Kenotic Gestures

Comparative Aesthetics and the Feminist Debate on Kenosis


  • Michelle Voss Roberts Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto



feminist theology, kenosis, contemplation, love, bhakti rasa


Christians sometimes take Christ's kenosis, or self-emptying, as the pattern for Christian love of God and neighbor. Feminist critics suspect that this model reinforces unhealthy gender norms and oppressive power structures and contest the nature and extent of this template. Interreligiousstudy can shed light on the debate. The Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition employs the categories of Indian aesthetic theory to explain how types of loving devotion (bhakti rasa) toward Krishna are evoked and expressed. The subordinate and peaceful modes of love for Krishna can serve as a heuristic for understanding Sarah Coakley's and Cynthia Bourgeault's retrievals of kenosis in spiritual practice. A comparative reading suggests that objections to Coakley's version, which resembles the subordinate love of God, are more intractable due to the rootedness of its aesthetic in oppressive human experiences, while Bourgeault's reclamation of kenosis aligns with a peaceful or meditative mode of love that feminists may more readily appreciate.

Author Biography

Michelle Voss Roberts, Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto

Michelle Voss Roberts, Principal and Professor of Theology at Emmanuel College in Toronto, is a comparative theologian working at the intersection of Christian and Hindu traditions. Her most recent book is Body Parts: A Theological Anthropology (Fortress Press, 2017). 


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How to Cite

Voss Roberts, M. (2019). Kenotic Gestures: Comparative Aesthetics and the Feminist Debate on Kenosis. Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theology, 3(1-2), 198–218.