Three Female Scholars

Mike Kok started a meme in which he asks people to list five female scholars (whom I will not limit to Biblical studies scholars) who have impacted their scholarship.  Folks who haven’t been tagged have taken up the task so I’ll include myself in that group.   I’ll lay aside ‘scholarship’ and simply list some female scholars whose work I’ve found helpful and stimulating, even if not necessarily influential.  My list is short, coming in at a lowly three, not because I’ve not read a lot of women, but only because of the women I’ve read I’ve only found a relative few helpful in my studies.

Sarah Coakley — If you’re into Patristics or Trinitarian theology then you’ve no doubt come across something that Sarah Coakley has written.  She’s notorious for challenging the idea set forth by some modern theologians that Gregory of Nyssa was a ‘social’ Trinitarian and she’s written quite a bit about gender and the Trinity.  If either of these topics are of interest to you then I’d suggest the following articles:

  • “‘Persons’ in the ‘Social’ Doctrine of the Trinity: A Critique of Current Analytic Discussion,” in The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity (eds. Stephen T. Davis, et al.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 123-44.
  • “Re–thinking Gregory of Nyssa: Introduction—Gender, Trinitarian Analogies, and the Pedagogy of The Song,” Modern Theology 18/4 (2002): 431-43; reprinted in Re-Thinking Gregory of Nyssa (ed. Sarah Coakley; Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003): 1-13.
  • “The Trinity and Gender Reconsidered,” in God’s Life in Trinity (ed. Miroslav Volf and Michael Welker; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2006): 133-42.
  • “Why Gift? Gift, Gender, and Trinitarian Relations in Milbank and Tanner,” Scottish Journal of Theology 61/2 (2008): 224-35.

Marianne Meye ThompsonUnlike Pat MMT’s “particular interests in Johannine literature and her emphasis on theology in biblical interpretation” are exactly what sets my heart a flutter.  Hands down MMT has written some of the best stuff on John’s Gospel that’s out there.  She takes matters of exegesis and theology seriously but maintains an orthodox Christan confession as a result of her scholarly work.  She’s a prime example of what it means for scholarship to serve the Church.  She has a wonderful essay on the PCUSA site entitled “Jesus Is Lord: How the Earliest Christian Confession Informs Our Proclamation in a Pluralistic Age” along with an impressive array of books and articles contributed to edited volumes.  Anyone would do well to read:

Frances M. Young — I haven’t had the pleasure of Young supervising me like Doug has, and I’ve not read a great deal of what she’s written, but what I have read has been engaging and thought-provoking.  Her work on patristic exegesis is wonderful in every sense of the word as it moves past the gross oversimplifications that are present in so many writings on the subject.  And while I’ve yet to get to them, I’m aware that she’s written a few essays/books on Christology, particularly related to the Incarnation of Christ.  If it’s even half as engaging as her stuff on patristic exegesis then I’m sure I’ll love it regardless of whether or not I agree with it.  But since I can only recommend what I’ve read I’d suggest checking out the following:  

  • Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997; Repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
  • “The ‘Mind’ of Scripture: Theological Readings of the Bible in the Fathers,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 7/2 (2005): 126-41.

I’d love to add Pheme Perkins to the list because of the diversity with which she writes, covering everything from Gnosticism to Christology to the Synoptic Gospels, but I’ve not found much to agree with in what I’ve read from her.  Sara Parvis is another female scholar who I’d love to add to the list but the truth is that I’ve only read bits and pieces of her monograph Marcellus of Ancyra and the Lost Years of the Arian Controversy 325–345 and her essay in the volume she edited with Paul Foster, Justin Martyr and His Worlds.  Once I complete the monograph it’s entirely possible that she could be included with the likes of Frances Young whose work I’ve read so little of but has nonetheless given much food for thought.  A few people have selected April DeConick for their lists but I’ve found from reading her blog (in the past, I’ve long since stopped reading) and a few articles in various edited volumes that I almost never agree with her on anything.  The same could be said for Paula Fredriksen; I almost never agree with her.  I’d add Catherine Mowry LaCugna to that list as well.  She’s written one of the most important books on the Trinity in the last 50 years with God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life but it’s wholly frustrating to read for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here.  I’ve found Margaret Barker’s work The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God to be not very well supported and ultimately untenable.  I’ve read similar criticisms of her various other works from a number of reviewers so perhaps this is a constant theme in her scholarship; I honestly don’t know.  In the end, the women who have played the most pivotal roles in the way I think and act are not Biblical or theological or patristics scholars, they’re family members, teachers, and sisters in Christ (being a Pentecostal I’ve always been exposed to female preachers/teachers in the church). 

