Fortress Press

Unborn Bodies: Resurrection and Reproductive Agency

Unborn Bodies

Resurrection and Reproductive Agency

Margaret D. Kamitsuka (Author)


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The afterlife continues to influence Christian faith and is a concern during fragile moments of reproductive loss. However, a doctrine of resurrection that speaks to death in the womb has yet to be considered.

Ignoring fetal death began early in Christian history. The church has struggled for settled meaning regarding issues of personhood in the womb and whether unbaptized infants are saved. Believers today deserve to know the basis for a Christian hope of heaven. They deserve a nontoxic eschatology that sustains an embodied sense of self, which is fractured by the experience of reproductive loss. They deserve to know whether assenting to the resurrection of the body--including unborn bodies--requires them to sacrifice their reproductive self-determination.

The dominant Christian narrative of postmortem survival hinges on the concept of an immaterial soul that continues after death. However, the soul's apparently contented communing with God during its interim existence makes a final bodily resurrection superfluous. A soul-based approach to postmortem survival may save souls, but it does not resurrect bodies. If one can secure the plausibility of the resurrection of unborn bodies whose personhood is in doubt, then one dispenses with ensouled personhood as a requirement of resurrection.

Christian materialist thought provides a metaphysical alternative to soul-based resurrection. A materialist approach to resurrection echoes the apostle Paul's powerful seed metaphor in 1 Corinthians 15. Medieval Christianity embraced metaphors of sprouting grain and budding plants. Returning to these images carries promise for rethinking resurrection in ways not dependent on an immaterial soul. Modern minds are more inclined to think of persons not as souls in bodies but as bodies that emerge into being, evolutionarily and gestationally. Philosophical theories of emergence are capturing the attention of Christian thinkers. This book's budding-emergence approach to the resurrection aims to speak concretely to the reality of death, including the death of unborn beings.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506492629
  • eBook ISBN 9781506492643
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 227
  • Publication Date October 17, 2023


Conceived with care and delivered with wisdom, Unborn Bodies: Resurrection and Reproductive Agency does more than fill a gap in feminist theology. It articulates an enlivening alternative to the caricatures of miscarriage and abortion. Its delightful prose carries its courageous and all-too-timely message to a wide Christian public.

Catherine Keller, George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology, Drew Theological School, and author of Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy, and Other Last Chances

Neither miscarriage nor the exercise of moral agency to end a pregnancy precludes eschatological longing for reunion with persons that never came to be in this world. Kamitsuka reclaims the neglected Pauline metaphor of bodily resurrection as new life sprouting from a seed of the old, providing a nontoxic eschatology that can speak to reproductive loss. This book engages submerged knowledges and experiences to shift the entire framework of the discussions it enters, and the result is compelling and healing.

Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, Loyola University, Chicago

Every now and then a book appears that reshapes the entire discipline of theology. Kamitsuka gifts readers with just such a work. Kamitsuka challenges readers to reconsider what it means to be a self in the afterlife, no matter at what point mortal existence ended. She resists convenient categories while maintaining a steady grasp on Christian tradition and justice. At once prophetic, provocative, and pastoral, Kamitsuka blends together an incisive knowledge of Christianity's two-thousand-year history with feminist analysis and scientific facts to challenge readers to reconceptualize their understanding of what happens in the liminal spaces of pregnancy loss, abortion, and the afterlife.

Danielle Tumminio Hansen, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

In poetic prose, Margaret Kamitsuka develops an eschatology that ventures where the traditional imaginary of resurrected life refuses to go. Taking her interpretive cues not from Aristotelian soul-body talk but instead from the materialist sensibilities of evolutionary biology, she offers the prospect of a heavenly life in which the unborn flourish bodily as undiminished participants in eternal joy. Creative and caring, Kamitsuka's theology offers hope and consolation to those who have suffered reproductive loss and affirmation for reproductive decision-making.

John E. Thiel, Fairfield University