How Can Attachment Theory Inform Feminist Soteriologies?

Natalia Marandiuc
Monday 18 July 2022
  1. Introduction and Hypothesis
  2. Fields of Study
  3. Discussion
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction and Hypothesis

The attachment theory associated with developmental psychology and the neuroscience research that supports it show that attachment bonds are direct sources of human thriving. How can this research be deployed toward a robust theological proposal that the experience of human love, particularly attachment love, is a generative element in salvation, even more so, in salvific fulfillment? This puzzle brings together the question of human thriving and fulfillment with soteriological concerns in a feminist register, informed by the work done in the field of attachment research.

2. Fields of Study

2.1 Attachment Theory in Psychology and Neuroscience

Research in the psychology and related neuroscience of human attachment shows that attachment relationships are core, sine qua non components in human psychological and bodily development. This research shows that human attachment bonds, which are the strongest bonds we can experience, are irreducible prerequisites for the development of neuronal connections in the brain, which in turn are the basis of both bodily thriving and psychological wellbeing.

While the infancy of attachment theory involved a concerted effort to understand attachment in the developmental stages of human life, notably in children, the current scope of attachment research extends to multiple varieties of adult attachment. Attachment theorists hold that the “adult mind [has a] strong propensity for forming close relationships with other embodied minds” (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007, 1). The ability and need to form attachments constitutes an “inborn regulatory system” which contributes extensively to a person’s development of emotions, social comportment, memory, and most comprehensively, one’s sense of self (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007, 28). Attachment research shows that the good operation of a person’s attachment system is a necessary condition for their optimal engagement in non-attachment pursuits. When one perceives dangers or threats (whether they are real or imaginary is immaterial in this context), or when one experiences distress or sorrow, one’s attachment system activates so as to seek the proximity and perceived protection of attachment figures—people with whom attachment bonds have been forged. If they are available, the resultant state of the seeker is one of relief and security, as well as positive mental representations for the respective people and one’s own self. A lack of attachment figures available and able to provide aid results not only in a negative view of the potential givers whose presence is sought, but also a negative, often destructive, representation of one’s own self. Secure attachments are more than a desirable feature of good relationships; they are part of a hard-wired behavioral system innate to the brain that has a formative as well as sustaining role in the proper function of human subjectivity and its self-actualization (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007, 10).

When the attachment system motivates a child to seek the proximity of a caregiver, it is not only a tool for survival but also one of self-actualization at the most basic level; the young mind, by virtue of this relationship of attachment, uses the functions of the adult mind to organize its own processes. The self is forged from early childhood through this “borrowing” of another’s mind to shape one’s own. This kind of rapport remains operative through one’s entire life, even if or when attachment figures change. A good attachment background is requisite for the stability of one’s affect. There is an affective traffic between the two subjectivities involved: one is giving while the other receives. In healthy adult attachments, the roles of giver and receiver switch with a relatively balanced frequency.

Attachment researchers have widely hypothesized and subsequently concluded that large networks of people insufficiently uphold human wellbeing in the absence of close attachments, which are never numerous. In fact, a single such relationship can, in some cases, be sufficient (Levitt 1991, 183-200). An attachment figure, then, serves a crucial role which larger communities cannot fulfill; such a relationship yields real changes in the human brain processes of the self which affects behaviors from infancy through the whole of one’s life (Siegel 1999, 68). The logic of evolutionary psychology suggests that the genes that encode the tendency toward seeking closeness and care, as well as other attachment practices, were selected and passed on because infants who experienced the caring proximity of attachment figures would be more likely to reach adulthood and reproduce.

