Areas of Interest and Background
I am an Associate Professor of Religion in the area of Christianity with particular interests in Quaker Studies, medieval religious life and thought, Women's Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and contemporary religious thought. I received my B.A. from Princeton University, and my M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. My book,The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England is an interdisciplinary study of medieval thought, practice, and iconography.Currently, I am working on a book on Quaker ideas about nature in the seventeenth- through nineteenth-centuries.
In the Religion Department my teaching focuses primarily on the area of Christianity and addresses both the history of Christian life and thought and contemporary religious thought. I teach a rotation of courses including Introduction to Christianity, History of Christian Life and Thought in the Middle Ages, Living in the Light: Quakers Past and Present, Christian Mystics Through the Ages, Christian Visions of Self and Nature, and a seminar on Jesus in History, Literature, and Theology.
In general, my teaching introduces students to key themes and texts in the history of Christianity.While encouraging students to attend to the details of religious ideas and practices in one tradition, I seek to contribute to the broader work of the Religion Department and the College by preparing students to think across religious traditions and historical time periods as well as across disciplines including history, literature, art history, and philosophy. In recent years my teaching has begun to draw upon the resources of the Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library (the Friends Historical Library houses one of the world's three leading collections of Quaker materials) and the Swarthmore College Peace Collection since these collections provide extraordinary research resources for our students as well as for scholars working in the fields of Quaker Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies.
I seek to awaken students to the complexity and variety within the history of Christian life and thought through the close reading and discussion of texts. I encourage students to engage the sources in spoken and written form with clarity, integrity, and insight.My classroom is, I hope, an environment in which students experience the pleasure of working in community to study the history of religious ideas and practices in dialogue with a rich, varied, and challenging selection of texts. I envision the classroom as a space where students are safe to experiment with understanding a world which is, at times, very different from their own, but which may call them to reflect for themselves and in community about how they understand the world around them and their place in it. In my classes students are invited to share in the delight of why many of us do what we do:we love what we study and we take great pleasure in talking with and learning from one another about ideas and traditions.
Religion 5 Introduction to Christianity
Religion 7 Women and Religion
Religion 14 Religious Life and Thought in the Middle Ages
Religion 20 Prophets and Visionaries: Christian Mystics Through the Ages
Religion 23 Living in the Light: Quakers Past and Present (Writing course)
Religion 31 Religion and Literature
Religion 36 Christian Visions of Self and Nature
Religion 101 Jesus in History, Literature, and Theology
In recent years my scholarly interests have focused increasingly on the field of Quaker Studies with interests in Peace and Conflict Studies. I am currently working on a book project on the idea of "compassion" in seventeenth- through nineteenth-century Quaker writings about God, self, and the world.I address both continuities and tensions in Quaker life and thought. In considering themes of religion and society, war and peace, the social construction of gender, and Quaker reflections on the environment, I put discussion of Quaker history into the broader context of the work of humanists interested in historical and present-day conversations about how humans live in the world.
This project emerges from my study of Quakers who were keen observers of the natural world and who were among the first, if not the first, post-contact North Americans to understand the detrimental impact white settlers were having on the environment. American and English Quaker naturalists such as John and William Bartram, Peter and Michael Collinson, and John Fothergill express deep alarm, from the mid-eighteenth-century forward, about the potential loss and eventual extinction of bears, beavers, buffalo, rattlesnakes and other reptiles, as well as plant life endangered by increased human presence and predation. I explore how religious belief was a catalyst for scientific exploration in this era - an era in which, for many Quaker naturalists, science and religion were united in cultivating compassionate regard for the natural world.Scientific study pursued within a belief structure that regarded creation as a manifestation of eternal wisdom led many Quaker naturalists to be (as William Bartram described himself and others) "advocate[s] or vindicator[s] of the benevolent and peaceable disposition of animal creation." These lives and stories, little known to many of us now, open our eyes to this unheralded but influential tradition within land ethics and social reform in American history.
