Women in Christian Traditions

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Rebecca Moore
Women in Religions
  • New York, NY: 
    NYU Press
    , March
     2015.
     224 pages.
     $17.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781479821754.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Women in Christian Traditions, Rebecca Moore undertakes the ambitious project of recounting the history of women and the Christian church in fewer than two hundred pages. Moore wishes to provide her readers with a broad overview of the topic and relies, for the most part, on feminist scholarship. Yet Moore acknowledges that she diverges from some aspects of such scholarship, particularly in her desire to move away from narratives that restrict the history of women and Christianity to one of oppression and exclusion. Moore argues that to depict the Christian faith as having done nothing but suppress women is reductionistic: a full feminist narrative ought to include the many robust contributions women have made to the faith.

To make this argument, Moore examines the history of women and Christian tradition, seeking contributions made by women. In seven chapters, Moore covers the full range of Christian history starting with depictions and theologies of Eve, then advancing up to current attempts to hear and include marginalized voices. Her chapters cover the theological establishment and usages of Eve; the female disciples of Jesus; the role of women in the conversion of the Roman Empire; women and the church in the Middle Ages; acceptance and protest of the Reformation by women; the religious authority women gained in the nineteenth century through new understandings of and reliance upon the Spirit; and lastly, twentieth century women’s social movements—both conservative and progressive, the quest for ordination, and the growth of the church among majority world women. With the exception of the first chapter, Moore is less focused on what the church has taught concerning women, and more interested in how women themselves have helped to shape its traditions.

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Moore’s work is in her choice to start her narrative with Eve. This opening theological chapter is unusual for a history of the church, but it is a compelling lens through which to view over two thousand years of women’s history. Moore recognizes that Eve has been used historically to establish two of the most historically important doctrines of the Christian faith: Christian soteriology and the subordination of women. Examining the work of Paul, Augustine, Tertullian, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Moore observes that throughout Christian history, one’s theology of Eve (creation and sin) leads to one’s theology of the Christ (redemption). For Moore, the study of women and Christian tradition is not a side issue, but rather sits at the center of our very understanding of the faith itself.

In her history, Moore directly links the work of the feminist historian to that of the feminist theologian, describing the work of the first as the practical outworking of the latter’s task. As feminist theology works to reimagine Christian theology and the meaning of redemption for women, the feminist historian works to reimagine the historical narrative of the church. As a construct of our “created visions,” the Christian God reflects our ethical principles (6). Moore writes: “It [feminist history] recovers the hidden and suppressed past; it constructs a vision that provides for human flourishing by including women from start to finish; it advocates for change; and it creates structures that enable change to occur. In other words, it is not only a theoretical endeavor, it involves practices or action as well” (3).

The key to understanding Moore’s history is her belief that women have been central to the task of building the faith and keeping it alive. Practically, the work of the feminist historian is first, to reveal what is true about Christianity’s past with women, and second, to demonstrate the ways in which women have contributed to the creation of the religion. In short, women are those “who make Christianity what it is today,” and as such, they need a narrative that recounts how they have done so through time (155). With these purposes in mind, Moore’s book could be a useful resource for either basic surveys of the history of Christianity or lower level historiography courses. Due to its short length, it most likely will not help readers tackle more detailed questions concerning women and Christianity; however, it is an excellent conversation starter and would be a wonderful addition to any course syllabus looking to inspire classroom dialogue.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Hannah Nation is a graduate student in Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
November 7, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rebecca Moore is Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. She is the author of Voices of Christianity: A Global Introduction, and co-author of A Portable God: The Origin of Judaism and Christianity, with Risa Levitt Kohn. Her most recent book isUnderstanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple.  

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