Toward a Feminist Conception of Personal Sin

Hawthorne, Laura, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mohrmann, Margaret, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Childress, James, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation draws on the theology of Julian of Norwich to develop a feminist conception of personal sin that is responsive to feminist and womanist concerns about Christian thought on sin and that takes seriously the perspective of those who face violence, hopelessness, poverty, and injustice. It argues that a better understanding of personal sin complements previous feminist and womanist scholarship on social sin, both relational and structural. Instead of beginning with a concern for how the individual sins, this project focuses on describing sin as a condition from which the individual suffers. It distinguishes between sin as condition and sin as act in order to develop an alternative to moralistic ways of talking about sin that focus exclusively on human behavior. In developing an account of sin as condition, the project engages elements of the doctrine of original sin--the contingency of sin, its universal dimension, and its damage that is beyond human capacity to repair--and proposes how each may be rearticulated in a feminist register. It argues for the theological importance of acknowledging the pain of sin and the healing work of grace before raising questions of accountability and agency. The dissertation develops criteria for evaluating the extent to which a concept of sin may be considered feminist, in particular, the need to resist hierarchical dualism, to stress the particularity of all claims about sin, to hold ideas about sin accountable to women’s experiences of suffering and healing, to value human embodiment and particular human bodies, and to retain an awareness of the complex, interlocking dynamics of the self with structural and relational forms of sin. Throughout the project draws upon Julian’s theological anthropology, soteriology, doctrine of God, and creative use of gender to develop a conception of personal sin as estrangement--a condition in which humans cannot experience themselves as receiving or participating in divine love.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
sin, original sin, Christian, theology, ethics, feminist, feminism, Julian of Norwich, social sin, gender, sexuality, violence, soteriology, Christology, personal sin, individual sin, suffering, love, Middle Ages
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