Bolstered by personal experiences with God in the context of evangelical revivalism, Dorothy Ripley, Jarena Lee, Phoebe Palmer, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper carried out remarkable religious careers in the public sphere. Framing their storytelling, theological interpretations, and social action as faithful fulfillment of the Spirit's leading, these women transgressed the conventions of "true womanhood" as taught by the cult of domesticity. Their testimonies constructed new images of holiness, denounced sinful social structures, and patterned new organizations of political life based on visions of radical equality. But how does one reconcile the sweeping historical evidence that nineteenth-century women strove to embody docility, contentment, domesticity, and obedience with this emerging tradition of outspoken, dissenting evangelical women who used their personal testimonies to disrupt sexist norms and challenge unjust social structures?
This dissertation examines how five evangelical women, compelled by the dynamic hermeneutical process, used the practice of Christian witness to construct their identities, negotiate gendered expectations, and mobilize reform efforts. I am defining the practice of Christian witness as a social activity that involves temporal events with theological, political, and structural orientation performed in response to God's work in the world. The speech act correlates directly with the revelation of Jesus, the ultimate witness to God. As a symbolic expression, the testimony intends to mediate encounter with the Divine Presence to which the story bears witness. This interpretive process of testimony involves a dialectic between meaning and event intended both to make sense of one's personal divine encounter and also to evoke within an audience critical activity that invites participation in the revelatory and interpretive process. My research will show how five nineteenth-century evangelical women performed this hermeneutical enterprise to develop their own theological subjectivity and confront oppressive powers. Using the grammar of Christian witness these women constructed saving narratives in liminal literary space to prophetically irrupt into religious, cultural, and gender norms with a proclamation of faith that carried symbolic critical force.
|School:||Graduate Theological Union|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||DAI-A 78/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Religious history, Womens studies, Spirituality|
|Keywords:||Christian Witness, Evangelical History, Hermeneutics, Nineteenth-Century American History, Testimonial Literature|
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