B”H

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30 thoughts on “Three Female Scholars

  1. Have you ever heard the story about Sarah Coakley’s debate with Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza? Elizabeth says to Sarah, “Well, if you think that, then you’re not much of a feminist.” And Sarah replies, “Well, if you think that, then you’re not much of a Christian!”

    I’m not sure what the topic was, though, or if the story is apocryphal.

  2. Good to see MMT on your list. Though my primary research interests do not align with MMT, I am ever grateful for having learned what I have from her about Johannine literature and the use of theology in biblical interpretation.

    Even though you can’t find five female scholars (even when the category is expanded) that have influenced you, at least you have given a more in depth treatment of those you do share. And I make up for your missing two with adding two extra on my own :)

  3. You know honestly I think this meme is somewhat patronizing. You know the cliche about a white person being called a racist and they respond by denying it and saying “Some of my best friends are black!”. That’s what this reminds me of. I’m glad you were honest in saying that you haven’t been hugely influenced by women. At least you didn’t try to hide it if you weren’t.

    I honestly don’t have a lot of women scholars that have influenced me a whole lot in my studies. There are a few that I’ve really enjoyed and found helpful but usually it’s only one of their books. There’s one who I’ve read multiple books of and plan on reading more.

    As far as really benefiting from one of their books theres: “Slavery in Early Christianity” by Jennifer A. Glancy’s, and “A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity” by Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald, and Janet H. Tulloch. Noth of those got mentioned in my 5 Most Influential books meme. There’s also “How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy And Art” by Crystal L. Downing, although I’m going to have to go back and reevaluate it after doing more study on postmodernism.

    One female scholar/theologian who I actually follow and have read and own multiple books of is Nancey Murphy. I think she’s actually really good and hope to learn more from her. I’ve read her books “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda” and “Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion” and hope to start her “Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning” soon. She;s really good for the interaction of philosophy and science with theology.

    Other than those I can’t say I own or have read many other books from female scholars. There’s plenty of women scholars out there that I’ve read some of their work or heard lectures from that I found really helpful and stimulating. People like Linda Belleville, Karen Jobes, Carol Newsom, Lauren Winner, Amy Jill Levine, Frances Young and Marianne Meye Thompson that I really liked but have not read o heard enough of them to include them in a list yet. I could see some of them maybe eventually becoming very influential on me but not because of their gender but because of their work.

    Either way good list and actually really interesting.

    Bryan L

  4. Bryan: You know, for some reason or another I was just thinking about that “some of my best friends are black” line right before I read your comment. Too coincidental to be a coincidence!

    In any event, I think you might be right about it being patronizing. It’s like when that whole kerfuflle about credentials was going on a month or two ago everyone with some sense said that someone should be judged on the content of what they write/say and not on the letters appended to their name. Same thing applies here. Good scholars are good scholars regardless of the equipment between their legs.

    None of the scholars I mentioned would make my top 5 (because obviously they didn’t already) list and to be honest they probably wouldn’t make a top 10 list. To be honest, none of them have had much inlfuence or impact on me at all. I’ve just appreciated their work and found it worth reading. But then there’s all those women whose work I wish I had never bothered to have read, not because they’re women, but because they’re wrong and I could have spent my time reading someone who was right.

    Like I said, the women that are really important are those who have actually played a role in my ‘real’ life. The same is true for men. As impactful as Larry Hurtado has been on the way I think about Christology, he’ll never rise to the heights of my pastor or my good friends.

  5. How funny. I don’t think it was a coincidence. : )

    It is similar to that whole thing about credential. You’re right good scholars should be judged on their work.

    I agree that the women who have had the most impact on me were not because of books they wrote. They had an impact on my actual life, just as much as any man has. Obviously my mother, my wife and my sister, but also my high school art teacher and my friend Yvette.

    And when I think about it only a few scholars have actually been really influential on me beyond more than just one book or lecture: Gordon Fee, N.T. Wright, Greg Boyd, Rikk Watts, and maybe now William Lane Craig. After that it’s usually certain books that become foundational for me, not necessarily the scholar and it has nothing to do with their gender.

    Bryan L

  6. Bryan and Nick, I feel a bit insulted and think you are being very unfair by accusing the meme of being patronizing. My intent was for it to positively respond to the whole issue of the lack of women’s voices among biblioblogs. I am completely fine with your judgment that “Good scholars are good scholars” regardless of gender. But many conservative Christians do not share this judgment and do not recognize female pastors/teachers, so why not make an example of our blogs that we recognize the contributions of both men and women and support egalitarianism? Do you also accuse Celucien Joseph of being patronizing for starting a meme on “Theology and Ethnic Diversity”?

  7. Why would it be patronizing for Lou to start a meme “Theology and Ethnic Diversity”? You do realize he’s Hatian right? Not only that but he blogs on race issues all the time and it’s one of his primary interests and fields of research.

