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Women: Between Faith and Reason

Lecturer: Petra Brown

Originally Taught: Summer School 2014

This course will examine the place of women, beginning with antiquity and the medieval period (with a special focus on women and mysticism), then ‘progressing’ through to Enlightenment and philosophy into modernity. In a great rollicking ride that engages with eleven women (representative historical figures) that challenge the status quo, we investigate a number of overcharging questions. What were the possibilities for emancipation within these historical epochs for women? To what extent were women able to participate in the life of ‘faith’? Did the Enlightenment and the increasing autonomy of philosophy lead women ‘out of the cave’ and broaden opportunities for women’s emancipation? To what extent were women able to participate in the life of ‘reason’?

This course presents an opportunity to look at women in the world of ideas. By looking at these historical figures among their better-known contemporaries, we are able to practice philosophy ‘at the margins’, as well as bringing women out of the shadows, into the light. The overarching questions that guide this course are intended to draw attention to the current place of, not just women, but what it means for anyone to live ‘between’ two worlds.

Throughout the course, we use both the primary texts of our trailblazer women, as well as various secondary readings from feminist scholars, historical biographers, and others.

Course Schedule

Week 1 - Introduction to course. Women: Between Faith and Reason - Antiquity.
Women in focus will be Judith and Aspasia of Miletus, representing the Judeo-Christian and Greek heritage respectively. Primary readings include The Book of Judith, excerpts from the Symposium, Life of Pericles, Acharnians, and the writings of Xenophon.

Week 2 - Women: Between Faith and Reason – Medieval period.
Women in focus will be Hildegard von Bingen and Christine de Pisan. A special focus of this week will be the link between women and mysticism, and women and literature. Primary readings include excerpts from Know the Ways of the Lord; Book of Life's Merits; Book of Divine Works; The Book of the City of Ladies; and The Treasure of the City of Ladies.

Week 3 - Women: Between Faith and Reason - Early Modern.
The two women in focus will be Anna van Schurman and Christina, Queen of Sweden, with a special focus on women in the university, and women in political life. Primary readings include selections from Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated and Other Writings from Her Intellectual Circle; and The Works of Christina Queen Of Sweden.

Week 4 - Women: Between Faith and Reason – Enlightenment.
This week we look at three women during the age of Enlightenment: Friderika Baldinger; Olympe de Gouges; and Mary Wollstonecraft. A special focus will be on the possibilities for women’s intellectual emancipation during the German, French and British Enlightenments. Primary readings include Life Sketch of Friderika Baldinger; Declaration of the Rights of Women; Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen; and Social Contract.

Week 5 - Women: Between Faith and Reason – Modernity.
As we conclude our course, we look at two women from the 20th century: an age rich in women’s suffrage and the development of women’s consciousness. We look at two French women, contemporaries who both attended the Ecole Normale Superieure, but who are two very different thinkers: Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Weil. Primary readings include excerpts from She came to Stay; The Ethics of Ambiguity; The Second Sex; Gravity and Grace; Waiting on God; and The Need for Roots.


Specific readings, both primary and secondary, will be listed and, as far as possible, made available online.

Course Level: Introductory