During the spring semester of 2004 I lived in Monteverde, Costa Rica.Through historical reading and interviews I studied the origins and current setting of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a nature reserve founded in large part by a group of North American Quakers who settled in Monteverde in 1951. I studied tropical biology with local naturalists and scientists and, as well, and I read extensively about conservation biology and the ecology of Monteverde as a part of my exploration of the theme of religion and science in Quaker traditions.
Much of my research prior to 2003 addresses "experience-focused" trajectories within medieval Christian life and thought. My book, The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England is an interdisciplinary study of religion and culture and examines images of the suffering Jesus in late medieval English sermons, theology, drama, art, and devotional literature. In ongoing work in this area I explore the dynamics of how the medieval Christian God is present in visual and material culture - images, relics, and the eucharist - and, even more dramatically, at times in and through the bodies of Christian devotees.I explore mystical texts including writings by Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Siena, Gertrude of Helfta, Margaret Ebner, and Heinrich Suso, in which the human devotee claims to be the site of divine habitation - the locus of divine presence and even the seat of divine power, sometimes temporarily and sometimes in more enduring ways.My work calls students and scholars of religion to recognize the plurality of ways medieval Christian devotees experienced the presence of God. This attention to vernacular spirituality corrects the monolithic vision of medieval culture which too often emerges from reading theological texts outside of their lived contexts.
A second ongoing medieval project is in some respects a sequel to my book about late medieval images of Jesus, and emerges also from my teaching our department's team-taught introductory course as well as from conversations with students and colleagues about the dialogue of Christianity with other religious traditions. This study considers Christian portrayals of God as Trinity, and draws on my research in churches, art museums, and manuscript collections in England, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. I consider theological texts, mystical literature, religious art, and religious practices as a way to explore Trinitarian representations.
My thinking focuses on questions of how humans understand God, self, and the world. One of the goals of the historical study of Christianity is to understand a world that came before ours, and much of my scholarship and teaching is devoted to communicating to a contemporary audience the sophistication and sensibilities of the medieval and early modern Christian worlds. I suggest further that by attending to the contrasts and similarities of historical beliefs, practices, and values with our own, we may enrich dialogue among religious traditions as well as contribute to more general dialogues about meaning and value today.
The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England, Oxford University Press, 1997.
"Visions of Spirit: Prospects for Retrieving Medieval Spirituality," in Women Christian Mysticsand Their Relevance Today, ed. David B. Perrin(Chicago, Ill.: Sheed & Ward, 2001), 17-36.
"Ethical Mysticism: Walter Hilton and the Fourteenth-Century
Milieu," in Studia Mystica 12 (1997): 136-149.
"Suffering, the Spiritual Journey, and Women's Experience in Late Medieval Mysticism," in Maps of Flesh and Light: Aspects of the Religious Experience of Medieval Women Mystics, ed. Ulrike Wiethaus (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 45-59.
"Spiritual Experience and Women's Autobiography: The Rhetoric of Selfhood in 'The Book of Margery Kempe,'" Journal of the American Academy of Religion 59 (1991): 527-546.
"Diversities of Divine Presence: Women's Geography in the Christian Tradition," in Sacred Spaces and Profane Places: Essays in the Geographics ofJudaism, Christianity and Islam, ed. Paul Simpson-Housley and Jamie S. Scott (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991), 93-114.
"Prophecy, Mysticism, and Creation-Centered Spirituality," Listening 24 (1989): 8-24.
"Humans' Creation in God's Image: A Reconsideration," Union Seminary Quarterly Review43 (1989): 93-111.(Reprinted in Alice Bach, ed., The Pleasure of Her Text[Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990]).
"The Use of Scripture and the Spiritual Journey in Walter Hilton's 'Scale of Perfection,'"Augustiniana 39 (1989): 119-131.
"Submission or Fidelity? The Unity of Church and Mysticism in Walter Hilton's 'Scale of Perfection,'" The Downside Review 106 (1988): 134-144.