Holy Women in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity

RELG 376. Holy Women in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Over the centuries, holy women have inspired the faithful and even the not-so religious. Holiness has taken many forms and inspired ideas of piety, martyrdom, monasticism, mysticism, and social activism. By examining holy women from various traditions and times, we will look at the ways in which particular communities have understood, practiced, and endorsed essential elements of holiness.

We will begin by thinking about what different cultures and times regard as “holy” and, furthermore, what it means to be a woman and holy. We will continue with women who set standards for holiness in their respective traditions such as Sara, the Virgin Mary or Aisha but also look at women who were holy to more than one tradition such as Hagar and Mary/Maryam. Some were outspoken scholars and mystics, such as the great Doctor of the Church Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, or Rabi’a. We will close our class with a look at modern women such as Mother Teresa, Edith Stein, and Fatima Yashrutiyyah. And lastly, we will ask whether holiness still has a place in the modern world? And how about secular saints, from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Pailin?



You will need access to the Bible and the Qur’an.


Your grade consists of the following:

Participation, incl. 10 weekly position papers and one in-class presentation: 30%

Midterm: 20%

Final: 20%

Paper: 30%


Class objectives:

  • The goal of this course is to investigate the specific meaning and function of the portrayal of holiness through analysis of the writings of and about holy women dating from the Bible to our times.
  • Analyze primary texts in terms of their specific historical and religious messages.
  • Analyze the impact of contemporary cultural, political, and religious ideals have impacted ideas of holiness.
  • Articulate how holy women have been portrayed in their own words, in contemporary writings, as well as in art and music.
  • Use of the library and of relevant bibliographic tools.
  • Communicate effectively in written work and oral presentations using college-level English.

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