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N° 28, 2021 – Religion and Gender

The integration of gender into the historical narrative of Christianity is among the most significant developments of recent decades. Scholars have given increasing attention to a detailed and multifaceted investigation of the meaning of gender, the roles that society has assigned to women and men, the relationship between the women and men, and the significance of these enquiries for our understanding of Christian religious culture over the centuries. Historians now appreciate that women as well as men were significant actors across a broad range of religious endeavors. These efforts draw upon the straightforward notion that past events are best appreciated when scholars take into account the full range of human participants.

To begin, a detailed, critical reevaluation of patriarchy, male domination of religious institutions and, more generally, masculine authority in the religious sphere is well underway. Already in the 1980s, historians asserted that modern and contemporary Christianity reinforced, perhaps even deepened, the misogynist assumptions and patriarchal ideologies of classical and medieval tradition. What were these attitudes and what was their effect on the long history of Christianity?

More prominent are the many pioneering explorations of the role and place of women. They have had long and substantial involvement in the sacral realm in Christianity. Women valued and sustained in various ways traditional religious customs even as they welcomed change. Some historians have underscored the influence of, for example, medieval nuns and the power of the abbess. Others have focused on female mystics and the ways in which they sought to circumvent the male religious hierarchy.

A number of newer studies have focused on the substantial, but all too frequently underappreciated female perspectives and experiences. The earliest investigations tended to emphasize the achievements of prominent women. Thus, historians have drawn attention to female authors and activists, who challenged male domination of the theological realm. Although male authorities sought to restrain and suppress these efforts, women continued to propose innovative theological perspectives. As noteworthy as prominent women such as Marie Huber (1695-1753) were in advancing the goal of establishing women’s position in the theological and devotional realms, many other women with voices far more muted were, in their own fashion, equally significant for comprehending the relationship between women and religious change.

A number of highly original studies have examined women’s religious activities in the private sphere. In accordance with their perceived responsibilities for maintaining the household and raising children, they acted as protectors as well as conveyers of religious traditions. We speak here of Individuals who have been in a sense doubly neglected: first as women, secondly as commonplace and unremarkable. What was the position and perception of women in daily religious life? What activities did they pursue? How ought we to understand their relationship with the sacred? By way of a striking example, women enjoyed a number of central sacral charges in late medieval Christianity. Chief among these responsibilities was the administration of emergency baptism to newborns. The midwife’s task extended beyond providing for the physical wellbeing of mother and child. She could also afford the infant spiritual protection. Another key aspect of maternal obligation for children’s spiritual welfare was to provide them elementary religious instruction and teach them their prayers.

Beginning with the Enlightenment and continuing to the present, women have wielded a strong public voice on pressing moral issues. They were fierce abolitionists and leaders in the temperance movement. Women now commonly serve in the pastorate and church hierarchy. Even within Christian traditions that bar women from ordination, they have made substantial contributions. Catholic nuns, for instance, were and are leaders in the fields of education and health care.

Other more recent studies have focused on masculinity. The churches have not only given a generally subordinate role to women, they have defined what a man should be, both in the sacred sphere and in the civil sphere. A strict differentiation between men and women was advocated. However, the Catholic understanding of gender is problematic, as the priest must be a heterosexual man, but living in chastity, which is contrary to the model of "hegemonic masculinity".

This is a field of considerable innovative scholarship and we expect to attract a rich array of presentations centering on new topics and offering fresh approaches along with original interpretations. The diversity of female and male experiences, their historical significance, and their continuing influence offer an important opportunity to explore and discuss the many facets of religion and gender across time and space.

The communication proposals (in French or in English), of about ten lines, must be sent to: before 30 November 2020, with a short CV. The selection of the selected papers will be made in December 2020.

The final texts of the articles should be drafted by end of August 2021.

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