Creator God most beautiful : a contextual, feminist theological and aesthetic look at women's creativity, spirituality and theology in South Africa.
Buckenham, Karen Elizabeth.
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Asking the question ‘What does beauty have to do with justice?’, I am concerned with women’s encounter, experience and expression of the Divine through their creativity, as well as the theological significance of women’s aesthetic expression and creativity in the contexts of their lives. As a potent, authentic locus of women’s spirituality, theology, and revelation of God, the aesthetic has critical implications for doing theology with women in South Africa. This thesis addresses concerns of full life for women in South Africa, and the Beauty of the Divine, as it is encountered and revealed through their creativity. Against the backdrop of multiple life-denying structures and circumstances, and in light of liberating theologies for women, I discuss the power of Divine creative energy to promote full life for women in South Africa, as it is unleashed through their human creativity. Stories of women artists and crafters from different socio-economic contexts are analysed from theological, spiritual, psychological and ethical perspectives. The creative process and work are seen to bear significant fruit in their lives, with personal, spiritual, practical, communal, social and ethical implications for themselves and others. Their creativity is then discussed in terms of the aesthetic in theology as a whole, an area called theological aesthetics. This includes ontological considerations of the Beauty of God, the encounter with beauty and its effects on the person who beholds it. Art is seen as a theological source as it reveals insights about being. I engage with key scholars such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, John W. de Gruchy, Michelle Gonzalez, Matthew Fox, and Susan A. Ross. Works of aesthetic scholars such as Elaine Scarry and Paul Crowther inform the deepening of my analysis, as do psychologists Anton Ehrenzweig, Rollo May and Graham Lindegger, and art historian Juliette Leeb-du Toit. Liberating theologies for women is a central nerve of my analysis and the works of scholars such as Mercy Oduyoye, Musimbi Kanyoro, Susan Rakoczy, Isabel Phiri and Sarojini Nadar have been invaluable. Among my conclusions is the prioritization of the aesthetic to the theological task in South Africa. Beauty is the ‘why’ of ‘why the good must be carried out’, and aesthetic expression is an interlocutor of women’s marginalized voices. At the same time, this research indicates that concerns, voices, and insights of women and feminist thinking have been marginal in the discourse on theological aesthetics. The thesis formulates a feminist theological aesthetics rooted in women’s creativity in South Africa, in response to a gap in both theological and aesthetic discourse in this country. A new dimension is introduced that contributes to the ongoing debate in the field of theological aesthetics. The thesis connects concerns of full life for women in South Africa with Beauty’s embodied presence, seen through women’s personal and spiritual growth, moral agency and confidence, self-care and dignity, healing and economic well-being, community and interrelatedness, life-affirming drive and vision, and the consequent effects on others as well the social order. I argue that Beauty has everything to do with justice.