Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Theodore M. Vial, Jr., Ph.D.


Christian theology, Cognitive disability, Disability studies, Intellectual disability, Theological anthropology


The concept of human flourishing currently holds a position of prominence within Christian theology. Numerous theologies assert that a person enjoys the fullness of humanity, not through conformity to an essential nature, but through being a living demonstration of what human being can become. This approach to theological anthropology has proven especially useful for advocacy on behalf of marginalized groups. Nevertheless, because this approach identifies human being with the capacity for purposive agency, it remains incapable of affirming the full humanity of persons with profound cognitive disabilities. These persons lack abilities that purposive agency presupposes, such as self-representation, language, and goal-oriented thought. The aim of the present study is to reconstruct theological anthropology so that it includes these persons without qualification and makes their flourishing an ethical priority.

Christian theologians do not typically regard cognitive disability as a topic deserving consideration. I thus establish its vital importance by both engaging disability studies and articulating a relational conceptualization of the imago Dei. Disability studies challenges the widespread assumption that "disability" is an identity category pertaining only to a minority of individuals whose bodies or minds are "abnormal." Deborah Creamer's limits model of disability is especially helpful in illuminating how experiences of disablement are common to every human life. The expectation that a "normal" body is entirely free of impairment perpetuates modern ideals of autonomy and self-sufficiency that no concrete person is capable of embodying. Restated theologically, embodied limits are the intrinsic, unsurprising consequence of creaturely finitude. The fact of finitude is itself good rather than a poor alternative to divine perfection.

I further argue that creation in God's image entails living into a relational state of radical interdependence. Human being is the embodied expression of God's own caring embrace of vulnerable, dependent others. Purposive agency is merely one capacity through which this is achieved. Human being remains possible where it is absent. Through careful reflection on creation, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, I identify biblical and traditional resources that, beyond being simply compatible with my anthropology, also provide warrants for affirming the full humanity of persons with profound cognitive disabilities.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

David N. Scott

File size

265 p.

File format





Theology, Religion, Philosophy

Available for download on Thursday, June 30, 2022