FeaturedVirtual EventFriday29September12:0012:00 pm(GMT-04:00) View in my timeThe Unattainable BodyA Conversation with Katherine Karam McCray About Disability Theology

Event Details

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University is delighted to present the next episode of its webinar series highlighting the scholarly insights and academic careers of female scholars whose research and writing explore some facet of the history, thought, or culture of Orthodox Christianity. The broadcast will be livestreamed and open to all who have pre-registered. The event will include some time for live audience questions. For those who miss the live event, the Center will archive each episode on its website and YouTube channel.

This episode features a conversation with Katherine Karam McCray and Ashley Purpura whose bio can be found below.

“My research investigates how a variety of global Christian movements have represented disability, as symbol of divine ability or as a representation of global fallenness. Most moral philosophies shape human nature around perfection: how odd that we are both naturally perfect and striving to achieve perfection. Is perfection human nature or the ultimate goal— is it packaged with our humanity or a result of our lifelong efforts? If the human being is oriented toward perfection as the aim of our abilities, then disability correspondingly comes to represent failure, a lack of ability, and imperfection. Disability has historically represented punishment for sin or, conversely, represented supreme ability, what critical disability scholars refer to as the super-crip stereotype.

Theological anthropologies which amplify perfection as the goal of the good life correspondingly denigrate disability as its inverse, that disability is a sign of a poor or lessened quality of life or at the most extreme a sign of sin or fallenness. Where human nature is framed as independent or autonomous, disability is castigated as dependent and diminished. I present alternative options from global Christianities for understanding disability as a core aspect of human nature, searching for positive representations of disability in ordinary life.

If Christ embodies every element of humanity the way St Athanasius explains, in what way is Christ disabled? I turn to Christ’s passibility, or the ability to be acted upon, as a location for embodying disability outside of representations of sin. If Christ represents sinless human nature, then Christ’s own contingency and dependence on environmental and social factors opens an important alternative space for discussions of disability and human nature. If the only sinless One was contingent, dependent, and able to be acted upon by exterior forces, then disability framed through these attributes cannot be associated with sin. Such representation positions disability at the core of theological anthropology instead of on the periphery. Extended states of dependency, then, are not inversions of human nature but instead represent an aspect of human ontology, revealing that in an Orthodox iconographic representation, dependency on one another prefigures dependency on Christ. In this reframed anthropology, interdependency, not autonomy, defines human nature.”

  • Katherine Karam McCray

    Katherine Karam McCray

    Doctoral candidate in religious ethics at the University of Toronto

    Katherine Karam McCray is a doctoral candidate in religious ethics at the University of Toronto focusing on disability ethics and Eastern Orthodox theological anthropology. Her research investigates Christian representations of disability and reconstructs an Eastern moral philosophy around dependenc…

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  • Ashley Purpura

    Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Purdue University

    Ashley Purpura is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, a Faculty fellow of the Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts Program, and the Director of the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at Purdue University. She received her Ph.D. at Ford…

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Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center provides a space within a university setting for engagement with Orthodox Christianity by undergraduate and graduate students, participating faculty, and friends. It seeks to promote understanding of Orthodox Christianity in Western Culture; to preserve and perpetuate a vibrant Orthodox Christian tradition in America; to articulate the value and relevance of the Orthodox Christian tradition; and to promote ecumenical dialogue and relations, especially with Roman Catholicism.

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