Rosemary Radford Ruether
In Memory of My Colleague and Friend,
Dr. Rita M. Gross
By Rosemary Radford Ruether
Rita Gross was one of the most productive scholars in the field of women and comparative religion globally. Rita grew up on a farm in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, reared in a conservative Lutheran Church which she outgrew as she became educated. She turned to Judaism in college and then moved on to Buddhism in her thirties, as she realized that this tradition best responded to her world view. She did her doctorate at the University of Chicago, pioneering the field of women’s studies in religion. Her 1993 book, Buddhism after Patriarchy, is foundational for the discussion of gender issues in Buddhism.
In addition to many published articles, Rita wrote six books on social issues in religion and edited five collections of articles by emerging scholars of comparative religion. She taught as Professor of Comparative Studies in Religion at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire for many years, retiring only a few years ago. She was also accepted as a lopön or senior scholar by Buddhist communities in the United States.
Rita and I became close friends and colleagues through our participation in the International Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter, a discussion group for Buddhist-Christian dialogue founded by Christian theologian, John Cobb, Jr, and Buddhist scholar, Masao Abe, in the early 1980s. Since Rita and I were leading feminist scholars in the network and had long written on issues of women and religion in our respective contexts, the two of us were often called up to address issues related to gender and Buddhism and Christianity in the context of the meetings of this group. The two of us developed a good working relationship in this context. For Rita, this group also became an important community of scholars where her views were valued, and she was revered as a scholar, a regard unfortunately often denied her in her teaching context at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire where there was little esteem for intellectual conversation.
Our friendship and collaboration moved to a new level in 1999 when we were asked by a leader of the Catholic women’s community, the Grail, based in Loveland, Ohio, to do a weekend workshop on women and Buddhist-Christian dialogue. It was in the context of that workshop that Rita and I drew up the plan for a jointly-written book based on our conversation. This book was published in 2001 by Continuum Press, under the title Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet; a Buddhist-Christian Conversation.
This book is a rich expression of our intellectual autobiographical journeys through our lives and our conversation with each other. In the first section of the book, we wrote intellectual and social autobiographies , showing how our respective journeys had led us to our developing thought and writings. We then did parallel articles on what each of us found problematic in our respective religious traditions, Rita on Buddhism and I on Christianity. And then parallel articles on what each of us has found liberating in our respective traditions. A third set of parallel articles discuss what each of us had found inspiring in the other tradition, Rita on Christianity and I on Buddhism. In all three sets of articles there were responses from each of us to the articles by the other, Rita to my articles and I to Rita’s articles. Finally we conclude the books with parallel articles by Rita and myself on how our religious traditions contribute resources for dealing with ecological crisis and the need for planetary sustainability, again with responses of each of us to the article by the other.
This volume is the most comprehensive expression of our dialogue and mutual conversation with each other. It is somewhat unique as a testimony of deep interaction between two feminist scholars from different religions entering into intellectual relationship with one another. I am deeply saddened by Rita Gross’s untimely death from a stroke on November 11 of 2015 in her early 70’s. The world has lost an important thinker and I a cherished friend.
Rosemary Radford Ruether is an American feminist scholar and Catholic theologian. Prof. Ruether is an advocate of women's ordination, a movement among Catholic religious persons who affirm women's capacity to serve as priests, despite official sanction. Since 1985 Ruether has served as a board member for the pro-choice group "Catholics for Choice" (CFC). Prof Ruether holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Scripps College (1958), an M.A. in Ancient History (1960) and a Ph.D. in Classics and Patristics (1965) from Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, California. She is Visiting Professor of Religion and Feminist Theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. Her first appointment was as professor at Howard University in Washington D.C. from 1965 to 1975. She was Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union, and retired from her long-term post as Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Prof. Ruether is the author of 36 books and over 600 articles on feminism, eco-feminism the Bible and Christianity. (Wikipedia, accessed 3/2/16)