Sallie McFague, 1933-2019

Tributes paid to a pioneering scholar who helped ‘push the boundaries of how we think and feel theologically to address the needs of the world’

一月 16, 2020
Sallie Mcfague

A feminist theologian who played a major role in rethinking traditional notions of God has died.

Sallie McFague was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1933 and grew up in nearby Milton. She studied for a BA in English literature at Smith College in Massachusetts (1955) and followed this up with a bachelor’s of divinity at Yale Divinity School (1959). She remained at Yale University for a master’s (1960) and then a PhD (1964) in theology and later adapted her thesis into a book titled Literature and the Christian Life (1966).

In 1970, Professor McFague joined Vanderbilt Divinity School in Tennessee as an assistant professor of theology. Just five years later, Vanderbilt University’s chancellor, Alexander Heard, appointed her dean – apparently the first woman to play such a role at any US divinity school. Under her leadership, the school played a prominent role in protesting against the university’s decision to allow a tennis team from apartheid South Africa to participate in Davis Cup tennis matches on campus.

After resigning as dean in 1979, Professor McFague returned to teaching and research and in 1989 was appointed the first E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter professor of theology. Her influential books included Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (1987), The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (1993) and Blessed are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (2013). Her eminence was also recognised by an invitation from Pope John Paul II to attend a conference on science, philosophy and theology at his summer residence.

“Sallie McFague broke new ground in how we think about God through metaphors as feminist theology was just emerging, and the connections of religion with economics and ecology as environmental theology began to find its voice,” said Emilie Townes, current dean of Vanderbilt’s divinity school. “She influenced a generation of creative theologians who knew the tradition well, yet have pushed the boundaries of how we think and feel theologically to address the needs of the world and help us imagine and live into a better future for all.”

After becoming a professor emerita at Vanderbilt in 2000, Professor McFague found a new role as a distinguished theologian in residence at the Vancouver School of Theology in Canada. In 2011, the Dalai Lama asked her to take part in his conference on ecology, ethics and interdependence. She died on 15 November and is survived by a son, a daughter, two grandchildren, and her wife, the Reverend Janet Cawley.

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