Disability Awareness Month Reading

Some Suggested Titles from AAR's Status of People with Disabilities in the Profession Committee

The Status of People with Disabilities in the Profession Committee (PWD) works to promote the full inclusion and advancement of people with disabilities in the Academy and the profession, highlighting the importance of disability cultures and Deaf cultures, and emphasizing disability as an oft-overlooked diversity issue.

Below, the PWD committee has recommended a number of titles - some written by AAR members - in observance of Disability Awareness Month.  

Prophetic Disability: Divine Sovereignty and Human Bodies in the Hebrew Bible

By Sarah J. Melcher

From the publisher:

"At first glance it may seem that the Hebrew prophets offer little resolution on contemporary concerns of inclusivity and defense for persons deemed "other." Bound by their time and culture, the prophets' message seems obscure and irrelevant. However, on closer look, we see that the prophets offer a call to justice for those who are wrongly oppressed and marginalized, those on the fringes of society—the downcast and the disabled.

In Prophetic Disability, Sarah Melcher opens our eyes to the prophetic corpus' ongoing theological relevance in the first book-length treatment of disability in the Bible's prophetic literature. Melcher takes a deep exegetical dive into Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve, analyzing passages that mention disability explicitly and those that offer complementary relevance. With careful and detailed exegetical work, she shows us the profound relationship between disability and the sovereignty of God, the latter being the dominant theme shaping all other motifs in the prophets. Influenced by the prominent work in disability studies by Tom Shakespeare's critical realism, she sets forth her own method in conversation with rhetorical and literary criticism. Melcher's engagement with these ancient texts is informed throughout by a respect for the context and circumstances that generated the texts relevant to disability, as well as a sensitivity to the lived experiences of people with disabilities.

To that end, Prophetic Disability maintains the central theme from Shakespeare: that labels describe, but do not "constitute," disease. Who we are is a reality beyond our distinct experience with disability and impairment. What emerges from Melcher's analysis are ways in which the theological implications arising from the prophetic corpus might guide us toward more ethical practice in our encounters with disabilities.



Black Disability Politics

By Sami Schalk

From the publisher:

In Black Disability Politics, Sami Schalk explores how issues of disability have been and continue to be central to Black activism from the 1970s to the present. Schalk shows how Black people have long engaged with disability as a political issue deeply tied to race and racism. She points out that this work has not been recognized as part of the legacy of disability justice and liberation because Black disability politics differ in language and approach from the mainstream white-dominant disability rights movement. Drawing on the archives of the Black Panther Party and the National Black Women’s Health Project alongside interviews with contemporary Black disabled cultural workers, Schalk identifies common qualities of Black disability politics, including the need to ground public health initiatives in the experience and expertise of marginalized disabled people so that they can work in antiracist, feminist, and anti-ableist ways. Prioritizing an understanding of disability within the context of white supremacy, Schalk demonstrates that the work of Black disability politics not only exists but is essential to the future of Black liberation movements.



The Future is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs

By Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

From the publisher:

In The Future Is Disabled, Leah Laksmi Piepzna-Samarasinha asks some provocative questions: What if, in the near future, the majority of people will be disabled - and what if that's not a bad thing? And what if disability justice and disabled wisdom are crucial to creating a future in which it's possible to survive fascism, climate change, and pandemics and to bring about liberation?

Building on the work of their game-changing book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes about disability justice at the end of the world, documenting the many ways disabled people kept and are keeping each other - and the rest of the world - alive during Trump, fascism and the COVID-19 pandemic. Other subjects include crip interdependence, care and mutual aid in real life, disabled community building, and disabled art practice as survival and joy.

Written over the course of two years of disabled isolation during the pandemic, this is a book of love letters to other disabled QTBIPOC (and those concerned about disability justice, the care crisis, and surviving the apocalypse); honour songs for kin who are gone; recipes for survival; questions and real talk about care, organizing, disabled families, and kin networks and communities; and wild brown disabled femme joy in the face of death. With passion and power, The Future Is Disabled remembers our dead and insists on our future.



Year of the Tiger: An Activist's Life

By Alice Wong

From the publisher:

In Chinese culture, the tiger is deeply revered for its confidence, passion, ambition, and ferocity. That same fighting spirit resides in Alice Wong.

