Women and Religion: Christianity

(Winter 2002)


Course description

This course explores both the lives of women and cultural perceptions of women and gender in the history of Christianity. Rather than attempting a comprehensive history, the course chooses particular women, movements, and topics to illustrate the activities and roles of women in the ancient, medieval, and modern eras, particularly in western forms of Christianity. In the process, we will give attention to development, constancy and variety in cultural perceptions of women and gender. Moreover, we will place our discussions of women and Christianity within broader societal and cultural contexts.

Required Books

  • Barbara J. MacHaffie, Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition, 1986.
  • Barbara J. MacHaffie, ed., Readings in Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition, 1992.
  • Course pack (with ancient, medieval, and modern primary sources)


  • Analysis of primary source, due Jan. 22 in class (5 pp. double-spaced, no longer) 15%
  • Mid-term test, March 5 in class 20%
  • Proposal and bibliography for paper, due Feb 26 (2-3 pp.) 5%
  • Research paper, due April 4 (8-10 pp.) 20%
  • Final exam (TBA in exam period April 18-May 5) 30%
  • Participation in class discussions and attendance 10%


Discussion schedule:

Unit 1: Ancient Christianity (origins-312 CE)

Jan 8, 10

Introduction: Sources, methods and approach

Ancient perspectives on women and gender
Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 1 and numbers 1-5; LiDonnici, “Women’s Religions...” (course pack # 1)

Jan 15, 17

Women in early Christianity, part 1: Jesus, Paul and early Christian women

Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 2 and numbers 7-9; MacDonald, “Reading Real Women...” (course pack #2);

Jan 22, 24

Part 2: Gender roles, society and the church: The case of Thecla and the Pastorals Greek and Roman perspectives on early Christian women

Readings: “Acts of Paul and Thecla” and “1 and 2 Timothy” (course pack #3-4); Greek and Roman perspectives on Christian women (handout)

*Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source) due Jan. 22 at beginning of class

Jan 29, 31

Part 3: Montanism - Martyrdom and the case of Perpetua Gnostic and Patristic perspectives on women, gender and sexuality

Readings: McGuire, “Women, Gender, and Gnosis...” (course pack #5); MacHaffie, numbers 11-18 (esp. 13-15)

Unit 2: Late Antiquity and the Medieval era (312-1500)

Feb 5,7

Medieval perspectives on women and gender Mothers of the desert, monastic life and virginity

Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 3 and numbers 19-26; “A Harlot in the Desert: Mary of Egypt,” and "A Transvestite Saint: Mary/Marina" (course pack # 6-7)

Feb 12

Women, Cults of the Saints and Mary-devotion Women and female imagery in Eastern Orthodoxy (slides)

Readings: “Mary” (course pack #8);

Feb 14

“Heresies” and women preachers in the middle ages

Readings: “Burchard of Worms’s Corrector” and “Heresy and Orthodoxy in an English Town” (course pack #9-10)

Feb 19, 21

Reading week -- No classes

Feb 26, 28

Women mystics in union with God: Hildegard of Bingen and others

Readings: Petroff, “Women and Mysticism in the Medieval World” (course pack #11); “Excerpts from Hildegard’s Works” and “Excerpts from Mechthild...” (course pack #12-13)

*Assignment 2 (Proposal for final paper) due Feb 26 at beginning of class

March 5

*Mid-term test in class March 5

Unit 3: Early modern era (1500-1800)

Mar 7

Early modern and Renaissance perspectives on women and gender Women, the Reformations, and early modern Catholicism

Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 4 and numbers 27-34 (esp. 33)

Mar 12

Women and sectarian or marginal movements in the Old and New worlds

Readings: MacHaffie, ch 5 and numbers 35-42, 60-62; Mack, “In a Female Voice...Quakers” (course pack #14)

Mar 14, 19

“Witches” and witch-hunts in the Old and New worlds

Readings: MacHaffie, number 22; Briggs, “Men Against Women: The Gendering of Witchcraft” (course pack #15)

Unit 4: The Modern world (1800-2001)

Mar 21

Modern perspectives on women and gender 19th century

Part 1: Missions, cultural encounters and voluntary organizations

Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 6 and numbers 43-49

Mar 26, 28

Part 2: Women, leaders, preachers and scholars Catherine Booth, the Salvation Army and the industrial revolution (case study)

Readings: Walker, “A Chaste and Fervid Eloquence” (course pack # 16); MacHaffie, chs. 7-8 and numbers 50-68

April 2, 4

20th century, Part 1: Modern transformations, revolution and reaction Women within world-wide Christianity

Readings: MacHaffie, ch. 10 and numbers 69-74

*Assignment 3 (Research paper) due April 4 at beginning of class

April 9

Part 2: Feminist critical analysis of the Bible and Christianity

Readings: Coakley, “Feminist Theology” (course pack #17); MacHaffie, numbers 68, 72-74

April 11

Retrospect and review *Final Exam (TBA)