Book List on Women, Gender, and Sex in American Religious History

Andrea L. Turpin
This fall I get to teach one of my favorite classes: my graduate course on Women, Gender, and Sex in American Religious History. One of the readings I assign for the first day is quite possibly my favorite historiographic essay of all time, Catherine Brekus's “Introduction: Searching for Women in Narratives of American Religious History,” in The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past, ed. Brekus (North Carolina, 2007).

In this ten-year-old essay, Brekus examines why so many synthetic works of American religious history ignore women and why so many synthetic works of American women's history ignore religion. She makes a compelling case that the answer is not that scholarship on American women's religious history doesn't exist--and that both omissions leave our understanding of our collective past significantly impoverished.

Yet five years after the release of The Religious History of American Women, the December 2012 issue of the Journal of American History dedicated to a state-of-the-field analysis of American women's and gender history hardly mentioned religion at all. And as late as 2016 I was still seeing so many book lists for lay readers interested in American religious history that didn't include books by or about women that I was moved to write my first ever blog post on the subject.

But I am encouraged by my class, both the students in it and the books available to assign for it. The course has enrolled a large number of students, and roughly equal numbers of women and men are interested in the topic. (I wrote a guest post last year over at the Anxious Bench reflecting on my experience teaching an earlier version of this course to 6 men and 1 woman!) And even though I last taught the course only a year and half ago, I changed about one-third of the books on the syllabus because so much excellent work has been published in the last two years.

Each week the class reads one book and an additional article or book chapter on a complementary topic. In the readings for the course, I strive for diversity of multiple types: religious traditions, race and ethnicity, historical time period, styles of writing, and classic vs. recent works. In different years the course ends up having slightly different emphases depending on the interests of the students enrolled, my research at the time, what books have recently been published, and the directions in which the field is developing. 

Particularly noteworthy in this iteration is the recent expansion of scholarship on religion and sexuality. And it is a sign of the vitality of the field of women, gender, and sex in American religious history that there are so many excellent books that I could have included that did not make this particular semester's list. Judging from the books on this year's syllabus, shout out to the university presses of Oxford, North Carolina, and Cornell, who have all published multiple titles in this area.

Now without further ado, for your reading pleasure, here are the books for this year: 
Joan Wallach Scott, Sex and Secularism (Princeton, 2017) 

Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (W.W. Norton, 1987)

Susan Juster, Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics & Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England (Cornell, 1994)

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (Knopf, 2017)

Kathi Kern, Mrs. Stanton’s Bible (Cornell, 2001)

Andrea L. Turpin, A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837–1917 (Cornell, 2016)

*I offer the book to my students at my author's discount so I don't make a profit. We use this day to discuss not only the topic, but also the process of writing a dissertation and turning it into a book.

Sarah Imhoff, Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism (Indiana, 2017)

Kristin Kobes DuMez, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism (Oxford, 2015)

Marie Griffith, Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics (Basic, 2017)

Heather R. White, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (North Carolina, 2015)

Daniel Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (Oxford, 2016)

Ula Yvette Taylor, The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam (North Carolina, 2017)

James M. Ault, Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church (Knopf, 2004)

As I mentioned earlier, in addition to these books, the class reads several standalone articles and book chapters. I want to highlight three 2018 edited volumes that make helpful contributions to the field and are the source of some of these chapters:

Eds. Gillian Frank, Bethany Moreton, & Heather R. White, Devotions and Desires: Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the United States (North Carolina, 2018)

Eds. Michele Lise Tarter & Catie Gill, New Critical Studies on Early Quaker Women, 1650-1800 (Oxford, 2018)

Eds. Leilah Danielson, Marian Mollin, & Doug Rossinow, The Religious Left in Modern America: Doorkeepers of a Radical Faith (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

I suspect next time I teach this course, several readers of this blog will have produced excellent new work in the field to include!


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