Hints for women in the Christian tradition sample questions

Make sure that you have looked at the question and thought about it for yourself FIRST before you look at the hints.

Whenever you get a question you should do the following:

  1. Read the question more than once.
  2. Identify the topic (i.e which section of the course it is in).
  3. Identify the 'debate' (i.e. the two sides of the argument).
  4. Work out the main points that each side would make to support their case. Consider what evidence/reasoning they would use.
  5. Work out which side you agree with and why.
  6. Look back through your notes and find more material/details to include in an essay.
  7. Plan your essay.
  8. Write your essay.

'Augustine's teachings have encouraged negative attitudes towards women.' Discuss

The debate:

Agree: Augustine's teachings about the Fall encourage people to view man as master and woman as helpers suitable only for procreation.

Disagree: Augustine does reflect the views of his time but he also said some very positive things about women and was less misogynistic than some of his contemporaries.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you know about Augustine's interpretation of the Fall, (relationship between men and women, concupiscence, the soul). You should be able to put these ideas into their historical context so that you can compare Augustine's views to others.

Look up what feminists have said about Augustine so that you can evaluate their views. Rosemary Radford Ruether would agree with the statement but Genevieve Lloyd defends Augustine.

Plan the essay:

Introduction: Set up the debate. State your line of argument.

  • Paragraph 1: Explain Augustine's interpretation of the Genesis story (with reference to original hierarchy, procreation, helper status, soul, punishment and concupiscence and original sin.
  • Paragraph 2: Initially it appears that he does encourage negative attitudes towards women. Many feminists like Rosemary Radford Ruether have criticised Augustine for encouraging negative attitudes towards women. One key way he does this is by presenting women as helper fit only for procreation.
  • Paragraph 3: However, others have argued that Augustine was positive for his time and stress the positive things that Augustine says women are part of God's creation, men and women are meant to be together. In the Mulieris Dignitatem Pope John Paul II stressed the great importance of motherhood - not a negative role for women to have.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse of para 2&3) It is very hard to tell how much influence he has actually had although he is still treated with respect especially for catholics. It might be true that motherhood is a good role to have but this has often led to the idea that this is the only thing women can do - thus has had a negative attitude.
  • Paragraph 5: Another problem with his view is that his idea of concupiscence leads to the idea that the body is bad. Women are more associated with body. This leads to body=woman=inferior and mind=man=superior type ways of thinking.
  • Paragraph 6: One might say that this is not a fair attitude to take. Augustine stressed that women also have a rational soul. Denied that they were not in God's image.
  • Paragraph 7: (Analysis of para 5&6) Regardless of what Augustine meant his ideas about the relationship between body and soul and what he says about image of God in man and women have led people to associate women with lesser rationality and thus less worth.

Conclusion: Augustine had many good things to say about women, but it remains true that some of the things he said did encourage a negative attitude towards women (even though he might not have intended that).

Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Pope John Paul II teachings about women in the Mulieris Dignitatem.

The debate:

This is another question where it is harder to identify a clear 'debate'. However, the implicit underlying question is whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

Conservatives would regard the Mulieris Dignitatem as presenting a strong and convincing case for the idea that men and women are 'equal but different'.

Feminists would argue that it presents a very narrow definition of what it is to be female.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you know what the Mulieris Dignitatem says about Motherhood and Virginity, about the relationship between men and women and about the Genesis story. You should also be able to compare what Pope John Paul II said with what Augustine said.

Plan the essay:

You will notice that this essay plan does not really follow the thesis/antithesis discursive approach. This is because this particular question does not lend itself to that style.

However, you should see that it still involves different view points and it still involves analysis of those view points.

In this plan (unlike the others) I have not made it clear which way I would argue.

Introduction: Set out different attitudes to the Mulieris Dignitatem.

