in which Christianity in many parts of Europe - and not simply that of 'sectaries' and 'fanatics' - was feminized. Large numbers of people thought the established churches, both Protestant and Catholic, had lost their spiritual vigour, and turned to groups that emphasized personal conversion, direct communication with God, and moral regeneration. Some of these groups, such as the Levellers or the Immortalists, survived only briefly; others, such as the Quakers, became involved in social and political changes; others, such as the Jansenists or Pietists, shaped the existing Catholic and Protestant churches; and others still, such as the Moravians or Methodists, became institutionalized as separate denominations. Many of these groups were inspired by or even founded by women, and had a disproportionate number of women among their followers. Such women used the language of religious texts and the examples of pious women who preceded them to subvert or directly challenge male directives. Very few of these groups, however, explicitly broke with Christian traditions that privileged men. In almost all of them, God was still thought of as male, the account of creation was understood to ascribe or ordain a secondary status for women, women were instructed to be obedient and subservient, the highest (or all) levels of the clergy were reserved for men, and religious traditions were used by men as buttresses for male authority in all realms of life, not simply religion. Thus in these centuries, as in all Christian history, messages about gender were contradictory and ambiguous, providing ideas that supported gender hierarchy as well as gender complementarity and equality.
Was this article helpful?