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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : History of Christianity

Postgraduate Course: Martyrdom, Monasticism and Mysticism: Women Writers of the Early and Medieval Church (ECHS11021)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course enables students to engage in depth with women writers in the Christian tradition from the years 200-1440 in their historical and theological contexts. Ten writers will be studied, from Perpetua of Carthage to Margery Kempe, covering the period from the Roman Empire to the Byzantine Empire to Late Medieval Western Europe. Students will be asked to consider the theological aims, opportunities and social and historical contexts of texts by each of these women, their rhetorical strategies, continuities and discontinuities between them, and recurring themes such as female rhetorical strategies and the nature of the authority that these women claimed for themselves.
Course description A: Academic description
This course focuses on many of the most important writings of Christian women through the period c.200-c.1440, seeking to draw out common themes, similarities and dissimilarities in their experiences of Christianity, of authorship and of the Church. The course will consider the literary and rhetorical techniques of each of the writers, their level of theological sophistication and originality, the level of authority they claim and are accorded, and the light they shed on Christianity in their own societies.

B: Syllabus/outline content
The course will begin with an introduction to the overall context of the writers to be studied, looking briefly at roles open to women in the Christianity of the second to fourth centuries, the Ottonian and Byzantine Empires, the monasteries and beguinages of High Medieval Europe, and the roles open to lay women mystics and other writers in Late Medieval Europe. It will proceed to consider ten great women writers, week by week, in their historical and theological contexts, focusing above all on the writings of the women themselves, but also looking at scholarly critical evaluation of them.

Week 1: Introduction: Women in Christianity to c.1440
Week 2: Perpetua and Christian Martyrdom
Week 3: Desert Mothers: Amma Syncletica, Amma Theodora and Amma Sarra
Week 4: Egeria, Christian Pilgrimage and the Holy Land
Week 5: The Christian plays of Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
Week 6: Anna Komnene and the First Crusade through Eastern Eyes
Week 7: Gertrude of Helfta¿s Spiritual Exercises
Week 8: Marguerite Porete¿s Mirror of Simple Souls
Week 9: Catherine of Siena¿s Dialogue of Divine Providence
Week 10: Christine de Pizan¿s Book of the City of Ladies
Week 11: The Book of Margery Kempe

C: Student Learning Experience Information
This dedicated Masters course will function as a series of seminars. Each week a student will present the topic for the week, which will also be posted 24 hours before the class on a class blog. The course instructor will draw out the key themes for the week via class discussion on the basis of the text and secondary readings for the week, and provide additional historical context. Students will be offered formative feedback on their presentations and on a draft essay or essay outline as they prefer.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesThis course is open to visiting students of postgraduate level.
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Show extensive knowledge of key texts by Christian women from the period c.200-c.1440.
  2. Perform a close and critical analysis of representative texts from among these, showing a critical understanding of their historical contexts.
  3. Evaluate key theological, political and literary themes from among these texts.
  4. Identify and evaluate continuities and discontinuities between different texts among those studied on the course.
  5. Evaluate critically the treatment of the chosen texts in modern historiographical and theological literature.
Reading List
Indicative Bibliography

Key readings (in the order in which they appear in the course):

Perpetua of Carthage et al., The Martyrdom of Perpetua

Benedicta Ward, ed., The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Harmonsworth: Penguin, 2003)

John Wilkinson, ed., Egeria's Travels (Oxford: OUP, 2006)

Robert Chipok, ed., The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim: bilingual edition, tr. Larissa Bonfante (Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2013)

Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, tr. E.R.A Sewter (Harmondsworth, Penguin: 2004)

Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Spiritual Exercises, tr. Gertrud Jaron Lewis and Jack Lewis, Cistercian Fathers series no. 49 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1989)

Ellen Babinsky, ed., Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, (Paulist Press, 1993)

Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, tr. Suzanne Noffke (London: SPCK, 1980)

Rosalind Brown-Grant, tr. and ed. Christine de Pizan: The Book of the City of Ladies (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999)

Kempe, Margery, The Book of Margery Kempe, tr. Anthony Bale, Oxford World's Classics (Oxford: OUP, 2015)

Introductory reading:

Cooper, Kate Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women (Atlantic Books, 2013)

Dinshaw, Carolyn and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women's Writing (Cambridge, CUP, 2003)

Smith, Bonnie G, ed. Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History (Oxford: OUP, 2008)

Further Reading:

Altmann, Barbara, and Deborah McGrady, eds, A Casebook on Christine de Pizan (Routledge, 2003)

Barnes, Timothy David, Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History (Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010)

