Reflections on Method, Women, and Early Christianity

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be running a series of reflections stemming from a doctoral seminar on Women and Gender in Early Christianity, taught at Saint Louis University by Carolyn Osiek. These posts will proceed in (more or less) chronological order, beginning with today’s reflections on methodology.

Randi R. Warne

Randi R. Warne

Introducing a “special edition” of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Randi R. Warne (“Introduction: Gender and the Study of Religion.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 13 (2001): 141-152.) advocates gender studies as a necessary category for scholarly investigation of religion. Engaging the “one sex/flesh” model of androcentric approaches to religion—which presume the normativity of maleness and view “woman” as the “other” and deficient—Warne outlines the limits of an exclusive religious focus on men and “man.”

Especially in a post-Enlightenment environment which seeks to provide neutral, comparative, and non-confessional insights into religion, Warne argues that women must be offered an equal stake in Religionswissenschaft. In this regard, Warne outlines four problem areas which much be addressed: the ghettoization of religious studies (i.e., making women’s studies “women’s work”), the exoticization of women (i.e., how women and religion are viewed as a “special interest” to supposedly neutral mainstream studies), the requirement of academic bilingualism for gender-critical scholars (i.e., expecting gender scholars to remain current in their own field as well as the mainstream, without reciprocity), and a series of methodological issues (i.e., the insider/outsider debate and relationship between religion and theology). For Warne, these issues must be addressed in order for religious studies to maintain any semblance of scientific rigor as an academic field.

Open BibleWarne’s argument on the incorporation of gender studies within the study of religion (and by extension, I would argue, within historical theology as well) is a persuasive argument, focusing especially on the need for as neutral a foundation as possible from which to pursue academic and comparative study. The four problem areas Warne outlines are worthy of extended reflection. As a primary consideration, however, I wonder how many of the concerns outlined here have been institutionalized and how many are the result of students and scholars being drawn toward fields which interest them. That is, how is the idea of women’s studies being “women’s work” expressed and in what context?

Additionally, I remain curious about the role of “specialization” and the supposed “mainstream” of any academic discipline. To some extent, all religious scholars and theologians are expected to be “bi-lingual” in their own specialized area of academic research and the general field of religion or theology. To what extent can we expect “trilingualism”? To superimpose my own perspective on the value of gender studies for a moment, it may be here that Warne’s metaphor breaks down, for elsewhere her argument seems to indicate that awareness of gender should serve as at least one facet of a methodological underpinning for all religious studies. Those thoughts aside, Warne’s general points do suggest the need for further awareness of gender. Unfortunately, much of Warne’s article articulates the what at the expense of the so what, and accordingly I ask: What steps (institutional or otherwise) would be required to appropriately address these issues and raise awareness of gender in religion (and theology)?

Old BooksAs a final note (and perhaps merely a problem for someone in a historical theology program), the historical model which Warne employs appears disjointed, perhaps problematically so. Though she is clearly not interested in offering a historical argument per se, her jump from broad “ancient” gendering to Enlightenment and contemporary thought left me wondering if any alternative gender models existed in-between. That is, her approach seems quite open to criticisms of taking pre-Enlightenment gender-thought as a unified whole.

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on Method, Women, and Early Christianity

  1. ” . . . a doctoral seminar on Women and Gender in Early Christianity, taught at Saint Louis University by Carolyn Osiek.” So jealous right now.

    Thanks for passing on your reflections on this.

  2. Hello Jacob!
    I am also a fellow doctoral student studying church music with a concentration in music ministry and a minor in women’s ministry at a seminary. I stumbled upon your site when I was Google searching book reviews on Andrew B. McGowan’s “Ancient Christian Worship” as I just finished writing mine. I am currently taking a doctoral seminar on Early Christian Worship and will be writing my research paper on the role of woman in the early church. Hence, when I found this blogpost I was blown away–I can’t believe there’s an actual course dedicated to studying women in the early church!! I look forward to reading more of your blogposts on this subject!
    Blessings to your studies!

    • Hi Jess!
      Thanks for your comment. And I’m glad to hear of your interest in this subject!

      My email is prahlowjj [at] slu.edu if you’d like me to send you the cumulative paper (women in the Apostolic Fathers) for the course these reflections arise from. I’m working on a version of it to present and then (maybe?) publish, and then it’ll go up here. But if you think it might be useful to your research, just let me know.

      Blessings on your studies as well. JJP

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