University of Leicester
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Religion, gender, genre : nineteenth-century women's theology

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:37 authored by Rebecca Styler
This thesis considers how women in the nineteenth century used a variety of literary genres to write theology, when formal theological channels were closed to them. Each chapter considers a different literary genre and different writers. Features of genre are foregrounded as I consider how each writer constructs meanings and addresses her audience, and what the implications were for them as women writing this way. It departs from the specifically feminist approach of many studies of women's theology, to explore a range of women's attempts to find an adequate spirituality. Emma Jane Worboise's popular novels and biography of Thomas Arnold construct parables in which 'feminine' Christian values are extended to the public world. The poetry of Anne Bronte debates with Calvinism, and with the Romantic and Evangelical ideals of intense personal communion with the divine. Harriet Martineau creates a religion for middle-class liberals through her essays for the Unitarian periodical the Monthly Repository. She embodies a new model of a theologian who has earned her authority through the press. The autobiographies of the intellectuals Frances Power Cobbe and Annie Besant also do this, as they present themselves as creators of post-Christian theologies. Autobiographies by Margaret Howitt and Margaret Oliphant rather evaluate the emotional adequacy of belief. Other writers anticipate some late twentieth-century developments in theology. The writers of collective biography, while addressing distinctly Victorian gender issues, also offer a form of feminist Bible criticism. Josephine Butler creates a 'liberation' theology in her political speeches against legalised prostitution. The perspective of women's theology, expressed in literary forms, brings to light writers who, while forgotten today, were significant in the nmeteenth-century context. It also enables a new appreciation of authors who are better-known for other achievements.


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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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