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.