RIP Theologian and Disability Activist Nancy Eiesland

I’ve decided that the obituary section is my favorite new place to read about unexpected feminist legacies. Of course I wish I learned about these women sooner, but I’m grateful to discover them even while simultaneously “losing” them.
Such was the case this weekend when I ran across the obituary of theologian and disability rights activist Nancy Eiesland. An excerpt:

By the time the theologian and sociologist Nancy Eiesland was 13 years old, she had had 11 operations for the congenital bone defect in her hips and realized pain was her lot in life. So why did she say she hoped that when she went to heaven she would still be disabled?
The reason, which seems clear enough to many disabled people, was that her identity and character were formed by the mental, physical and societal challenges of her disability. She felt that without her disability, she would “be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God.”

Eiesland argued that God was actually disabled in her 1994 book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability–a point of view which unsurprisingly created a lot of controversy among traditionalists, but also a lot of excited discussion among disability rights and radical theological communities. In addition, Eiesland consulted with the United Nations for ten years, helping develop its Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities (enacted last year).

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One Comment

  1. saintcatherine
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    I am curious to read this book.
    I am also interested in knowing which “traditionalists” objected to its ideas, and why.
    Was it an idea of a “disabled” G-d? I wonder what that means to her?
    In a recent edition of First Things, the mother of a child with Downs Syndrome observed that we, perhaps erroneously, spend so much time focusing on the “brokenness” of the disabled and different. Christians believe in a G-d who embraced brokenness, not just in others, but in the human body that this G-d took on.
    This always has fascinating implications for me, when it comes to feminism as well. Does the desire to be whole, and to claim the power and dignity that we each have, have to crowd out an embrace of what is broken within us? And can our fundamental dependence, or need for the help of thers, be something holy, and not something to be shrugged off or rejected?

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