Crosthwaite: Scandalous Women and Religion

Posted: February 5, 2009

Religion professor Jane Crosthwaite will travel to Wake Forest University, her alma mater, on March 3 and 4 to speak on a subject which has been central to her long study of the Shakers and women in American religious history.

She has been tapped, along with a distinguished panel of female religious scholars, to participate in "Scandalous Women and Religious Traditions," the subject of the Seventh Annual Phyllis Trible Lecture Series. The prominent series honors Phyllis Trible, an internationally known biblical scholar and university professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School, who has written influential texts including: God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality and Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative.

Elizabeth Clark of Duke, Wilma Bailey of the Christian Theological Seminary, Emilie Townes of Yale Divinity School and president of the American Academy of Religion, MHC alumna Yvonne Chireau '82 of Swarthmore, and Trible herself will join Crosthwaite in speaking.

Crosthwaite and Chireau will join together to present thoughts on "Spirits and Visions: The Scandals of Religious Women." Crosthwaite will focus on the development of the Shaker religion in the United States, under the leadership of the late eighteenth-century figure, Mother Ann Lee. Lee was instrumental in imposing a doctrine of celibacy on the Shakers--a radical Christian movement known for ecstatic dancing during rituals. She will also "talk about the category of 'the scandalous' and propose it as a mirror of human life, but made more dangerous if 'a woman' tried to address the problems." Chireau, who began her study of religion at MHC, will discuss spiritualism in New Orleans.

Crosthwaite is honored to speak at the event and notes Trible's influence on feminist interpretations of the Bible. "Phyllis Trible is," Crosthwaite observes," a major scholar of the Hebrew Bible, having taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City for years; her publications have corrected or refocused many important Old Testament texts, especially in ways that have been called groundbreaking for women and for feminist scholarship. Her re-reading, via Hebrew, of the Eve and Adam stories is perhaps the most dramatic revelation."

Whole Lot of Shakering Going On!
Millennial PraisesOn other fronts, Crosthwaite's new book, Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal, will be published this spring by the University of Massachusetts Press. The tome includes the 140 hymns of the first Shaker hymnal, published in 1812-1813, and the music for 128 of those hymns. Verses and music have been joined together for the first time (the original hymnal was published without the music) by her collaborator, Christian Goodwillie, curator of the Hancock, Massachusetts, Shaker Village.

The hymns represent "astonishingly radical theological verses used to construct a Shaker vision of heaven and earth and to instruct Shaker believers in their new faith," Crosthwaite noted. "They cover everything from circumcision, to longing for the garlic and leeks of Egypt, from the need for a lowly woman to clean up the Anti-Christ's mess, to the value of George Washington!"

Related Links:

Jane Crosthwaite - Faculty Profile

Religion at MHC