Academic; Born May 11, 1952; Died February 20, 2009.
Marcella Althaus-Reid, who has died aged 56, was the first woman to be appointed to a chair in the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh when she was made professor of contextual theology in 2006.
She was a vibrant, inspirational and original teacher. In 2000, she published Indecent Theology which argued that while decency for men implies honesty and trustworthiness, for women it involves expectations based on gender perceptions and sexual understandings.
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Althaus-Reid recognised that while a lot of religious statements and theological views purport to explore the will of God, they disguise political interests. So she attempted to develop her theology within the context of the experience of people whose freedom to express their sexuality has been inhibited.
Four years later, Althaus-Reid published The Queer God, in which she said that God had to be liberated from the closet of theologians who basically endorsed the status quo by rejecting the sexual ideology traditionally associated with God.
Her work on theology within the context of sexuality was an extension of the liberation theology in which she had been trained, where the special relationship between God and the poor was specially significant in South America. Those whose sexuality was denied expression, misunderstood or despised were introduced to the God whose opinion of them was clear to Althaus-Reid as God's opinion of the poor.
Marcella Althaus-Reid was born in Rosario, Argentina, and baptised as a Roman Catholic. She completed her first degree at ISEDET, the centre for the study of liberation theology in Latin America.
She then worked in social and community projects in deprived areas of Buenos Aires, inspired by Paolo Freire who had pioneered improving literacy among the illiterate poor of Brazil. On the strength of her work there she was asked to establish similar projects in Dundee and Perth. She was awarded a PhD by the University of St Andrews in 1993, and the following year was appointed to a lectureship in Edinburgh University, directing a master's course in theology and development. In 2001, she became senior lecturer and then reader in theology.
As well as feminist and gender theology, she had a particular interest in globalisation. Globalisation, she believed, affected theology in several ways. It ensured that in addition to being poor, the poor were also excluded, and so there needed to be reflection on how God was seen at the margins where exclusion was the norm: among the street children of Latin America, Africa and India, as well as transvestites organising themselves in communities of economic survival and resistance. Theology, Althaus-Reid believed, was at risk of accepting the market's emphasis on production and not on the practice of faith.
Althaus-Reid's writing led to her lecturing in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and New Zealand. The translation of her books into Spanish became a point of contact between theologians from Latin and from North America. She was a visiting professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and at the Methodist University of Sao Paolo in Brazil.
An Edinburgh colleague described her as bringing theological rigour and vigour to debates particularly about gay issues which can sometimes generate more heat than light. She was a member of the advisory theological team of the Rev Elder Nancy Wilson of the Metropolitan Community Church, and although formally a member of the Quakers and the Church of Scotland felt at home in their Edinburgh congregation. Johnston McKay