Women as theological figures

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Women as theological figures have played a significant role in the development of various religions and religious hierarchies. The study of women and religion typically examines the role of women within particular religious faiths, and religious doctrines relating to gender, gender roles, and particular women in religious history. It is worth noting from a gender scientific approach, women occupy the second room in all of the following religions in the examples below, with the exception of Nakayama Miki, the founder of Tenrikyo.

George H. Gallup Jr. wrote in an analysis for the Gallup Organization in 2002 that, a mountain of evidence shows that women have more religiosity than men. Gallup goes on to say that women hold on to their faith more heartily, work harder for the church, and in general practice with more consistency than men.[1]

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

In Bahá'i writings, the Holy Spirit is often described as the "Maid of Heaven".[2]

Three women figure prominently in the history of the Bahá'í Faith: Táhirih, a disciple of the Báb; Ásíyih Khánum, the wife of Bahá'u'lláh; and Bahíyyih Khánum the daughter of Bahá'u'lláh. Táhirih and Bahíyyih, in particular, held strong leadership positions and are seen vital to the development of the religion.

Several women played leading roles in the early days of the Bahá'í Faith in America.[3][4][5] Among them are: May Maxwell, Corinne True, and Martha Root. Rúhíyyih Khanum and a mix of male and female Hands of the Cause formed an interim leadership of the religion for six years prior to the formation of the Universal House of Justice. Later prominent women include Patricia Locke, Jaqueline Left Hand Bull Delahunt, Layli Miller-Muro, and Dr. Susan Maneck, who herself wrote books documenting the role of women in the Bahá'í Faith.



Women prominent in the New Testament[edit]

Women prominent in the Early Christian Church[edit]

Women prominent in the Medieval church[edit]

Women prominent in the Catholic Church (Post-Reformation)[edit]

In 1970 three women were declared Doctor of the Church

Women prominent in Protestant Churches[edit]

  • Ursula Cotta (article in German) (c. 1450–1511), influenced Luther's attitude toward women
  • Inger Ottesdotter Rømer (c. 1475–1555), wealthiest landowner in Norway, promoted the Reformation extensively
  • Argula von Grumbach (1492-1554), writer who defended Martin Luther
  • Christina Gyllenstierna (1494-1559), commanded the city of Stockholm, unsuccessful in preventing the execution of over 100 people for heresy (Stockholm Bloodbath)
  • Katharina Zell (1497 or 1498-1562), proponent of clerical marriage
  • Katharina von Bora, (1499–1552) Roman Catholic nun who became Lutheran, proponent of clerical marriage
  • Ursula of Munsterberg in 1528 published 69 articles about why she and other nuns were going to leave their convent.
  • Anne Boleyn, influenced religious development in England indirectly by leading Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and break from the Catholic Church
  • Elisabeth of Hesse (1502–1557), exposed secret bigamy of her brother Philip
  • Elisabeth of Brandenburg (1510-1558), secretly took communion in both kinds against the wishes of her Catholic father. She implemented the Reformation when governing in place of her underage son
  • Amalia of Cleves (1517-1586), authored a songbook, rejected as possible wife by Henry VIII
  • Anne Askew (1521–1546), tortured in the Tower of London and martyred in Smithfield for Protestantism
  • Joan Bocher (?–1550), English Anabaptist martyr in Smithfield
  • Elizabeth Pepper (?–1556), martyred while pregnant for Protestantism, together with Agnes George
  • Guernsey Martyrs, three women martyred for Protestantism in 1556, one woman was pregnant and gave birth while being burned, the child was rescued but then ordered to be burned too
  • Anne Locke (1530 – ?), Calvinist poet
  • Anna Leuhusen (died c. 1554), abbess who along with her nuns, became nurses
  • Joan Waste (1534–1556), blind woman martyred for Protestantism
  • Alice Benden (?–1557), martyred for Protestantism
  • Alice Driver (?–1558), testified for and martyred for Protestantism
  • Anna Maria of the Palatinate (1561 – 1589), a Lutheran who was concerned about the spread of Calvinism and described by Charles IX of Sweden as "more educated in religion than anyone to be found."
  • Magdalena Heymair, in 1569 became the first woman to have her writings listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum
  • Elizabeth Melville (c.1578–c.1640), Scottish Calvinist poet, first known woman to print a book in Scotland.
  • Augusta of Denmark (1580 – 1639), walked to Lutheran church and refused to attend Calvinist services. Later fired a Calvinist minister and restored the previous Lutheran minister to his position.
  • Anna Maria von Eggenberg (1609-1680), moved court to a city in Hungary where she would be able sponsor Protestant church services.
  • Catherine Vasa of Sweden (1539-1610) actively supported Lutheranism above Calvinism, visited Wittenberg to study theology, wrote interpretations of the bible
  • Johanna Eleonora Petersen (1644-1724), Pietist writer, wikilink in German
  • Anne Hutchinson, charismatic and outspoken Puritan in early colonial New England whose unorthodox religious views helped spark the Antinomian Controversy from 1636 to 1638
  • Johanna Sibylla Küsel (1650 – 1717), Lutheran printmaker who illustrated religious and scientific books.
  • Mary Dyer, avid follower of the Quaker religion who became a martyr when she was hanged in Boston in 1660 for her religious activism
  • Katharina Elizabeth – in 1698, Catholic village leaders of Radibor attempted to have her disciplined for attempted Lutheranization of the population.[7]
  • Marie Durand (1711–1776), imprisoned 38 years in the Tower of Constance for Protestantism with 24 other women[8]
  • Barbara von Krüdener (1764–1824), her spiritual relationship with Tsar Alexander influenced the religious character of the Holy Alliance, for a time she gave up her noble lifestyle and wandered, supporting crowds who wandered with her.
  • Amalie Sieveking (1794 –1859), founded society which trained women to help for poor and invalids, wrote tracts
  • Clara Maass (1876–1901), devout nurse who died after volunteering in an immunization experiment, listed on the Lutheran Calendar of Saints
  • Ellen G. White (1827-1915), co-founder and prophetess of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a large protestant movement present in over 200 countries and territories.[9]
  • Lottie Moon (1840–1912), Baptist missionary to China
  • Mary Hannah Fulton (1854–1927), Presbyterian missionary to China
  • Eva von Tiele-Winckler (1866-1930), (article in German), deaconess
  • Elisabeth Schmitz (1893-1977), unsuccessfully attempted to prod the Confessing Church to take a stance in favor of Jews during the Nazi era. Wikilink in German.
  • Gertrud Staewen (1894-1987), supported the cause of Jews in the Confessing Church during the Nazi era. Wikilink in German.
  • Betty Stam (1906–1934), missionary to China, martyr
  • Rachel Saint (1914–1994), missionary to the Huaorani in Operation Auca after the martyrdom of her brother

