The unheard voices of people with disabilities: practical theology in conversation with the spiritualities of Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila
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This practical theological study draws on the theological method of Don S. Browning to implement a mutually critical correlation between the everyday experiences of people with disabilities depicted in six case study narratives and selected texts of two mystical authors, Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. The study brings to light the harsh everyday reality of living with a physical disability, articulates disability as a practice, and outlines the operative effective history of the United States associated with physical disability. This operative history has long kept the harsh reality of embodied vulnerability hidden from view and thus has contributed to the marginalization of people with disabilities. The critical dialogue between the narratives of persons with disabilities and the selected mystical texts provides a new hermeneutical lens through which to read mystical theology and reveals insights into embodiment and marginalization that bear implications for spirituality studies, disability studies, and practical theology. This dissertation argues that scholars in disability studies neglect embodied vulnerability when they define disability only as a social construction. Chapter One proposes that disability is both a social construction and a biological reality. The next chapter illustrates that people with disabilities still experience existential absurdity and that predominant norms in the United States (however unconscious) continue to try to conceal or avoid the negative effects of embodied difference. The study then analyzes the themes of embodiment and marginalization in the mystical theologies of Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. Chapter Three reveals that Julian’s relational conception of the Trinity and God’s immanence in the humblest of needs offer ways to establish dignity for people with disabilities. Chapter Four shows that mystical prayer provides impetus for Teresa’s work as a social reformer, which challenges sixteenth century Spain to welcome conversos and value women. The final chapter shows that the mutually critical conversation offers a starting point for building theological constructs of embodied spirituality to respond to the avoidance of embodied vulnerability and the challenges of living with physical disability.