Saintly Women : Medieval Saints, Modern Women, and Intimate Partner Violence book cover
1st Edition

Saintly Women
Medieval Saints, Modern Women, and Intimate Partner Violence

ISBN 9780367667313
Published September 30, 2020 by Routledge
214 Pages

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Book Description

This ground-breaking volume assesses the contemporary epidemic of intimate partner violence and explores how and why cultural and religious beliefs serve to excuse battering and to work against survivors’ attempts to find safety. Theological interpretations of sacred texts have been used for centuries to justify or minimize violence against women. The authors recover historical and especially medieval narratives whose protagonists endure violence that is framed by religious texts or arguments. The medieval theological themes that redeem battering in saints’ lives—suffering, obedience, ownership and power—continue today in most religious traditions. This insightful book emphasizes Christian history and theology, but the authors signal contributions from interfaith studies to efforts against partner violence.

Examining medieval attitudes and themes sharpens the readers’ understanding of contemporary violence against women. Analyzing both historical and contemporary narratives from a religious perspective grounds the unique approach of Nienhuis and Kienzle, one that forges a new path in grappling with partner violence. Medieval and contemporary narratives alike demonstrate that women in abusive relationships feel the burden of religious beliefs that enjoin wives to endure suffering and to maintain stable marriages. Religious leaders have reminded women of wives’ responsibility for obedience to husbands, even in the face of abuse. In some narratives, however, women create safe places for themselves. Moreover, some exemplary communities call upon religious belief to support their opposition to violence. Such models of historical resistance reveal precedents for response through intervention or protection.

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Nancy Eileen Nienhuis, Th.D., Harvard University (2002) in Religion, Gender, and Culture, Associate Dean of Student Life at Simmons College, and Visiting Professor of Theology and Social Justice at Andover Newton Theological School. Her research examines theological responses to intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Author of multiple articles on the topic, Nienhuis is also interested in how the intersection of systems of oppression like racism and sexism compromise survivors’ efforts to seek safety.

Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Ph.D., Boston College (1978) in comparative medieval literature, retired as the John H. Morison Professor of the Practice in Latin and Romance Languages at Harvard Divinity School. Her research and writing have focused on medieval preaching, the lives of women saints, heresy, and women's spirituality. Author of five books on Hildegard of Bingen’s preaching and exegesis, she continues to investigate her long-held interest in how medieval authors employ biblical interpretation to justify or minimize violence against women.


"Nienhuis presents current research on intimate partner violence and Kienzle gives examples from her scholarship in medieval hagiographies and colonial journals. Pairing the two in dialogue, the results are profound, disturbing, and compelling." - Regina Christianson, Anglican and Episcopal History