Re/Naming Eco-feminist Critique as a Critique of Kyriocentrism: A Constructive Response to Planetary Solidarity (@theTable: Planetary Solidarity)
By Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.
First of all, I want to thank the editors for their careful work in planning and shepherding this volume to publication and the contributors for their stimulating and energizing work. Planetary Solidarity is a milestone in Christian Systematic The*logy. The editors, Professors Kim and Koster, clearly state the focus of the book:
Women and children, the poorest and the most vulnerable people in the world, are the ones who bear the brunt of and are most especially affected by the consequences of climate change (1)….We believe that a focus on women is warranted because theological and ecclesial documents too often do not spell out the ways climate change affects poor and indigenous women around the globe (2).
However, this focus of Planetary Solidarity on wo/men struggling at the bottom of the kyriarchal pyramid seems to be in tension with the book’s eco-centeredness, a point which I will explore in more detail in what follows as a reflection upon where critiques of anthropocentrism and kyriocentrism need to meet as we continue to aim toward planetary solidarity.
To begin, let us focus on Heather Eaton’s assertion of the biocentric over and against an anthropocentric world view. Eaton states that: “[a]n Earth-centric approach would mean the ecological and ethical primacy of a functioning biosphere.” (32f) She explains further that
planetary solidarity requires a larger framework than rights, justice and an equitable sharing of resources. Such solidarity comes from an understanding of human belonging in a planetary more than a political sense. (28)
Given this framework, Eaton then names the key elements that support the Christian the*logical architecture:
The anthropocentrism of Christianity is fastened to core teachings on creation, salvation, christology, resurrection and eternal life. (33)
Anthropocentrism is a world view that considers humans to be the most important factor and value in the Universe. In contrast, the biocentric world view considers humans to be no more than a particular species of animal without greater intrinsic value than any of the other species of organisms that occur on Earth.
If anthropocentrism “precludes planetary solidarity,” centering our theoretical focus on wo/men at the bottom of the kyriarchal pyramid becomes impossible because it would foster anthropocentrism. The second large part of the book seeks to wrestle with this problem but does not explicitly address it, while the first part of the book introduces this tension between scholarly critiques of anthropocentricism and those of kyriocentrism.
For example, the first part of the book, entitled “Reimagining” is dedicated to the discussion and critique of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudatio Si’. Three chapters of Part I explore his argument from a critical feminist point of view. However, I was more than surprised to see the Pope’s encyclical criticized for anthropocentrism, rather than for andro/male centrism or better kyriocentrism, which is lord/master/boss-centrism.
The term androcentric characterizes language and cultural systems that use the expressions “male” and “masculine” to signify man as the paradigmatic human, which thereby subsumes woman under man. Androcentrism was introduced in 1911 as an analytic concept by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her book, The Man-Made World. In biblical and theological feminist studies, androcentric language has been used as a key analytic object of study and tool of analysis in the 1970’s and 80s, but was subsequently replaced by the analytic category of gender, a dualistic term which no longer articulates the power differences between the genders. Kyriocentrism in turn, is best understood as a socio-cultural ideology that legitimates and is legitimated by social-political kyriarchal structures and systems of domination. Hence, the ecological critique of anthropocentrism needs to be reformulated as a critique of kyriocentrism.
While one rightly can criticize the Pope for androcentrism and kyriocentrism, one cannot criticize him, however, for anthropocentrism if one wants to place indigenous and poor wo/men in the center of theological feminist attention. To hermeneutically distinguish the critique of andro/kyriocentrism from that of anthropocentrism is important, considering the editors’ goal to focus on the plight of indigenous and poor women and to investigate how climate change affects their lives. Hence, both feminist eco-theory and Christian theology need to reformulate and re-theorize the ecological critique of anthropocentrism as a critique of kyriocentrism. As a consequence, the hermeneutical center of a critical feminist eco-theology of liberation and planetary solidarity cannot simply be woman. Rather, it must be determined by the needs and interests of wo/men who live at the bottom of the kyriarchal pyramid and struggle against multiplicative forms of oppression.
Next: Responses to “Planetary Solidarity”: Karenna Gore, “Building a Movement of Resistance to the Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in the Trump Era: An Activist Response to Planetary Solidarity” (Part 8)