Women and Religion

in the Greco-Roman World


REL 321/521 Spring 2005                                                                  10:25-12:05 TTh 399 Millett



This is an experimental course, one in which I hope to learn as much as I teach. Our goal is to discover as much as we can about actual religious practices of  actual women in the Greco-Roman era. It is a great impediment to understanding women’s religion that nearly all the information we have about women in the ancient world comes from the writings of men, but it is not insurmountable. New methods, new sources, and new interests have resulted in a much more detailed knowledge of the status and actions of women in early Christianity and the other religions of that time. We will explore the variety of polytheistic religions, various aspects of early Judaism, and divergent trends in early Christianity to discover both the actual religious practices of women and the ideologies that sustained them.  Our methods will be largely historical and social, with a vigorous feminist critique, as we analyze the fragmentary (and mostly male-authored) sources available to us. 



Dr. David L. Barr, 375 Millett, 775‑2293 or 2274.  Email: david.barr@Wright.Edu

Office Hours: 12:30-1:30 TTh and by appointment.

            My mailbox is in the Religion Department Office, 370 Millett.


Two monographs will provide the basic theoretical perspective—

Her Share of the Blessing: Women’s Religion among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World by Ross Shepherd Kraemer (Oxford University Press, 1992)  and

Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries by Dorothy F. Sawyer (London: Routledge, 1996.)


For the primary source data on which any interpretation must be based we will use two important collections.  The first is a comprehensive collection on all aspects of

Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation, edited by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant (Johns Hopkins University Press, second edition, 1992).

The second provides most of the surviving evidence of

Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World a Sourcebook. Edited by Ross Shepherd Kraemer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

A word about reading these books: only the most diligent and accomplished of you will actually read all of the assigned pages.  And it is not necessary that you read it all.  Read as much of each primary source extract as your interest warrants; then skip to the next one.  Look at all of them and read carefully those that seem useful to your own developing understanding of women in antiquity.


Graduate Students will be also read and report on Women and Christian Origins. by Mary Rose D’Angelo and Ross Shepherd Kraemer New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.  Others also may find it useful as well as it directly addresses the New Testament writings.

 Class Procedure:       

Classes will be devoted to discussion of our common readings, supplemented by some lecture material.



Only exceptional circumstances should cause any of us to miss the few classes we have together, and then arrangements should be made ahead of time.  We all need to come to class ready to participate in the discussion, having done all the relevant reading and thinking. In order both to stimulate class discussion and to facilitate follow-up to our discussion, I have established an on-line forum for this class in Wings.  There will also be occasional in-class writing that will be graded.  The nature and substance of the final exam is open to discussion.


In addition, each of us will prepare a 7-10 page research paper to share with the class. This paper might explore some topic further than your textbook is able to, analyze some ancient source(s) in greater detail, or attempt to present a systematic analysis of one particular aspect of women’s religion in antiquity (e.g., what did Vestal Virgins do? What did women deacons do? What religious practices did Jewish women observe?) Please clear your topic with me. We will work on the following schedule:

            3/14     Topics Chosen

            3/26     Preliminary Bibliography

            5/12     Thesis and outline

            6/2       Paper Due


This is to be a scholarly product, so be careful in relying on material from the web; there is much nonsense out there.  For some general advice on evaluating the material you find see:


 I have tried to identify some responsible sources on my web page at www.wright.edu/~david.barr ; there is some general advice on starting a research project at:


I have also posted a bibliography on line. See the excellent collection of resources on Women & Gender in the Ancient World at Diotima http://www.stoa.org/diotima/


There is an extensive listing of scholarly web materials at www.bham.ac.uk/theology/goodacre/women.htm

Note the links for course materials, articles, and discussion at the bottom.


Finally, there is a “Scholars’ Google” being tested: http://scholar.google.com/



Participation in class and electronic discussion, including a few random quizzes and writing assignments.                          30%

Research Paper.           35%

Final Exam                   35%


Schedule of Common Readings