The neuronal synaptic connections in the brain do not simply develop as a result of genetic programming, even as genes play a significant role. Genetic potential is always actualized in social settings and experiences, especially ones which involve the affect as we relate to significant others. Simply said, “human connections create neuronal connections” (Siegel 1999, 85). Attachment needs and behaviors, however, do not cease, or even diminish in their significance for one’s wellbeing, throughout the whole lifespan, even as the needs may be less visible when they are being met or have been met for a long time. While researchers do not know with precision to what extent the brain is “plastic” and able to be chiseled through social and affect-rich experiences, they do not doubt that it is. Relationships that involve close affective attachments contribute to the formation, pruning, and maintenance of neuronal synaptic connections in the brain (Siegel 1999, 85-86). Such neural pathways are responsible for the basic brain functions that enter the dynamic interplay of subjectivity development, from behavior to feelings to cognition. The region in the brain most identifiable with attachment is the very same one responsible for autonoetic consciousness, which enables the self-recollection or re-enactment of events to which one has been present. This cortical region also hosts the centers that coordinate empathic attunement, emotional regulation, bodily states, and the assessment of the value and meaning of particular mental representations. Not coincidentally, all these cognitive processes have proven to be influenced positively by secure attachments and negatively by insecure attachments of every form (Siegel 1999, 84-85, 96-97).

Researchers have identified concrete hormonal activities that account for attachment inclinations, respond to distress, and play a clinically observable role in attachment relationships. For example, neuropeptides (hormones associated with neurons), such as oxytocin—which has been linked with both parent-child and romantic/sexual relationship bonding and which generate states of bliss and well-being—are consistently low in persons who were orphaned, neglected, or mistreated in childhood. On the other hand, stress hormones such as cortisol are high or unstable in people of all ages who have been separated from attachment figures or are even in a situation to consider such separation. The attachment system is measurably linked with hard biological data and is active during the entire lifecycle (Mikulincer and Shaver 2007, 11-12).

In secure relationships, the attachment figure, or the person who functions as such in that moment, cultivates a sensitivity to emotional signals from the other and responds to them with emotional alignment. Various branches of psychological theory utilize the notion of “mentalization” to refer to the reflective function of the mind that enables the capacity to envision mental states both in the self and in others (Fonagy et al. 2004, 23). The resulting “mental state resonance” co-regulates each individual’s “affect attunement” and mental organization, yet achieving this resonance is not a normative aim at all times in attachment bonds. Secure attachments involve a circular dance of engagement in and disengagement from such attunement; attachment serves as a safe base to come to and go away from, only to return again (Fonagy et al. 2004, 70-71). Good attachments generate a safety net that recedes in the background when attachment needs are met, in the sense that it creates a safe home base from which one ventures out on other pursuits. As such, attachment attunements form the background source and fertile ground of life thriving possibilities.

2.2 Soteriology

While many soteriological frameworks coexist in the vast theological literature on this subject, in this theological puzzle I focus on sanctification and deification taken broadly in relation to participation in the life of God. More specifically, as I consider how the interweaving of human and divine love enables a salvific path for human existence, I engage the work of two feminist theologians: Kathryn Tanner and Catherine Keller. While they work within different paradigms, their arguments help make the case for the triadic interconnection between love, salvation, and thriving. I do not assume that salvation has the character of a fait accompli in anyone’s life but rather entails a dynamic, lively, perpetual renewal and growth of one’s capaciousness for love.

2.2.1 Moldable Selves and Non-Competitive Loves

In Tanner’s thought, there is a clear distinction “between our existing and our existing well”, even as the two states are on an experiential continuum (Tanner 2010, 28). The latter is only possible when we are attached to Christ. This attachment, while distinct from the experience theorized by attachment research, is analogous to the latter in the sense that it enables us to be most fully human, most thoroughly functioning, and most vibrantly alive. She is arguing for a radical dependence of human life on another life. We are dependent on Christ for the most basic purpose of carrying on living with our full capacities activated. As Christ is not only completely human but also completely divine, being attached to Christ further means that our lives are attached to and participate in the life of God. Consequently, attachment to Christ coincides with human life becoming deified. It is also a proposal for the fulfillment of finite life rooted in a vision of Christ maximalism: we are fully human only insofar as we are connected to Christ. This attachment is enacted pneumatologically, through the Holy Spirit, who holds together both the hypostatic union and our attachment to it. The Christ-connection is what completes our human nature qua human and imports the transcendental presence of the Spirit of Christ into human existence, defining it from the standpoint of its telos.

