I planned this post several weeks ago. Ever since publishing The Making of Biblical Womanhood, folk ask me for resources that show the reality of women’s leadership and active role throughout church history rather than what they have been taught in evangelical spaces: a narrative that mostly ignores women and/or interprets women’s historical participation through the lens of complementarianism. So I planned a series of posts listing historical sources (primary, secondary, and tertiary) that can help reframe our understanding of women in the church.
But when Daniel Silliman published his news story yesterday, Sexual Harassment Went Unchecked at Christianity Today, I couldn’t help but think about a passage in The Making of Biblical Womanhood. This is what I wrote in the conclusion: “Ideas matter. Ideas that depic women as less than men influence men to treat women as less than men. Ideas that objectify women result in women being treated as objects (sex objects mostly). So it’s not any surprise that Paige Patterson, who commented on the body of a sixteen-year-old girl to a crowd of Christians (resulting in their laughs and applause), shares the same understanding of women’s roles as the Baptist churches involved in the sexual abuse of hundreds of women…” I’ve been teaching the importance of ideas about women since I first entered the classroom in 1998. Yet it still saddens me, each time, when I see how much damaging ideas about women costs real women–especially those living and working in Christian spaces.
In honor of the women who protected each other at Christianity Today, who spoke out against the harrassment, and who told their stories to Daniel Silliman, I offer this resource list on women in church history.
Below is a short list of secondary sources, written by mostly historians (all scholars), that will deepen your understanding of women in church history (especially women’s leadership). It is not an exhaustive list (I am better on European and Black scholarship–I need to become more robust on Latin American and Asian scholarship), and I will continue to add to it. I have only included books with which I am personally familiar (many of these I have taught).
It is also not a biblical studies list, but I can tell you that simply reading more books like Kat Armas (Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength), Amanda W. Benckhuysen, The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation), C. Wilda Gafney (A Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Tora and the Throne), Dorothy A. Lee (The Ministry of Women in the New Testament: Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership), Carolyn Custis James (Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women), Lucy Peppiat, (Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women), Renita J. Weems (Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women’s Relationships in the Bible), and Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, et. al., eds (Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theologica, Cultural & Practical Perspectives), will show you how limited a perspective evangelical biblical training often is. If you haven’t read Angela Parker’s If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I: Black Lives Matter & Biblical Authority, then I strongly encourage you to pick it up too.
Secondary Sources (and shoutout to Merry Wiesner-Hanks Gender in History: Global Perspectives which contains a fantastic bibliography on women in Christianity)
Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (UNC Press, 2007).
Lynn Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Baker Academic, 2009).
Leanne M. Dzubinski and Anneke H. Stasson, Women in the Mission of the Church: Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History (Baker Academic, 2021).
Elizabeth Flowers, Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power Since World War II (UNC Press, 2003).
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Nora E. Jaffary, ed., Gender, Race and Religion in the Colonization of the Americas (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007)
Beverly Maine Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker, eds., Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millenia of Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Jo Ann McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages: Edited and Translated by Jo Ann McNamara, John E. Halborg, with E. Gordon Whatley (Duke University Press, 1992).
Sherrin Marshall, ed., Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Public and Private Worlds (Bloomington, Indiana UP, 1989).
JoAnn Kay McNamara, Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millenia (Camgridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).
Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justic: African American Women and Religion (Alfred A. Knoff, 2010).
Primary Sources used in writing The Making of Biblical Womanhood (and thanks to Katherine Goodwin for compiling this bibliography; some of these are mixtures of primary and secondary, and some are sourcebooks)
Danny P. Jackson, trans., The Epic of Gilgamesh. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1997.
Mary. R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
Sarah B. Pomeroy, The Murder of Regilla: A Case of Domestic Violence in Antiquity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, ed. Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
John H. Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis. A Companion to The Book of Margery Kempe. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004.
Ellen Babinsky, trans. Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.
Lisa M. Bitel. Landscapes with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Alcuin Blamires. Woman Defamed, Woman Defended: An Anthology of Medieval Texts. Oxford: Calrendon, 1992.
Monica Furlong. Visions and Longings: Medieval Women Mystics. New York: Shambala, 1997.
Heather Gregory, trans. ed. Selected Letters of Alessandra Strozzi. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997.
Margery Kempe. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. B.A. Windeatt. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Paul LaChance, O.F.M., trans. Angelo of Foligno: Complete Works. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.
Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, eds. Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
John Mirk. John Mirk’s “Festial,” ed. Susan Powell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Coral Neel. Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman’s Counsel for Her Son. Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1991.
Christine de Pizan. The Book of the Cities of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffry Richarsd. New York: Persea, 1982.
Christine de Pizan. The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee, trans. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.
Veronica Mary Rolf. An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018).
Catherine of Siena. The Letters of Catherine of Siena. Suzanne Noffke O.P., trans. Tempe, AZ: ACMRS, 2000.
Patricia Skinner and Elizabeth van Houts, trans. and intro. Medieval Writings on Secular Women. London: Penguin, 2011.
Elizabeth Spearing, ed. Medieval Writings on Female Spirituality. New York: Penguin, 2002.
Larissa Tracy. Women of the Gilte Legende: A Selection of Middle English Saints Lives. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2014.
Jacobus de Voraigne, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
Lancelot Andrewes, Apospasmatia Sacra: or A Collection of Posthumous and Orphan Lectures Delivered at St. Paul’s and St. Giles His Church by the Right Honourable Reverend Father in God, Lancelot Andrews. London: R. Hodgkinsonne, 1657).
Curtis Freeman. A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth Century England (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011).
Argula von Grumbach, A Woman’s Voice in the Reformation, ed. Peter Matheson. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995.
Writings of Edward the Sixth, William Hugh, Queen Catherine Parr, Anne Askew, Lady. Jane Grey, Hamilton and Balnaves. London: Religious Tract Society, 1836.
William Gouge, “VIII. Duties of Masters,” in Of Domesticall Duties: Eight Treatises (London: John Haviland, 1622; Ann Arbor: Text Creation Partnership, 2011).
James Dobson. Love for a Lifetime: Building a Marriage That Will Go the Distance. 1987; repr., Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1998.
Elisabeth Elliot. Let Me Be a Woman: Notes to My Daughter on the Meaning of Womanhood. 1976; repr., Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013.
Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House. London: Cassell & Cassell, 1887.
Dorothy L. Sayers. Letters to the Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of the Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Nelson, 2004.
______________. Are Women Human? Penetrating, Sensible, and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society. 1971; repr., Grand Rapiids: Eerdmans, 2005.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929.
If we going to make lasting change in how women are treated in evangelicalism, we have to address the problems with what evangelicals believe about women–including women in church history. As I wrote in a 2018 blog post, “If Evangelical Christians are going to change their attitudes toward women, they have to learn the important role that women really have played throughout church history. They have to recognize women as leaders, teachers, preachers, evangelists, and apostles–not just as domestic caregivers and support staff…If we want to change attitudes towards women, we have to better educate Christians about the reality of women’s roles in church history.”
Take up and read, y’all, because it is time to change the church.