Women prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]


A number of hymns and psalms have been written by women, from the pen of Fanny Crosby and Emily Gosse, for example.


Recognition of the feminine aspect of God during the last century by Tantric and Shakti religious leaders, has led to the legitimization of the female teachers and female gurus in Hinduism. A notable example was Ramakrishna, who worshiped his wife as the embodiment of the divine feminine. [1]



The status of women in Jainism differs between the two main sects, Digambara and Svetambara. Jainism prohibits women from appearing naked; because of this, Digambaras, who consider renunciation of clothes essential to moksha, say that they cannot attain enlightenment in the same life.[14] Svetambaras, who allow sadhus to wear clothes, believe that women can attain moksha. There are more Svetambara sadhvis than sadhus and women have always been influential in the Jain religion.[15]


There are several prominent women in the Tanakh.

  • Deborah, Hebrew prophetess, fourth judge
  • Esther, Jewish heroine associated with the feast of Purim
  • Huldah, the prophetess who validated the scroll found in the Temple (thought by many to be the book of Deuteronomy)
  • Miriam, Prophetess
  • Ruth, proselyte par excellence; better than seven sons
  • Leah, beloved of God, matriarch of some of the twelve tribes
  • Rachel, matriarch of some of the twelve tribes



One of the Daoist Eight Immortals, Immortal Woman He, is a woman. Additionally, Sun Bu'er was a famous female Taoist master in the 12th century. Her work "Secret Book on the Inner Elixir (as Transmitted by the Immortal Sun Bu'er)" discussed some of the particularities of female "Inner Elixir" (Neidan) cultivation. Daoist nuns usually have equal status with monks.

Other religions[edit]

Spiritual mediums[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Roy Britt, Women More Religious Than Men, http://www.livescience.com/7689-women-religious-men.html, February 28, 2009 October 27, 2014 (2014)
  2. ^ "Female Representations of the Holy Spirit in Bahá'í and Christian writings and their implications for gender roles". Bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  3. ^ "Women in the Baha'i Faith". Planetbahai.org. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  4. ^ "Selected Topics of Comparison in Christianity and the Baha'i Faith". Bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  5. ^ "Unclipping the Wings". Bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  6. ^ Scott, Rachelle M. (2016). "Contemporary Thai Buddhism". In Jerryson, Michael (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. Oxford University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-19-936238-7.
  7. ^ A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany by Bridget Heal
  8. ^ Huguenot Women of the Tower of Constance
  9. ^ "Quick Statistics on the Seventh-day Adventist Church". www.adventistarchives.org. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  10. ^ entry on hymnary.org for Jesus meine zuversicht and Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense (mp3 with organ only)
  11. ^ For the text of the translated hymn, see the entry at hymnary.org for Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth, for the accompaniment, see Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth (mp3 with organ only)
  12. ^ translated by August Crull, it is #216 in Ambassador Hymnal: for Lutheran Worship, #379 in Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, and #348 in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, see also the entry for the hymn on hymnary.org and for the accompaniment, see Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus (mp3 with organ only)
  13. ^ translated by Peter Andrew Sveeggen, it is #198 in Ambassador Hymnal: for Lutheran Worship, #61 in Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #326 in Lutheran Book of Worship, and #364 in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, see also the entry for the hymn on hymnary.org
  14. ^ "Religion & Ethics - Women in Jainism". BBC. 2009-09-10. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  15. ^ "The Role of Women - Victoria and Albert Museum". Vam.ac.uk. 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2010-11-19.


External links[edit]