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Autism, humanity and personhood: A theological perspective

Cox, Jennifer (2015) Autism, humanity and personhood: A theological perspective. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Theological anthropology is charged with providing an understanding of the human. But theological anthropology can exclude people who are cognitively impaired because it has historically upheld reason as the image of God. Recent theology of intellectual disability has bypassed this difficulty by emphasising relationality as the image of God. This approach, however, has the unfortunate consequence that it excludes people with severe low functioning autism, who do not relate to others as persons but as objects. This thesis aims to articulate a theological anthropology which is inclusive of people with severe autism.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, the main characteristic of which is difficulty in social interaction. An examination of the Genesis creation story reveals both that God is relational and that human beings were created to live in relationship with God and other humans. This raises the theological question of how we may understand people with severe autism as human persons. Through an investigation of the significance of the incarnation I argue that the best basis for an inclusive anthropology, not dependent on any characteristic or ability, is the vicarious humanity of Christ. This is because Jesus Christ is the only human being who is without sin and the only true image of God. He is therefore able to gift others with both humanity and personhood. The work of the incarnation is completed by the atonement and resurrection. The work of the cross overcomes death and provides the basis for the eschatological healing of autism. This healing is actualised in the resurrection of the dead, when all that was proleptically true of the humanity of autistics will be fully realised. My christological, inclusive theological anthropology provides a strong basis for upholding the dignity and value of all people with severe autism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Jensen, Alexander and Main, Alex
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