Drawing on a collection of original essays, previously published work, conversations, graphics, photos, commissioned art by disabled and Asian American artists, and more, Alice uses her unique talent to share an impressionistic scrapbook of her life as an Asian American disabled activist, community organizer, media maker, and dreamer. From her love of food and pop culture to her unwavering commitment to dismantling systemic ableism, Alice shares her thoughts on creativity, access, power, care, the pandemic, mortality, and the future. As a self-described disabled oracle, Alice traces her origins, tells her story, and creates a space for disabled people to be in conversation with one another and the world. Filled with incisive wit, joy, and rage, Wong’s Year of the Tiger will galvanize readers with big cat energy.




Places I’ve Taken My Body

By Molly McCully Brown

From the publisher:

In seventeen intimate essays, Molly McCully Brown explores living within and beyond the limits of a body—in her case one shaped since birth by cerebral palsy. These essays comprise a vivid travelogue set throughout the United States and Europe, from the rural American South of her childhood to the medieval streets of Bologna, Italy. Moving between these locales and others, Brown constellates the subjects that define her, inside and out.




From Inclusion to Justice: Disability, Ministry, and Congregational Leadership

By Erin Raffety

From the publisher:

American Christianity tends to view disabled persons as problems to be solved rather than people with experiences and gifts that enrich the church. Churches have generated policies, programs, and curricula geared toward "including" disabled people while still maintaining "able-bodied" theologies, ministries, care, and leadership. Ableism—not lack of ramps, of finances, or of accessible worship—is the biggest obstacle for disabled ministry in America. In From Inclusion to Justice, Erin Raffety argues that what our churches need is not more programs for disabled people but rather the pastoral tools to repent of able-bodied theologies and practices, listen to people with disabilities, lament ableism and injustice, and be transformed by God's ministry through disabled leadership. Without a paradigm shift from ministries of inclusion to ministries of justice, our practical theology falls short.

Drawing on ethnographic research with congregations and families, pastoral experience with disabled people, teaching in theological education, and parenting a disabled child, Raffety, an able-bodied Christian writing to able-bodied churches, confesses her struggle to repent from ableism in hopes of convincing others to do the same. At the same time, Raffety draws on her interactions with disabled Christian leaders to testify to what God is still doing in the pews and the pulpit, uplifting and amplifying the ministry and leadership of people with disabilities as a vision toward justice in the kingdom of God.



Disability's Challenge to Theology: Genes, Eugenics, and the Metaphysics of Modern Medicine

By Devan Stahl

From the publisher:

Theologians have been debating genetic engineering for decades, but what has been missing from many theological debates is a deep concern for persons with genetic disabilities. In this ambitious and stimulating book, Devan Stahl argues that engagement with metaphysics and a theology of nature is crucial for Christians to evaluate both genetic science and the moral use of genetic technologies, such as human genetic engineering, gene therapy, genetic screenings, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and gene editing. Using theological notions of creation ex nihilo and natural law alongside insights from disability studies, the book seeks to recast the debate concerning genetic well-being. Following the work of Stanley Hauerwas, Stahl proposes the church as the locus for reimagining disability in a way that will significantly influence the debates concerning genetic therapies.

Stahl’s project in “genethics” proceeds with an acute awareness of her own liberal Protestant tradition’s early embrace of the eugenics movement in the name of scientific and medical advancement, and it constructively engages the Catholic tradition’s metaphysical approach to questions in bioethics to surpass limitations to Protestant thinking on natural law. Christianity has all too frequently been complicit in excluding, degrading, and marginalizing people with disabilities, but the new Christian metaphysics developed here by way of disability perspectives provides normative, theological guidance on the use of genetic technologies today. As Stahl shows in her study, only by heeding the voices of people with disabilities can Christians remain faithful to the call to find Christ in “the least of these” and from there draw close to God. This book will be of interest to scholars in Christian ethics, bioethics, moral theology, and practical theology.


Becoming the Baptized Body: Disability and the Practice of Christian Community

By Sarah Jean Barton

From the publisher:

Baptism offers the distinctive practice of Christian initiation, rooted in Jesus' own baptism, ministry, death, and resurrection. Too often, however, people with intellectual disabilities are excluded from this core Christian practice and so barred from full inclusion in the life of discipleship. How can the work of the Triune God in baptism renew Christian imagination toward an embrace of baptismal identities and vocations among disabled Christians?

In Becoming the Baptized Body Sarah Jean Barton explores how baptismal theologies and practices shape Christian imagination, identity, and community. Privileging perspectives informed by disability experience through theological qualitative research, Becoming the Baptized Body demonstrates how theology done together can expansively enliven imagination around baptismal practices and how they intersect with the human experience of disability. Through a lively tapestry of stories, theological insights, and partnerships with Christians who experience intellectual disability, Barton resists theological abstraction and engages and expands the field of disability theology.

