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.

Throughout most of history women were unofficial theologians. They would write and teach, but did not hold official positions in Universities and Seminaries. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, women theological scholars began to be appointed to formal faculty positions at theological schools. Women are slowly being recognized as theological scholars.

George Gallup Jr. wrote in 2002 that studies show 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]

Women theological scholars[edit]

  • Catherine L. Albanese, American religious studies scholar, professor, lecturer, and author
  • Karen Armstrong, British author known for her books on comparative religion
  • Marta Benavides, El Salvadorian feminist religious leader
  • Katie Cannon, American Christian theologian and ethicist associated with womanist theology and black theology
  • Monica Coleman, theologian associated with process theology and womanist theology
  • M. Shawn Copeland, American womanist and Black Catholic theologian
  • Kelly Brown Douglas, African-American Episcopal priest, womanist theologian, and academic
  • Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Romanian-born German Roman Catholic feminist theologian
  • Wilda C. Gafney, American biblical scholar and Episcopal priest
  • Jacquelyn Grant, American theologian and Methodist minister who is one of the founding developers of womanist theology
  • Nyasha Junior, American biblical scholar focusing on the connections between religion, race, and gender within the Hebrew Bible
  • Joanna Macy, environmental activist, author, and scholar of Buddhism
  • Sallie McFague, American feminist theologian, who emphasized God as mother in her theology
  • Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Ghanaian theologian and founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
  • Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro, Filipina theologian known for her writings in Asian feminist theology
  • Jamie T. Phelps, American Catholic theologian known for her contributions to womanist theology
  • Elizabeth Schrader Polczer, American biblical scholar who concentrates on textual studies concerning Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of John, and the Nag Hammadi corpus
  • Rosemary Radford Reuther, American feminist theologian who helped define fields of Christian feminist and eco-feminist theology
  • Letty M. Russell, American Christian feminist theologian who pioneered feminist ecclesiology
  • Joan E. Taylor, English historian of the Bible and early Christianity with special expertise in archaeology, and women's and gender studies.
  • Emilie Townes, American Christian social ethicist and theologian
  • Renita J. Weems, ordained minister, a Hebrew Bible scholar, and an author
  • Delores S. Williams, American Presbyterian theologian notable for her formative role in the development of womanist theology
  • Traci D. Blackmon, minister and spiritual leader involved in peaceful protests during unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014

Baháʼí Faith[edit]

In writings of the Baháʼí Faith, the Holy Spirit is often described as the "Maid of Heaven".[2]

Three women figure prominently in the history of the Baháʼí Faith: Táhirih, a disciple of the Báb; Ásíyih Khánum, the wife of Baháʼu'lláh; and Bahíyyih Khánum the daughter of Baháʼu'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 Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí Faith.



In the New Testament[edit]

In the Early Christian Church[edit]

In the Medieval church[edit]

In the Catholic Church (Post-Reformation)[edit]

In 1970 three women were declared Doctor of the Church

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.
  • 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

In Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

In the Latter Day Saint movement[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.



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. ^ "Jesus, meine Zuversicht". Hymnary.org.
  11. ^ "Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth". Hymnary.org.
  12. ^ "Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus". Hymnary.org.
  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.


  • Joan Breton Connelly Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece Princeton University Press March 2007
  • ^ Silvia Evangelisti Nuns: A History of Convent Life, OUP 2007
  • ^ Pechilis, Karen. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States ISBN 0-19-514538-0
  • ^ Shattuck, Cybelle and Lewis, Nancy D. The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Hinduism (2002). ISBN 0-02-864482-4
  • http://www.rhul.ac.uk/bedford-centre/history-women-religious/ being the webpage of the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland, which has a number of entries on the links page.[dead link]

External links[edit]