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Kenotic Gestures: Comparative Aesthetics and the Feminist Debate on Kenōsis

Issue: Vol 3 No. 1-2 (2019)

Journal: Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theology

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/isit.36643


Christians sometimes take Christ's kenōsis, or self-emptying, as the pattern for Christian love of God and neighbor. Feminist critics suspect that this model reinforces unhealthy gender norms and oppressive power structures and contest the nature and extent of this template. Interreligious study can shed light on the debate. The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition employs the categories of Indian aesthetic theory to explain how types of loving devotion (bhakti rasa) toward Krishna are evoked and expressed. The subordinate and peaceful modes of love for Krishna can serve as a heuristic for understanding Sarah Coakley's and Cynthia Bourgeault's retrievals of kenōsis in spiritual practice. A comparative reading suggests that objections to Coakley's version, which resembles the subordinate love of God, are more intractable due to the rootedness of its aesthetic in oppressive human experiences, while Bourgeault's reclamation of kenōsis aligns with a peaceful or meditative mode of love that feminists may more readily appreciate.

Author: Michelle Voss Roberts

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