jones said...

Thank you so much for this, I'm a theology student and the mother of disabled children. I was going to suggest Jean Vanier's writings, and Henri Nouwen's writings on spirituality was profoundly influenced by his experienced with L'Arche. But I had not heard of the others, and will look them up. I remember Francis from Birmingham days, and the inspiration she provided many around her!

Anonymous said...

There's a periodical called the *Journal of Religion, Disability and Health*.

James F. McGrath said...

Hector Avalos spoke at the Midwest SBL last weekend on precisely this topic. He has a recent co-authored book This Abled Body which will probably point you on to other relevant books.

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

This was the subject of my Cambridge Thesis (hopefully published this year). I would love to send it along with the bibliography to your friend, should he want it. Send me an email to and I will send all.

Lots of good stuff here has been mentioned - particularly Swinton's edited collection of Hauerwas' writing, Touching the Rock (Hull), Face to Face (Young) and the Roy Mcloughry and Wayne Morris Book (the best introduction I know to the issues).

For a more systematic approach I would recommend Nancy Eisland's 'The Disabled God' and the excellent WCC statement "Interpreting Disability: A Church Of All And For All". The latter book is a real step forward within the field, I think.

Matt Edmonds

John David Penniman said...

I would also highly recommend the essay 'Monstrosities, Miracles, and Mission: Religion and the Politics of Disablement' by Sharon Betcher. It is found in the volume "Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire." As the title of the book suggests, Betcher is arguing for disability theology to be viewed as a kind of Postcolonial criticism of traditional theological discourse.

I found her argument clear, concise, and very engaging. Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Two quick remarks:

I very much agree with the recommendation of The Disabled God but the previous commentators got the author's name wrong -- it's Eiesland, not Eisland.

Also the essay by Sharon Betcher was expanded into a full length book and published recently with the title Spirit and the Politics of Disablement.

Certainly Vanier, Nouwen, and Hauerwas are all great sources, but what is good about reading Eiesland and Betcher is that, in their books, we are actually hearing from those who are disabled, and not just from those who have journeyed alongside of the disabled.

I've (inadequately!) reviewed both Eiesland's and Betcher's books on my blog:

Grace and peace.

Anonymous said...

John Swinton, at Aberdeen, is one a leading researching in this area. As he explains on his staff biog. page he has. . . 'a strong interest in disability issues and in particular the theology of disability. I have researched extensively and published widely within this area. I reecntly completed a major nationwide study (along with Elaine Powrie) exploring the spiritual lives of people with learning disabilities which was funded by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (in conjunction with the Shelly Foundation). This is the first piece of research of its kind and has made a significant contribution to knowledge and practice within this area. Details of the project can be found here. We are currently working on a variety of projects including some unique research into the spirituality of the Camphill communities. I recently published a book with Stanley Hauerwas' on Hauerwas' theology and ethics of disability: Critical reflections on Stanley Hauerwas' essays on disability: Disabling Society, Enabling Theology. I am currently working on various projects within the area of disability studies exploring things such as: genetics and disability, the spirituality of people with profound and complex needs, spirituality and autism and disability in the Christian tradition. In 2005 the Centre hosted a major international symposium on disability and the new genetics. The fruits of this symposium are published in Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church. John Swinton and Brian Brock (Eds)

His homepage is here:

In fact, he's hunting for a postdoctoral research fellow in this area right now, details of which are here:

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks for all these very helpful suggestions — I'll pass all this on. I can see that I should be doing more reading here as well!

andrew said...

Tom Reynolds (Emmanuel College, Toronto) has a new book coming out in April, entitled "Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality," through Brazos.

He has also published several journal articles on the subject.

CJW said...

Just came across the Centre for Theology, Science and Culture at Flinders Uni site below and thought of this post.

It's a pity, there's no link to Exploring the Spiritual Dimensions of Disability project as there are to the others. Perhaps it will be helpful nonetheless.

T. Basselin said...

Perhaps the best advise you could give is to let him know that Amos Yong's book Theology and Down Syndrome has a 100 page bibliography - not annotated, just 100 pages of books he references throughout the book! Talk about a reading list!

Nathanael Massey said...

Might I suggest Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality by Thomas Reynolds--Using what he knows as a pastor, as well as the father of a challenged son, He details what a biblical theology of disability should be

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