Disability Theology: getting started

“These are the days when [men of] all social disciplines and all political faiths seek the     comfortable and the accepted; when [the man of] controversy is looked upon as a disturbing influence; when originality is taken to be a mark of instability, and when, in minor modification of the scriptural parable, the bland lead the bland.”

J.K. Galbraith, Affluent Society.


The interpretation of beliefs and spirituality has provided a constant preoccupation for those of us who try to represent Christianity with authenticity and vibrancy.  The nature of belief is dynamic and provisional in many subtle, nuanced ways. The revelation of the divine and the out-working of the will of God within the community of faith is process and interpretation based. We’d have little contention if we all agreed that there was only one way to interpret sacred writing, revelation, tradition and ethics.


How we choose to engage with religious thought in an age of extraordinarily rapid change, is a challenge. We are reassessing more rapidly than ever before our sense of what is key to fulfilled living.   Our awareness that technology is not the answer to all impacts on our quality of life. Our conceptualising of humanity’s evolving purpose is open to more speculation with greater scientific advancement and easy access to information.  Yet, many of us experience an extraordinary sense of dislocation and alienation from the world in which we live.  We can no longer grasp how to make or mend; we no longer share our lives with the same people over many years; we no longer place value on connectedness with our natural environment or our neighbours where we can learn and practice intimacy, kindness, compassion and empathy.


Disability Theology which is the area I specialise in is a pilgrimage is into another world – almost a sub-culture.[2]


My task as a disability theologian is to identify the common experiences of people with disabilities; document; hear the implications of their stories, and then

explore society’s and the Church’s attitude to disabilities. This story-telling, witnessing and acknowledging of profound discord informs our understanding of what it is to be human, the nature of vulnerability and difference. With the unravelling surrounding human genes for example, are we moving towards an understanding of human being that will be increasingly genetically modified to minimalize difference and deformity? If so, is this desirable?  Who decides?


The question then – at the heart of disability theology is – does human diversity have something to say regarding the very essence of what it is to be human?

New born baby sleeping in hand
New born baby infant (10 days old), sleeping in an adult’s hand.





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