A History of Pregnancy in Christianity : From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates book cover
1st Edition

A History of Pregnancy in Christianity
From Original Sin to Contemporary Abortion Debates

ISBN 9780415857598
Published June 23, 2015 by Routledge
218 Pages

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Book Description

This book examines changing views of procreation and fetal development throughout the history of the Christian tradition. This is the first comprehensive study of cultural perceptions of pregnancy, an area of scholarship that been understudied in the past. Pregnancy holds a central place in Christian ritual, iconography, and theology, including the dogma of the incarnation and the cult of Virgin Mary. This book provides a broad introduction to the attitudes and ideas within Western Christian communities by focusing on four periods of transition: Antiquity, the Enlightenment, modernity, and the present day. It lays the groundwork for further study of the interactions between biological models, cultural preconceptions, and religious beliefs.

Table of Contents

Introduction. Part I. Beginnings. 1. Conceptualising Pregnancy. 2. Patterns of Meaning. 3. Christian Procreation According to Augustine. 4. Pregnancy and Abortion in Medieval Society. 5. Exceptional Bodies. Part II. The Enlightenment. 6. Reformation. 7. Theories of Procreation. 8. Varieties of Scientific Truth. Part III. Modernity. 9. The Female Egg and Medical Inventions. 10. The Divine Conception. 11. Fertility Under Debate. Part IV. Contemporary Debates. 12. Women and the Virgin in the 20th Century. 13. Legal Abortion. 14. Foetus or Child. 15. Objectification. Afterthoughts. Index. Bibliography.

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Anne Stensvold is Professor of History of Religions at the University of Oslo, Norway. She has written extensively on popular religion and religious change and is the editor of Western Balkans: The Religious Dimension (2009).


"This book fills a gap in the current cultural historical literature on pregnancy….It paints the big picture from late antiquity to the modern period."

Neil Pembroke, University of Queensland, Australia       

"This work is an important contribution to the current debate about human procreation, fertility and female reproductive autonomy. Combining sources from theological anthropology, legal documents and medical practices, from Antiquity to our time, Anne Stensvold demonstrates how doctrinal concepts are influenced by historically varying biological theories. Her work clarifies how religion and culture interact to shape Western ideas about contraception, pregnancy, abortion and childbirth."

Kari Elisabeth Børresen, University of Oslo, Norway