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Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History [Paperback]

Rosemary Ruether
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2006
This landmark work presents the most illuminating portrait we have to date of goddesses and sacred female imagery in Western culture - from prehistory to contemporary goddess movements. Beautifully written, lucidly conceived, and far-ranging in its implications, this work will help readers gain a better appreciation of the complexity of the social forces - mostly androcentric - that have shaped the symbolism of the sacred feminine. At the same time, it charts a new direction for finding a truly egalitarian vision of God and human relations through a feminist-ecological spirituality. Rosemary Radford Ruether begins her exploration of the divine feminine with an analysis of prehistoric archaeology that challenges the popular idea that, until their overthrow by male-dominated monotheism, many ancient societies were matriarchal in structure, governed by a feminine divinity and existing in harmony with nature. For Ruether, the historical evidence suggests the reality about these societies is much more complex. She goes on to consider key myths and rituals from Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Anatolian cultures; to examine the relationships among gender, deity, and nature in the Hebrew religion; and to discuss the development of Mariology and female mysticism in medieval Catholicism, and the continuation of Wisdom mysticism in Protestanism. She also gives a provocative analysis of the meeting of Aztec and Christian female symbols in Mexico and of today's neo-pagan movements in the United States.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (1 Dec 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520250052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520250055
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 15.2 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,138,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Clearly written, erudite, lavishly detailed, and with unbiased analysis." - Library Journal "The scholarship in this book is superior, revealing a depth of insight and a scope of knowledge possible only from a scholar who has lived with the concerns of feminist theology for decades. Ruether is a gifted storyteller, and lucidly translates complex ideas and debates. This work is of the highest importance, and Ruether asks the right questions at the right time. The text is groundbreaking." - Nancy Pineda-Madrid, Saint Mary's College of California "Ruether has provided a valuable introduction to an important feminist topic: what can we know about sacred female imagery in Western culture? She guides us through contemporary feminist scholarship, providing engaging narrative, and venturing her own interpretations. Ruether calls for feminists to move beyond divisions created by our different interpretations of prehistory and work together towards our common project of a more peaceful, just, and ecological world." - Carol Hepokoski, Meadville Lombard Theological School"

About the Author

Rosemary Radford Ruether is Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She is author of numerous books, including Sexism and Godtalk: Toward a Feminist Theology (second edition, 1993), Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992), and Women and Redemption: A Theological History (1998).

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To examine the contested issue of gender in ancient Near Eastern prehistory, I begin with a definition of the period. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars The quest for the goddess 3 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Rosemary Ruether, herself a doyenne of feminism, took up the search for the Goddess in response to the theme's very natural adoption by feminists, notably the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994). The story Ruether tells is a tangled one, which weaves together the story of modern anthropology (gyneology?) and the Goddess's manifestations in the world's cultures and religions.

I think it is fair to say that she looks for, and does not find, a continuity in the Goddess theme; as (to take a quite influential example, at least on me) Robert Graves did find in 'The White Goddess'. Rather, the Goddess is made manifest - or suppressed - according to the priorities of each culture's religion. The Sumerian Inanna, the Babylonian Ishtar and the Egyptian Isis perform similar roles, important but bounded, in helping to validate their respective monarchical setups. The Hebrew Asherah, a local variation on Ishtar known from figurines and an inscription ("Yahweh and his Asherah"), fades out.

One huge red herring is the "original matriarchy" of Johann Bachofen (1815-1887). From this descend a good many pre-conceptions the unwary student might fall prey to - not to mention Xena and Gabrielle. Actually Amazonianism turns out to be a particularly fanciful part of a theory which was devised to portray the rule of women as a primitive, undeveloped form of society. Whereas, in Ruether's words but Bachofen's thought: "the completion of the triumph of mind over body took place only with the assertion of patriarchy over matriarchy." The influence can be traced, via Frazer's 'Golden Bough', to Graves and even Tolkien.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rational Assessment of the Divine Feminine 28 Aug 2007
By H. Campbell - Published on Amazon.com
Prof. Ruether has done a fine job in avoiding the radicalizing polemics of the feminist movement and providing a balanced perspective of how the feminine aspect of holiness has been marginalized by patriarchy. She does this without waxing nostalgic about a fancied halcyon day when women ruled peacefully. She convincingly argues that this thesis was never established on anything other than an ideological wannabe basis.
Her final chapter, on the modern Wicca movement, provides a good foundation for establishing a tolerant view of how the feminine aspects of divinity can be incorporated into a holistic view of spirituality. I would have liked to have seen a more in-depth analysis of why the early christian fathers were so determined to eliminate the emphasis on feminine Wisdom and replace it with Jesus , but overall she has given an interesting accounting of the process whereby Christianity (especially the Protestant variety) has become an almost exclusively male preserve. This book is highly recommended for any student of early religion, the feminist movement or aboriginal spirituality.
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Great 19 Jun 2014
By VanEzzania - Published on Amazon.com
I had to read this for school, and while I do love learning about different deities and religion I was never originally interested in the gender aspect of it. However, Prof. Ruether changed that. Ruether analyzes and explains multiple religions and female divinities from ancient Sumer, to the Medieval Gnostic cults, to the Protestant's views of the Virgin Mary, and to the recent development of Goddess spirituality among feminist Neo-Pagans. Her bountiful analysis between the female divinities and their relations within the religions of whatever cultures they were worshiped by, and how those relations affected women within said cultures is quite helpful and intriguing. She also presents some skepticism and critique at various theological teachings on women; this skepticism is not hateful or intended as an attack on any religion or spirituality but is nevertheless much needed. The only small, and brief, issue I took with is how Ruether used uppercase and lower case spellings of "god" and "goddess". It was somewhat confusing at first but I eventually got around it.

I recommend this book for any feminist interested in women and religion, whether they be religious or secular themselves.
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading 30 Mar 2013
By Francine M. Apollo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read a few books about the Goddess history. This book is by Rosemary Raford Ruether, you have to read it even if you've read other books.

It is complete, well done; just a bit academic.

Loved it.
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A COMPREHENSIVE VIEW OF THE SUBJECT 5 July 2005
By S. D. M. - Published on Amazon.com
This is an unusually well-balanced survey of goddesses in history and belief. Compared with other books on the subject, it offers more substantive material and there is an obvious effort to represent each point of view. The reader is given a full account of the manifold manifestations of goddesses throughout history as well as the various feminist viewpoints of today.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious contribution 15 Jun 2009
By Prof. R. Paris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book. REmarkable in every respect, i/e., the amount of information, the clarity of style, the points of view. Certainly, not politically correct, since it dares contradict the excesses of the feminist movement. Everybody interested in the history of the gender war should read it. Kudos.
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