 Tanner works out her view on the basis of anthropological assumptions which attachment research confirms. She assumes that human life is constitutively prone to exogenous influences and profoundly moldable by them. We lack an initial definition, which makes us susceptible to being chiseled by persons and elements outside ourselves. The environment presses upon our existence in multiple ways, altering us to various degrees and in numerous directions. This is possible in the first place because human life has a radical plasticity inscribed in its nature. We can be shaped in ways that determine externally what we become.[1] The stronger the influence is, the more acute the change it induces in us. Since God is our ultimate environing context and we are God’s own creatures, God shapes us in the strongest sense in which we can be transformed. Closeness to God—the ultimate good— therefore transforms us most radically toward our own goodness (Tanner 2010, 38 ff). This closeness to God is achieved in the incarnation of Christ. Christ is our divine proximity and gateway for God’s grace toward us.

 In this model, grace travels from God to us via a chain of attachments. The three members of the trinity are eternally attached to one another in the oneness of the Godhead. Tanner accents the particular significance of the attachment of the Word to the Spirit, as both become linked to human beings in the divine missions. The Word, though remaining distinct from humanity, is being attached to human life in the hypostatic union. This transfers the Spirit, which the Word always has within the trinity, to the humanity of Christ, and from Christ to the rest of human beings. Christ is the precondition of our attachment to God, in the Spirit, as the humanity of Jesus becomes God’s very own in the hypostatic union. Our kinship with the humanity of Christ attaches us to the incarnate Word and enables the transfer of divine gifts across the landscape of creaturely existence (Tanner 2010, 70-74). The human person is “characterized by [such] an expansive openness” that it “makes room for the divine within its basic operations” (Tanner 2010, 37).

Is there enough humanity left in such a Christ-attached human person? Isn’t human agency too passive, or perhaps even absent in human transformation?[2] Most importantly, how does this argument impact feminist concerns for robust possibilities of self-determination for women and gender non-conforming persons? Tanner is entirely unconcerned with distinguishing between human activity and inactivity in sanctification, and is interested instead in two kinds of activity—with and without the participation of divine power in human acts—in order to show that in fact, only when God is present in our doings, we can do anything at all. Human self-containment is an illusion (Tanner 2011). In this account, grace is the life power that enables our thriving and provides the conceptual framework through which human existence can be rightly understood. Tanner’s account resembles a midrash on the fourth gospel’s metaphor of the vine and the branches.[3] Without attachment to their divine source of nourishment, human beings are starved, enervated, and underfunctioning. Our source of thriving and wellbeing is our attachment to Christ, in the Spirit, which is our proper environment and contains the right nutrients that we need to be fully human, living empowered lives (Tanner 2010, 68-69). The source of the power is God in Christ and the attachment of the human self to Christ.

 The entirety of the human project, from creation to salvation, is a grace-driven divine operation that centers on and is activated by its goal—that God gives human beings God’s own divine life, which sanctifies and deifies ours. Tanner’s starting point is not a description of human natural characteristics but the fully graced state that constitutes our deified destination. This, I argue, is our salvific thriving. While deification is at the heart of this conceptualization of salvation,[4] since it is our highest fulfillment and goodness, I contend that it coincides with our wellbeing. Tanner agrees that we can hold “extravagant” hopes for our transformation given that their source is uncreated grace and their authorship is God the Spirit. The human self never graduates from a state of dependency on the Spirit into an auto-generated self-mastery (Tanner 2010, 31, 158). That said, the self participates in this divine work of chiseling and sanctifying its creaturely nature through the higher power of grace. The very purpose of the pneumatological attachment to Christ is to participate in God’s life.

I propose that this is a participation of human love in the love of God. I have argued elsewhere that God’s love toward creation generates a seed of love within human existence that grows through the experience of human loves, which participate in divine love (Marandiuc 2018). God the Spirit indwells human love relations[5] as a third element, generating an intertwinement of human and divine loves with sanctifying and deifying effects on human lives. Tanner suggests as well that love relations effect a “commingling” with what we love, and that we actually become what we love (Tanner 2010, 46). This denotes an affective, attaching activity that makes room for a robust human participation, through love, in the divine salvific desire and in human love-relations that continue in creaturely directions the divine-human attachment chain. Her use of the gospel image of vine and branches lends itself organically to such human connections. The immediate implication of Tanner’s deification soteriology connotes human thriving. While her Christology is indeed the “key” to her project, this key unlocks our wellbeing.