With a methodological commitment to inclusive research and a focus on ecclesial practice, Barton brings theologians of disability, biblical accounts of baptism, baptismal liturgies, and theological voices from across the ecumenical spectrum in conversation with Christians shaped by intellectual disability. Becoming the Baptized Body explores how the real-world experiences of disabled Christians enrich and expand received Christian theological traditions and illustrates avenues for vibrant participation and formation for all believers.


Disability: Living into the Diversity of Christ’s Body

By Brian Brock

From the publisher:

Leading ethicist and pastoral theologian Brian Brock reflects on the challenge of disability, refuting widely held misconceptions and helping readers respond well to the pastoral implications of disability. Brock, the father of a child with special needs, weaves together theological commentary with narrative reflection, offering rich theological wisdom for shepherding people with disabilities. He shows pastors and ministers-in-training that thinking more closely and theologically about disability is a doorway into a more vibrant and welcoming church life for all Christians.


Formed Together: Mystery, Narrative, and Virtue in Christian Caregiving

By Keith Dow

From the publisher:

Joy, pain, celebration, and grief are constant companions on the journey of caregiving. While remaining detached might seem the preferable option, it is not possible to disentangle the threads of our interwoven stories. Our lives are shaped by each other. We are transformed by our encounters.

In Formed Together, Keith Dow explores the questions of why we should, and why we do, care for one another. He considers what it means for human beings to be interdependent, created in the image of a loving God. Dow recounts personal experiences of supporting people with intellectual disabilities while drawing upon theological and philosophical sources to discover the ethical underpinnings of Christian care. Formed Together reveals that human beings care for one another not merely by choice, but because every person relies upon others. People are called together in mutually formative practices of care, and human flourishing means learning to care well. Dow suggests five virtues that mark ethical caregiving, such as humble courage and quiet attentiveness. These practices can help guide caregivers in responding to the divine call to care.

Dow demonstrates that ethical practices of care do not depend upon intelligence or rational ability. Many are called to the vocation of tending to and being present in the needs of others. To be formed together in the divine image means that caregivers never entirely comprehend themselves, others, or God. Rather, caring well means that humans are to accompany one another in and through experiences of profound mystery and revelation.



Hell Hath No Fury: Gender, Disability, and the Invention of Damned Bodies in Early Christian Literature

By Meghan R. Henning

From the publisher:

Throughout the Christian tradition, descriptions of hell’s fiery torments have shaped contemporary notions of the afterlife, divine justice, and physical suffering. But rarely do we consider the roots of such conceptions, which originate in a group of understudied ancient texts: the early Christian apocalypses.

In this pioneering study, Meghan Henning illuminates how the bodies that populate hell in early Christian literature—largely those of women, enslaved persons, and individuals with disabilities—are punished after death in spaces that mirror real carceral spaces, effectually criminalizing those bodies on earth. Contextualizing the apocalypses alongside ancient medical texts, inscriptions, philosophy, and patristic writings, this book demonstrates the ways that Christian depictions of hell intensified and preserved ancient notions of gender and bodily normativity that continue to inform Christian identity.



The Disabled Church: Human Difference and the Art of Communal Worship

By Rebecca F. Spurrier

From the publisher:

Here, the author argues, the central elements and the participation in the symbols of Christian worship raise questions rather than supply clear markers of unity, prompting the question, What do you need in order to have a church that assumes difference at its heart?

Based on three years of ethnographic research, The Disabled Church describes how the Sacred Family community, comprising people with very different mental abilities, backgrounds, and resources, sustains and embodies a common religious identity. It explores how an ethic of difference is both helped and hindered by a church’s embodied theology. Paying careful attention to how these congregants improvise forms of access to a common liturgy, this book offers a groundbreaking theology of worship that engages both the fragility and beauty revealed by difference within the church. As liturgy requires consent to difference rather than coercion, an aesthetic approach to differences within Christian liturgy provides a frame for congregations and Christian liturgists to pay attention to the differences and disabilities of worshippers. This book creates a distinctive conversation between critical disability studies, liturgical aesthetics, and ethnographic theology, offering an original perspective on the relationship between beauty and disability within Christian communities. Here is a transformational theological aesthetics of Christian liturgy that prioritizes human difference and argues for the importance of the Disabled Church.