Dorothee Sölle

Radical feminist theologian

Dorothee Nipperdey, theologian and activist: born Cologne 30 September 1929; married 1954 Dietrich Sölle (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1963), 1969 Fulbert Steffensky (one daughter); died Göppingen, Germany 27 April 2003.

"I speak to you as a woman from one of the wealthiest countries in the world; a country whose history is tainted with bloodshed and the stench of gas." Dorothee Sölle's opening words of her address to the 1983 assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver were typical of her desire to shock her audience and shake out any complacency. She went on to attack the "militarism" of the European and North American Churches and their "apartheid theology" against the Third World.

The leaders of her own Lutheran Church in West Germany - long uneasy at her radical attitudes - were unhappy that she had been invited to give such a high-profile address and publicly distanced their church from her. They disliked her commitment to left-wing causes, including opposing the Vietnam War and Nato's decision to base US nuclear weapons in West Germany, and supporting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Her commitment to international solidarity and green politics ran deep. She was scathing about capitalism and materialism. She would later call for only a slow reunification of East and West Germany, and opposed the post-11 September US-led invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq this year.

It was in the heady days of 1968 that Sölle joined forces with the Benedictine monk Fulbert Steffensky (whom she would marry the following year) to launch "Political Evening Prayer", so called because the wary organisers of a Catholic conference in Essen deliberately scheduled the event for 11pm. Over the next four years, at packed liturgies in the Antoniterkirche in Cologne, woolly prayers for peace and justice were out while politicised praying was in.

She described these liturgies as "theological/political reflection and action, which aims at an understanding of and feeling for the crucified Christ today, and how Christians need to respond".

Sölle was the product of her times. The daughter of a law professor, she became disillusioned with the inadequacies of German middle-class values, especially the failure to resist Nazism. She did not exempt her Lutheran Church from her criticism. One result of her wartime experience was an early post-war visit to Israel to meet the Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber.

She studied literature, philosophy and theology at Cologne University before gaining a doctorate at Göttingen in 1954, the year she married an artist. After teaching German and religion in school she became a research assistant at the Technical University of Aachen and then, from 1964, taught German at Cologne University. She later taught in Mainz.

Influenced by Rudolf Bultmann and neo-Marxism, her writings focused on "theology after the death of God". She regarded sin as alienation. She criticised the preoccupation with material possessions. She rejected the "otherness" of God, arguing that God was incarnational and embodied in communities. She interpreted Jesus's crucifixion as a political act of solidarity with the world's suffering.

She claimed she was never offered a lectureship in theology at a German university because of her radical political views, but eventually found a congenial home in the United States. From 1975 to 1987 she spent six months each year in New York as Professor of Systematic Theology at the liberal Protestant Union Theological Seminary.

It was there that she developed her views as a feminist theologian, partly spurred by conversations with colleagues but which built on the rejection she already espoused of an all-powerful male God. "My objections to the divine 'super-power' began to make themselves felt when I was in Auschwitz," she recalled in 1985 of a visit she had made to the Nazi death camp two decades earlier. Her 1984 book The Strength of the Weak: toward a Christian feminist identity encapsulated her thought.

Articulate, telegenic and a powerful speaker, Sölle often attracted full houses to her talks. Her more than 30 books - including volumes of poetry - built up a wider following. Although her first marriage ended in trauma, her second was happy and fulfilling (even if she could not persuade Steffensky of the merits of jazz and he could not persuade her of the charms of Gregorian chant).

In the last five years she went on the road with Grupo Sal to present programmes of readings and songs to protest against violence in all its forms, to the earth, to individuals and what she called the "global violence of neo-liberal economy". Proceeds went to support the work of another daughter, a doctor in Bolivia.

Felix Corley

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering