The Mary Lou Chappell Lecture
The fifth-century bishop, Augustine of Hippo (354 CE - 430 CE), is largely remembered for his doctrinal contributions to the Christian tradition primarily in the West. He was foundational to just war theory, the doctrine of original sin, and he continues to be a foundational voice in curricula and teachings on Christian moral theology. In short, his influence is unparalleled within Western Christian history. More recently, Augustine has seen a revival among Augustinian scholars and public historians regarding pressing matters related to women and sexual violence. This long dead saint has once again taken up space as many have sought moral guidance on how to engage the #MeToo movement. But, was Augustine a feminist let alone an advocate for violence against women? Traditional readings of Book I of his magnum opus the City of God have provided false comfort for victims of sexual abuse. This talk will pause to reconsider the logic and thinking behind Augustine’s arguments. I conclude that the bishop of Hippo’s opinion on gender based violence remains not only suspect, but also extremely troubling. Join me as we engage the great life of Augustine and draw him into a contemporary reflection on the age-old question: can the word of any woman be trusted?
Speaker: Jennifer Barry
Jennifer Barry is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Mary Washington. Her research interests include studies in the area of late antiquity, clerical exile, heresiology, and gender violence in early Christianity. Her book, Bishops in Flight: Exile and Displacement in Late Antiquity, was published with the University of California Press Luminos Series (2019). Her next book project is titled, A Violence All Her Own: Male Fantasies in Late Antiquity argues that late ancient Christian texts actively participate in and sanction violence against women to promote and preserve orthodoxy (doctrines of right belief). As a historian of religious studies, Barry pays attention to the role Christian rhetoric plays in early Christian texts, often to the detriment of women’s experiences of gender based violence. Her project asserts that this rhetoric has far- reaching consequences relevant to contemporary reflections on the past--particularly in the current #MeToo moment in America.
Professor Barry is also involved with a variety of scholarly projects in and around the DC area, which include the First Millennium Network. She is both a steering committee member and an editor for the new First Millennium book series with Catholic University of America press. Her collaborative projects also extend overseas as she is an active member of the Migrations of Faith Project and, most recently, the Shiloh Project.