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Ethics, Theology Women Scholars of Orthodox Christianity

The Unattainable Body A Conversation about Disability Theology with Katherine Karam McCray

Published on: October 11, 2023
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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. This episode features a conversation with Katherine Karam McCray on disability theology.

“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.”

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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Public Orthodoxy is a publication of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University