En La Caminata: Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid

by Alejandro Escalante

 (In honor of the life and legacy of Marcella Althaus-Reid, a series on queer theology begins here on the anniversary of her death. Sigamos su camino: tengamos aguante.)

marcella

“In theology, to repeat can be associated with many modern habitual trappings, such as those into which ‘theologies at the margins’ may fall when they become simply attempts to induce oppressed multitudes to invest their identities in the centre-defined theological exercise by a simple economy of inclusion. Some gender-based theologies fall especially into that trap: they end reconciling themselves with androcentrism by getting reabsorbed into the system via heterosexual ideals of equality.”[1]

Thursday, February 20, 2014 will be five years since the world lost Marcella Althaus-Reid to a battle with cancer. Marcella María de los Angeles was born in Rosario, Argentina on May 11, 1952. She remained in Argentina to attend the Instituto Unviversitario ISEDET earning a bachelor’s of theology. It was at ISEDET where she studied with renowned liberation theologian José Míguez Bonino and Hebrew Bible scholar J. Severino Croatta. After marrying she settled in Dundee, Scotland and began her PhD studies at the University of St. Andrews.

After completing her dissertation on the influence of Paul Ricœur’s hermeneutical theory on liberation theology she was awarded her degree in 1994. Six years later one of her most important works, Indecent Theology, was published. After this publication, in 2001, she became senior lecturer in theology, and then reader at the University of Edinburgh. In 2003 the University appointed her to full professorship as Professor of Contextual Theology. Althaus-Reid was the first female appointed to a professorship at the New College, University of Edinburgh. She was 56 when she passed away—just a few months short of her birthday. She is survived by her husband Gordon Reid.

Sexual Theologies

            It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of Althaus-Reid’s work: her theological career was cut short, and we can only speculate that some of her most important work is lost to sickness. One of her most vital contributions to theology was her recapitulated sexualizing of it: “All theology is sexual theology. Indecent Theology is sexier than most.”[2] The gap that she perceived between these two, Indecent and Feminist liberation theologies, was that the latter was still under the hegemony of a male, homophobic ecclesial class. Indecent theology takes seriously the claims of liberation theology but sees itself disruption of it.[3] She argued that liberation theology had the ‘heterosexual male’ in mind and that it had for too long ignored the issues that surround sexuality and gender. “[Liberation] theology did not set out chairs for women, or poor gays—or at least it never did so willingly.”[4]

Furthermore, “liberation theology knows more about dogmas than about people, and more about discourses on love than about love itself.”[5] However, the death of liberation theology should not yet be called as there is a new generation of theologians who are “standing in solidarity against the magrinalisation of and violence against women and Queers.”[6]

Que(e)ries 

            Queer theology is not another type of theology. We would miss the very point of queering theology by this easy typological understanding. Brandy Daniels shows us that queer theory has offered a “critique of ontological categorization and epistemological certitude” and this critique “is relevant to and useful for a liberationist theological framework.”[7] In this way, then, queer theology is not simply another framework, but it is a critique of all theological investigations that have assumed a heteronormative, male deity, and posits a true epistemological multiperspectivalism. Just like the work of Althaus-Reid, this critique cannot be overstated and is yet to be fully seen.

In her to blending feminism, politics, and liberation theology, Althaus-Reid showed how vital intersectionality is for the future of liberative theologies. This intersectional approach to theology will lead us to ask the question: who can do queer theology? should it only be women? those who identify as queer? She answers that these response are the “simple and empty equalizing formulae applied by many male liberationists” and that unless we have full participation “the liberationist argument of theological representatives contradicts itself.”[8] In this way, Althaus-Reid invites us all to walk with her, to camina, to act for justice for all marginalized people.


[1] Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (London, UK: Routledge, 2003), 51.

[2] Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology (London, UK: Routledge, 2000), i.

[3] Indecent Theology, 5.

[4] Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Demythologising liberation theology” in The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 125.

[5] “Demythologising liberation theology,” 127.

[6] “Demythologising liberation theology,” 134-5.

[7] Brandy Daniels, “A Poststructuralist Liberation Theology?: Queer Theory and Apophaticism,” USQR 64, nos. 2&3 (2014): 109.

[8] “Demythologising liberation theology,” 133.

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