  • Paragraph 1: Briefly outline the key aspects of what the Mulieris Dignitatem teaches about women.
  • Paragraph 2: Conservatives would argue that the strengths of the Mulieris Dignitatem are that 1) it supports the principle of equal value without undermining traditional teachings 2) it synthesises biblical teachings and evidence from biology in support of the case 3) it shows high regard for women by stressing the importance of motherhood.
  • Paragraph 3: Feminists would argue that its main weaknesses are that it 1) suggests that women have a duty to be mothers 2) the only vocations open to women are motherhood or virginity 3) it fails to recognise that the world has moved on and traditional teachings are no longer applicable.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse) Discuss whether the idea of 'equal but different works'. Is the case for motherhood as the specifically female role a convincing and empowering one or is it limiting?
  • Paragraph 5: (Analyse) Discuss whether the Bible should be used to guide women's roles today (the conservatives would say that it should, many feminists would say that it should not) - is it really a strength or a weakness?

Conclusion: On balance, does the Mulieris Dignitatem succeed or fail?

To what extent does the New Testament support feminist principles?

Read the Question:

Note: it specifically says NEW TESTAMENT so anything from the Old Testament is irrelevant.

The question asks about FEMINIST PRINCIPLES which is a very broad term so might need some defining.  In an exam you might be more likely to be asked more specifically about 'liberal feminist principles' or 'radical feminist principles'.

The debate:

It does: It contains and essential egalitarian message. This is obvious in Jesus' teaching and in some of the things found in Paul's letters.

It does not: There is not much said about women and quite a lot of what is said is fairly conventional for the time.

Go back to your notes:

You need to know about the gospels: Martha and Mary story/Jesus and the Samaritan woman/Jesus and the hemorrhaging woman/Jesus and the adulterous woman/Resurrection accounts/more general principles from his ministry.

You should also know about Paul's letters: Women he mentions by name (Phoebe/Mary/Priscilla) teaching about how women should dress when prophesying (1 Cor 11) teaching about women's involvement in church (1 Cor 14), Galatians 3:28

Finally, you should know about the later letters (not by Paul). These include: Household codes/Timothy.

Plan the essay:

This is a very general overview plan.

You might well want to do it more thematically. E.g have several paragraphs evaluating whether the NT supports the idea of equality within marriage then several paragraphs on whether it supports the idea of education/jobs etc.

Introduction: Set up the debate and state your line of argument.

  • Paragraph 1: Explain what is meant by 'feminist principles.' All feminists want rights, education, opportunities etc. More radical feminists might want androgyny, separation and possibly superiority.
  • Paragraph 2: There appear to be things in the New Testament that support liberal feminist aims. These include: Jesus' own attitude. Mary/Martha story might support female education. Priscilla and Phoebe (deacon) may have had influential roles.
  • Paragraph 3: However, there are also things that go against liberal feminist aims. For example Timothy text says women should be silent and will be saved through childbearing. Paul says women should keep heads covered as sign of authority.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analysis of para 2&3) It is hard to avoid the fact that there are some teachings that do not support liberal feminist aims. Possible explanations for this include: response to specific circumstances/fear of causing too much social upheaval. Ultimately there is not really enough evidence to go on 
  • Paragraph 5: Liberal and reform feminists like Trible, Schussler Fiorenza and Ruether suggest that we can use a hermeneutic of suspicion/golden thread approach to look just for the main themes. Ruether suggests that the idea of agape is a main theme. This would support feminist principles (explain why).
  • Paragraph 6: However, this is problematic because we cannot necessarily identify what the main theme is. Post-Christian feminists would say that the Bible is not of any use to women.
  • Paragraph 7: (Analysis of para 5&6). It is true that identifying a key theme can be subjective. However, Jesus is supposed to have summed up the law as love God/love neighbour. This could be used to support the idea of treating people equally.

Conclusions: There is not really enough in the New Testament about women to draw clear conclusions. The New Testament was written by different people so it is not surprising that there are differences/contradictions. That said, the overall impression is generally one that would support liberal feminist principles.