Tanner’s framework is good news for feminist thought as it offers redemptive possibilities for gender-induced oppression. Since the self is most fundamentally constituted and developed extrinsically, through the activity of grace that empowers and completes it, gender expressions and performativities are also empowered by grace in their multiple varieties. Worldly systems of oppression are rendered a whole lot less efficacious. This Christologically centered soteriologically-oriented anthropology does the double work of defanging the powers of intersectional patriarchy and fortifying the subjectivity of women alongside other oppressed people. The entirety of human action is grace-powered, hence it can be construed as an alternative social imaginary in which the powers of the broken world are themselves broken. In Tanner’s vision it consists of non-competitive human relationships, rooted in our attachment to Christ, which is synonymous, I argue, with what human loves indwelled by God entail.  Non-competitiveness empowers those who identify as women and others to thrive, as there is no zero-sum game of domination. This is a soteriological framework that unites sanctification and deification with thriving in the context of attachments and, I argue, loves.

2.2.2 Responsive Love as Imitatio Inter-Christi

Keller disagrees that traditional Christology would yield such beneficial implications for feminist theologies or the lives of women. Her critique is multi-dimensional. Paralleling Clifford Geertz’s argument that models of divinity become models for society (1993, 87-125),[6] Keller worries that the theological construal of the hypostatic union is by its very nature oppressive, reinforcing the hetero-patriarchal asymmetrical binary that renders women’s and other human’s lives subhuman, binds life to a repetitive uniformity that resembles death more than living, and rivets theology to a social-political project that perpetuates such enslavements.[7]

In her diagnosis, both the transcendental and the immanent Christic natures of the classic hypostatic union generate a dominating ontological structure of the world that suppresses lives. “The wholly Other incarnates in intimate proximity to the creature” (Keller 2003, 90). This absolute God breaks divinity’s detached transcendence and becomes immanent to us in the incarnation— “the only point of divine immanence” (Keller 2003, 90). While Keller thinks that unmitigated transcendence portrays God as a frightening totalitarian ruler, the incarnation deepens the problem by bringing the domination in intimate proximity. More concretely, she charges the hypostatic union with not being a partnership of equals, let alone one of equal reciprocity. The lordship of the completely divine and completely human Christ is one of condescension, and the love implicated in the assumption of humanity is in fact a consummation of control. For her, the incarnation is ultimately a representation of the totalizing patriarchy of a masculine God who enters creation from above, penetrating it but not being penetrated. The analogy of incarnate divinity controlling humanity with abusive hetero-patriarchy speaks for itself, Keller thinks: “it is domination up close, in the name of loving jealous control, not domination at a distance, that drives women to the shelters” (Keller 2003, 90).

To be good news for feminists and women’s existence, the incarnation story requires a rewriting, which Keller endeavors to do in luxuriant metaphorical language, which only matches her proposal for a multitudinous, inter-commingling, interactively engaged embodiment of God in every part of the universe. “Mingled in the multiplicity of selves, sexes, species, stars, such divinity might find itself endlessly entangled in the matter of the world, endlessly materializing in the reciprocities of and with the world” (Keller 2017, 31). Transcendence is definitionally part of creation. God is infinite, “preceding and exceeding the creation collective” yet entangled with it—attached to its attachments—enfolding it and unfolding with it for its thriving in an intertwined mutual becoming (Keller 2015, 189, 9). The genealogy of this ever-evolving intermingling of transcendence with immanence is to be found by probing the depth of the Hebrew tehom—the “billowing deep” of bottomless origins, tohu va bohu,[8] which “opens a place for all [possible subsequent] becoming of creation” (Keller 2003, 4, 13).

