Wounded Images: Revisioning the Imago Dei through a reading of Jean Rhys’ interwar novels

Whaley, Kristine (2021) Wounded Images: Revisioning the Imago Dei through a reading of Jean Rhys’ interwar novels. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In this thesis I critically examine theological understandings of the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei. Beginning with the work of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and early feminist theologians, including Valerie Saiving and Rosemary Radford Ruether, I analyze the ways they both expanded upon and applied understandings of the image of God in relation to contemporary social issues. Barth and Tillich’s problematic understandings of universal human experience are noted and critiqued by these feminist theologians who begin to apply Christian doctrine directly to women’s experiences.

Moving from these sources, I then look specifically to the work of Black and Womanist theologians, particularly James Cone and Katie Geneva Cannon, in order to understand the liberating potential inherent in the concept of the imago Dei. In assessing the ways these theologians stress that the image of God is embodied in the oppressed, I affirm the doctrine must be inclusive and responsive to the challenges of suffering and marginalization. Following in Cannon’s methodological footsteps, I then explore how an engagement with literature can provoke and challenge traditional understandings of theological doctrines and generate new insights – particularly through articulating perspectives that are occluded or marginalized in theological debate. By examining the work of scholars such as Martha Nussbaum, Annaliese van Heijst, Cynthia Wallace, and Rebecca Chopp I develop a methodology that enables literature to critique, challenge, and emotionally impact upon theological reflection. This method emphasizes that theological attention must be focused on those who have been excluded from previous imago Dei discussions.

I then engage in a reading of the interwar novels of Jean Rhys. Rhys is a writer whose work raised issues of economic, gendered, and class marginalization as overlapping oppressions. Her work enables me to focus upon the question of how those experiencing oppression and abuse, that lead to societal isolation and self-hatred, might view themselves as included within an imago Dei which focuses directly on their trauma.

My explorations of the effects of trauma upon theological understandings of personhood are then deepened through engaging with the work of Shelly Rambo, Catherine Keller, Serene Jones, and Mayra Rivera. I articulate the significance of embracing the woundedness of humanity and the woundedness of God within the imago Dei. This also allows for a radical redefinition of both God’s participation within the world and the nature of transcendence. Through examining Kathryn Tanner’s work on transcendence, I move towards a rejection of oppressive power and towards an understanding of transcendence as loving empowerment that seeks to restore and redeem the wounds suffered both by humanity and God. The conclusion of this thesis then argues that mutual woundedness connects God and humanity, allowing an imaging of God which embraces the suffering of humanity in a divine frame as ‘silent grief.’

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Walton, Professor Heather
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82513
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2021 15:56
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2021 14:36
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82513
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82513

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