Bitton-Ashkelony, Bouria, Encountering the Sacred: the Debate on Christian Pilgrimage in Late Antiquity (LA: California University Press, 2005)

Blevins, Carolyn DeArmond, Women in Christian History: A Bibliography (Macon, GA: Mercer Press, 1995)

Bremmer, Jan, ed., Perpetua¿s Passions: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitas (Oxford: OUP 2012)

Brown, Peter, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (2nd ed, Columbia, Columbia University Press, 2008)

Brown-Grant, Rosalind, Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women: Reading beyond Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Burton, J.E., K. Stober, Women in the Medieval Monastic World (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015)

Bynum, Caroline Walker, Jesus as Mother (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University Press, 1982)

Bynum, Caroline Walker, Holy Feast, Holy Fast (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University Press, 1988)

Cadden, Joan The Meaning of Sex Differences in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: CUP, 1995)

Clark, Elizabeth A., Ascetic Piety and Women¿s Faith (Edwin Mellon Press, 1986)

Cloke, Gillian, This Female Man of God (Routledge, 1995)

Connor, Carolyn L., Women of Byzantium, (New Haven: Yale University Press 2004)

Dickens, Andrea, Female Mystics: Great Women Thinkers of the Middle Ages (London: I. B Tauris, 2009)

Elliott, Dyan, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, 2004)

Field, Sean L., The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012

Finnegan, Mary Jeremy, The Women of Helfta: Scholars and Mystics (University of Georgia Press, 1991)

von Franz, Marie-Louise, The Passion of Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Her Visions (Toronto: Inner City Books, 2004)

Gilchrist, Roberta, Gender and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Religious Women (Routledge, 1994)

Goodman, Anthony E., Margery Kempe and Her World (Old Tappin, NJ: Longman, 2004)

Gouma, Thalia-Peterson, Anna Komnene and her Times (Garland, 2000)

Harris, Jonathan, Byzantium and the Crusades (Bloomsbury, 2nd ed., 2014)

Herbert, M. A. L. Authority and the female body in the writings of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe (Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 2004)

Hickey, Ann E., Women of the Roman Aristocracy as Christian Monastics (UMI Research Press, 1987)

Hollywood, Amy, The Soul As Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart (Studies in Spirituality and Theology X, Notre Dame Press, 2001)

Hunt, E. D. Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Later Roman Empire A.D. 312-460. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982)

Luongo, Thomas, The Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2006)

Miller, Tanya, The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)

Muessig, Carolyn, George Ferzoco, and Beverly Mayne Kienzle, eds., A Companion to Catherine of Siena (Leiden: Brill, 2012)

Newman, Barbara, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (University of Pennsylvania, 1995)

Noffke, Suzanne, The Letters of St Catherine of Siena vols I-IV (Tempe: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 2000-2008)

Petroff, Elizabeth, ed., Medieval Women¿s Visionary Literature (Oxford: OUP, 1986

Salisbury, Joyce, Perpetua's Passion (New York: Routledge, 1997)

Schulenberg, Jane Tibberts, Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100 (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Simons, Walter, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)

Solterer, Helen, The Master and Minerva: Disputing Woman in French Medieval Culture (LA: University of California Press, 1995)

Swan, Laura, The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women (Paulist Press, 2001)

Terry, Wendy R., and Robert Stauffer, eds, A Companion to Marguerite Porete and the Mirror of Simple Souls (Leiden, Brill, 2017)

Thibaux, Marcelle, The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology, 2nd ed., (Garland, 1994)

Wailes, Stephen L., Spirituality and Politics in the Works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2006)

Waithe, Mary Ellen, A History of Women Philosophers vol II: Medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment Women Philosophers (University of Minnesota: Kluwer, 1989)

Wilson, Katherina M., Medieval Women Writers (University of Georgia Press, 1986)

Wilson, Katherina, Phyllis Brown, and Linda McMillan, eds, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Contexts, Identities, Affinities, and Performances (University of Toronto Press, 2004)

Wilson-Kastner, Patricia, ed. A Lost Tradition: women writers of the early church (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. Critical thinking and reflection (developed through seminar discussion, presentations and extended essay)
2. Historical analysis and comparative evaluation (developed through seminar discussion, presentations and extended essay)
3. Oral communication skills (developed through seminar discussion and presentations)
KeywordsWomen,Christianity,Late Antique,Medieval,Church,mystic,monasticism,Beguines,spirituality
Course organiserDr Sara Parvis
Tel: (0131 6)50 8907
Course secretaryMs Roisin O'Fee
Tel: (0131 6)50 8921
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