Divine and creaturely becomings happen together in their complex entanglements and attachments. Keller brings together an account of the ever-unfolding, fluid depths of continuous creation and the fluid indeterminacies of language to show that doing theology does not involve proclaiming certainties, but engaging in dialogue, connection, and wonder across the bountifully enormous diversity of creation. “To ‘see’ God is to see the creation,” which does not appear ex nihilo, but ex profundis (Keller 2003, 139, 155-238): from the “ocean of divinity,” the “womb and place-holder of beginnings… as Tehom, the heterogeneous depth of divinity and of world, place of places”, the relation that makes all relations possible and enables their wellbeing, relationality itself, which pulsates life force—hence breath, Ruach—across the fertile waters (Keller 2003, 231). As Ruach, the Spirit, is the moving force of creation, pneumatology is the grounding force-field of Keller’s theology.

The Spirit in Keller’s thought is the divinely-infused relationality that energizes all interdependencies within the world and between the world and God; this renders the Spirit by its nature economic as much as immanent rather than being essentially a member of the immanent trinity and only subsequently relating to the world in a divine mission. In fact, in her view, “incarnation is coextensive with the body of creation” (Keller 2003, 221). As relationality itself, the Spirit is love, and as love, it speaks justice in condition of difference and conflict. As such, the Spirit is a public, shared presence that breathes and vibrates with and in all that has breath in the world. The Spirit makes the tehom fertile and alive with possibilities, a “cosmic compost” teeming with inchoate life which grows into the ever-unfolding body of creation, in fluid differentiations and relations (Keller 2017, 23). Given this framework of divine entanglement in and with the world as well as the pneumatological materiality that results from it, Keller’s view of the incarnation as multiplied in and through the bodies of the world does not seem much of a leap. She signals the dangers stemming out of theologies penned by church fathers who created a doctrine of metaphysical exception about Christ. She thinks that wanting to guard the newness of the hypostatic union against competitive novelties, early mainstream theologies ended up disciplining ecclesial boundaries and keeping the women controlled under “the rule of the discarnate deity over all the rebellious carnalities… Yet what would the divine love, the love that is God, be if not love out of all bounds?” (Keller 2017, 25).

Keller goes on to describe a Christology of multiplicity over against the incarnatus interruptus of traditional Christological singularity which, in her estimation, limits both divinity and humanity. A love-impoverished universe would ensue. Keller counters this with a view of the incarnation that envisions a cosmic rule rather than an exception. “The polyamorous deity would inhabit a boundless multiplicity of embodiment” (Keller 2017, 26). Put differently, multiple incarnations, or intercarnations, befit the God-unfolding-with-the-world much more than the classic account. “This fluent, fleshly interactivity… supports cooperation by way of mutual differentiation” (Keller 2017, 32). Keller suggests that this is the death of omnipotence, and in being so it fortifies the feminist hope for an ever renewed beginning out of the tehomic waters, unlocking love out of the prison of monocarnation and releasing it into porous multiplicity. God is present in each of us, celebrating our intersectional differences in the multiplicity of the intercarnations. “We cast God on the waters and S/He/It returns manifold, many-faced” (Keller 2017, 34). Keller extends “Kierkegaard’s wholly other God” into the otherness of any other person, and “transcendence thus radically redistributes itself without being cancelled” (Keller 2015, 47).

Intercarnations and pan-Ruach notwithstanding, Keller does not engage in an encomium of relationality per se. Entangled life is a given good, but an ambiguous one. “For the knots that bind us may tighten oppressively,” she warns (Keller 2015, 8). The antidote to oppression is always love. Only attachments fueled by transcendent love can unfold thrivingly. Keller agrees with Tanner on the virtues of non-competitiveness, invoking Augustine’s model of infinite divine love which does not compete with creaturely loves; rather, creatures tap into God’s ever-flowing bountiful love as they intercarnate it.