    As far as the meme, it seems patronizing to me, what can I say? I’m sorry you’re insulted. I wouldn’t take it too personally. Nick still participated in the meme and I did as well in the comments.

    Bryan L

  8. Mike: Speaking for myself (and I assume Bryan would agree), I don’t think you had any intentions on being patronizing, but after Bryan made the suggestion I thought about it and I have to say that at the time it came and with the matter it was in response to, it did come off as a bit patronizing. Kind of like saying, ‘hey, you know what, women scholars exist too!’ Again, I’m sure this wasn’t your intention. So I do apologize because you feel insulted. I didn’t mean to insult you.

    Re: Celucien’s meme, I might consider it patronizing along the same lines as yours. It’s basically the other side of the same coin. Instead of male/female the dichotomy is white/non-white. But there is the point that Bryan raises which is that Celucien is actually part of the group he’s seeking to make known. In your case, you’re not a woman. Had April DeConick started your meme then it might have not come off the same way. Who knows…

  9. But my question would then be if I started a meme about the top 5 scholars in the Third World, would that be considered patronizing because I’m part of the Western world? I do not think you have to be part of a marginalized group in order to highlight inequality; I think we are all called to do that as part of living out the gospel we share. And I have blogged about the issue of egalitarianism before, though April’s post did get me thinking more about the underrepresentation of women in the blogosphere. So instead of writing another post pointing fingers at other bloggers or yet again trying to diagnose the problem, I was trying to do something I thought was more positive and constructive. So I was a bit offended when it was just wrote off as patronizing, but I think this may have just been a misunderstanding here. I do enjoy both of your blogs.

  10. Mike: It would depend on the circumstances. But remember, we’re only stating our opinions on how this all seems. Just because it seems a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way it is. Like I said, I’m sure you never intended it like that.

  11. isn’t that funny – there are no female scholars at all who have influenced me positively in my field. The closest might be Dagmar Winter because she co-wrote a very good book with Gerd Theissen, but that’s it. I’m very fond of Wendy Sproston-North but she’s OT and John and it’s on a personal level she’s ‘influenced’ me if you like… Nope, it’s all men – and so what! I think all this gender thing is just plain silly. ;-)

  12. oh well my comment was lost. It came up with a weird name to be moderated. I said : isn’t it funny, there are no female scholars who have influenced me positively in my field. All men I’m afraid – or not afraid – who cares?! This gender things seems rather silly to me. Most female synoptic scholars tend to be radical feminists who assume a “Q” and invent some radical feminist interpretation. The only female scholar whose work is of any value to me is Dagmar Winter because she co-wrote a wonderful book with Gerd Theissen. Then there is Wendy Sproston-North but I’m particularly partial to her personally. She’s OT and John and I always look forward to catching up with her at conferences. Nope – all men, wonderful men… ;-)

  13. Steph: I gotcha. I’ll fix everything.

    Alright, there’s your original comment with the weird name. Now it all makes sense.

    And of course your right about all this gender nonsense. It’s silly.

  14. yes it is – totally completely and utterly making me embarrassed to be of this particular gender … but just one qualification: Wendy Sproston-North is actually a wonderful, independent and critical scholar (who just so happens to be a woman) – just in case I gave the impression that she wasn’t! She just writes in an area that I can’t say influences my own work although it’s interesting generally to me. ;-)

  15. Steph: I’m overjoyed at your even-headed-ness. And thanks for the clarification about your comment (even though I didn’t take it any other way, someone else might have).

  16. Nick:
    Are you saying you’re overjoyed at her even-headed-ness because she’s a woman and you don’t think women are usually very even-headed? I knew you were really a woman hating pig!!!
    ; )

    Bryan L

  17. Bryan: It’s like you think my thoughts after me! Did you know that when I originally typed that comment I put in parenthesis (not that women aren’t usually even-headed)? How funny is that?!! :-P

  18. Nick:
    Hah! How crazy. I swear we must’ve been separated at birth sometimes. : )

    Steph:
    I think the PC term is asymetrical-headed. We don’t want y’all to feel discriminated against now do we. ; )

    Bryan L

  19. I wouldn’t mind even if I did feel ‘discriminated against’ : I would just celebrate my independence and non conformity to any particular social sub group ;-)

  20. Bryan: I know, it’s uncanny right?

    Steph: I’m with you. Who cares about discrimination? Why are there so many whiners (or as I prefer to call them, ‘moan jobs’) in this world?

  21. because we humans are a rotten bunch of egotistical self centred creatures who are overly concerned with how the universe affects them personally and have a tendency to develop a paranoid persecution complex
    :-)

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