Keynote: Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo


Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo is currently Earley Assistant Professor of Catholic and Latin American Studies at the School of Divinity, Wake Forest University, US.

Her book, The Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological Anthropology (Fortress, 2015), draws on women’s experiences of maternity and natality to construct a theology of suffering and redemption that is anchored in the reality of human vulnerability. Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo speaks of the power and vulnerability of love, a power that is only available in vulnerability. She presents a theological anthropology with an emphasis on the givenness of vulnerability as an inevitable dimension of the human condition that stands in contrast with what she sees as “dominant strands of the Christian tradition in which vulnerability and the suffering to which it exposes us are the punitive responses of divine justice to human sin”(4). She suggests to see vulnerability as central to the analysis of the human problem rather than sin (5) which goes together with an alternative understanding of human flourishing and redemption, seeing

the redemptive response of divine power to that which ails humanity… not primarily the rectification of human sinfulness and removal of vulnerability after death… Rather, divine love responds to human vulnerability here and now, within our vulnerable condition with existential and practical resources for resilience to harm and resistance to violence(6).

For O’Donnell Gandolfo, seeking wisdom about the universal questions of theological anthropology

… can never be done abstractly and thus requires a redoubled commitment to engaging the contemporary human situation at the site of particular wounds – not just for the sake of heightened understanding, but for the sake of contributing to the healing, transformation, and full flourishing of human beings and all of creation (O’Donnell Gandolfo 2015:10-11, borrowing the notion of doing theology from a wound from Mary McClintock-Fulkerson).

One review, by Lauren F. Winner, can be found  in Christian Century (31 dec 2015).

Other relevant publications are:

  • “Motherhood and the (In)vulnerability of the Imago Dei: Being Human in the Mystical-Political Cloud of Impossibility,” in Jenny Daggers and Grace Ji-Sun Kim, eds., Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • “A Truly Human Incarnation: Recovering a Place for Nativity in Contemporary Christology,” Theology Today 70/4 (2014).
  • “Remembering the Massacre at El Mozote: A Case for the Dangerous Memory of Suffering as Christian Formation in Hope,” International Journal of Practical Theology 17/2 (2013).
  • Motherhood, Violence, and Peacemaking: A Practical-Theological Lesson From Liberia,” in Margaret R. Pfeil and Tobias L. Winright, eds., Violence, Transformation and the Sacred: They Shall be Called Children of God. Orbis Books, 2012.