This is a project of a modified imitatio Christi, an imitatio inter-Christi as the manifold intercarnations of entangled humanity need to become actively mindful of the pluri-singularity of our shared togetherness and engage in responsive participation in it. This participation is then the imitation of God’s participation in creation: as God is in the creaturely folds and energizes the common becoming of both, we, too, participate—and need to do so mindfully and responsively—in each other’s existential folds, attentive to each other’s wellbeing. We cannot however love sustainably unless we are connected to the inextinguishable divine love-source—the source of salvific thriving. “We come all mixed up together: in raw relation there is no salvation” (Keller 2015, 295). In other words, finitude cannot yield sustainable love. Love capsizes if made to bear the weight of the ultimate on its own (Keller 2015, 290). Human loves are salvific sites only insofar as they are the enfleshment of love itself—intercarnations that connect to their source as branches connect to their vine,[9] through particular connections of embodied loves.

3. Discussion

The point of convergence between attachment theory as researched in psychological sciences and neuroscience on one hand, and the strands of feminist soteriology examined here in the work of Kathryn Tanner and Catherine Keller on the other hand, is that love attachments form us teleologically and enable our wellbeing. Attachment research shows that the becoming of the self as much as its thriving are sourced in a strong sense in the experience of good attachment bonds. While psychological sciences deploy the notion of love infrequently in scholarly work, and neuroscience follows suit, I have argued elsewhere that the basis of attachments is love (Marandiuc 2018). We are born with an inchoate love capacity that grows in attunement with others, particularly with attachment figures, whose reception of love develops one’s own. The self is an ongoing activity of becoming, emerging from experiences of love, in which the evolving self participates first receptively. Love forms the becoming of the self, which in turn generates the self’s increasing capaciousness to love others and co-create their becoming as much as one’s own.

While this argument is liable to the critique that not all attachments are good—in psychological terms, attachment styles can also be avoidant, anxious, or disorganized, all of which diverge from the secure bonds that source the self’s formation and wellbeing—it nonetheless offers a model for conceptualizing the role of attachments in human thriving when they do work well. It also shows that the lack of secure attachments hinders the self’s becoming and wellbeing. Theologically, this shows that the love that fuels good attachments corresponds to human creaturely needs for fulfillment. Jesus’ greatest commandment, which includes the injunction to love our human neighbors, is more than an ethical principle; it conveys a generative pattern of living oriented toward possibilities of human thriving. It matches a fundamental human need to experience love, and it encodes in its purpose God’s salvific telos for us. Jesus commands us to love one another while God Godself becomes part of our loves and enables our participation in God’s salvific desire.

The claims of attachment theory therefore go beyond anthropological considerations, even as the psychological and neuroscientific research behind these claims befit a broad anthropology. What transcends anthropological observations is the theological claim that human love is sourced in and participates in the love of God, while the intertwinement of human and divine loves generates the salvific becoming of the human self. The love of God is the creative origin as well as the salvific telos of creaturely existence. Since the argument of this theological puzzle focuses on conceptualizations of salvation as divinely fueled growth of our capaciousness for love and perfection of our loving disposition, it coheres with notions of salvation in the vein of deification and participation in the divine life and sanctifying transformation toward holiness. Conceived as our highest good, participation in God and sanctification are then indicative of our thriving. Tanner’s and Keller’s arguments support this approach, notwithstanding significant differences between their assumptions, sources, and positions. For each, theological claims concerning divinely sustained attachments are at the heart of the self’s becoming and wellbeing.

In Tanner’s view, human life requires attachment to Christ, via the Holy Spirit, in order to be fully developed and thrive. Our creaturely nature is oriented toward and finds its completion in the grace of Christ. We receive this grace that enables us to be fully human by being attached to Christ through the Spirit. The origin of his pattern of creaturely existence, which becomes fully alive through grace, is the love of God. The pattern of divine love patterns human life. However, I argue that God attaches us to Christ in the Spirit as the Spirit participates in human loves, sanctifies and deifies them, thus intertwining human love relations in the larger pattern of God’s salvific love toward us. Human love relations are the locus of divine activity, which unites sanctifying and deifying transformations with our thriving.

Keller’s relational theology, on the other hand, depicts an interconnected network of human and other organisms entangled and co-influencing a plural becoming, yet in and of itself such rich relationality is conducive neither to life nor to thriving. This kind of tangle can also strangle. The equivocal state of creaturely entanglements becomes good when attached to the transcendent source of the good. Our channels of attachment are not merely pan-human or pan-creaturely, but tied to the divine operative within us and within our relating, The loving power of the divine source activates loving content to travel across the channels of creaturely entanglements. What saves us is the love-orientation that marks our creaturely attachments and enables the threads that connect us to hold us safe—neither breaking to let us fall, nor tightening to colonize and suffocate us.

4. Conclusion

This puzzle hypothesizes that there is an indelible connection between the experience of love attachments, human thriving, and soteriology. The telos of salvific transformation, insofar as it is our highest good, concurs with our thriving. I have argued here that human wellbeing on one hand, and sanctifying as well as deifying pathways on the other hand, involve human loves. They participate in God’s love and constitute a dynamic residence for the divine in creation. Jesus’s greatest commandment, which includes the call to love one another as neighbors, is a mark of salvific life understood as sanctifying and deifying transformation, yet it is also an incarnate divine pedagogy for our wellbeing.


Fonagy, Peter, Jurist, Elliot L., and Gyorgy Gergely. 2004. Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of the Self. New York: Other Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1993. “Religion as a Cultural System” In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, edited by Clifford Geertz, 87-125.  Waukegan, IL: Fontana Press.

Keller, Catherine. 2003. Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. New York: Routledge.

-. 2008. On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

-. 2015. Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement. New York: Columbia University Press.

-. 2017. Intercarnations: Exercises in Theological Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press.

Levitt, Mary J. 1991. “Attachment and Close Relationships: A Life-Span Perspective” In Intersections with Attachment, edited by Jacob L. Gewirtz and William M. Kurtines, 183-200. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

MacFarland, Ian. 2011. “Nature, Grace, and Agency: The Perfecting of Humanity in Christ the Key”, Theology Today 68: 324-330.

 Marandiuc, Natalia. 2018. The Goodness of Home: Human and Divine Love and the Making of the Self. New York: Oxford University Press.

 Mikulincer, Mario, and Philip R. Shaver. 2007. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. New York: Guilford Publications.

Siegel, Daniel J. 1999. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. New York: Guilford Press.

Tanner, Kathryn. 2010. Christ the Key. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

-. 2019. Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


[1] Tanner borrows Irenaeus’s imagery of moisture-infused clay conditioned to preserve the impressions left on it to suggest that human beings, too, are by nature impressionable and transformable. See Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” (4.39.2), 523.

[2] Ian McFarland critiques Tanner for insufficiently hypostasizing her depiction of human nature fulfilled and saved by grace. He objects that Tanner’s God intervenes ex opere operato to fill the divinely-shaped hole in our nature rather than giving an account of particular lives that willfully participate in their own transformation, even if by mere consent. Human agency is either much too passive or entirely absent. See Ian MacFarland (2011).

[3] John 15:1-17. Tanner is not making a direct reference to this text, though the imagery she invokes has extensive similarity with this parable of Jesus.

[4] Deification permeates the whole argument in Christ the Key and constitutes an alternative vision against the contemporary finance-dominated capitalism. See Kathryn Tanner (2019).

[5] This discussion refers to a wide variety of love relations, including friendship, kindship (biological, adopted, legally created, or other), sexual and erotic relations various across any genders, any other. In this theological puzzle I do not delve into the complex theological and ethical conversations regarding the rapport between neighbor love and special relations.

[6] Keller does not explicitly reference Geertz’s work herself.

[7] Keller bases her argument for a reinterpretation of Christology on developing such a diagnostic in Catherine Keller, Intercarnations: Exercises in Theological Possibility (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), 21-34. See also Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008); Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (New York: Routledge, 2003); and especially Catherine Keller, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

[8] Translated as “a formless void” in the NRSV (Genesis 1:2), Keller renders its textual context as follows: “When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the ruah elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters…” in Keller (2003, xv).

[9] John 15:5, referenced in Keller (2015, 294-295).

Cite this article

Marandiuc, Natalia. 2022. How Can Attachment Theory Inform Feminist Soteriologies?Theological Puzzles (Issue 12).  

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Natalia Marandiuc
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