In the Image of Her
Recovering Motherhood in the Christian Tradition
Imprint: Baylor University Press
Sales Date: 2022-09-30
208 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in, 9 b&w photos, 1 b&w illus, 1 b&w plate
- Published: October 2022
The body of the mother is both everywhere and nowhere in the Christian imagination. Western Christianity has long viewed the mother’s body as a vessel. Through her, nothing less than the sin and the salvation of all humanity entered history. Eve birthed children into sin, and the Virgin Mary brought forth the savior of the world. Christian theologians across the centuries have largely focused on these two idealized mothers at the expense of actual biological mothers. By the same token, modern feminist theology has shied away from seeing mothers as feminist agents in God-talk in its drive toward equity in religious leadership.
With In the Image of Her, Amy Marga argues that a feminist, maternal theology is an overlooked and yet critical perspective for our understanding of God’s work in the world. Far from only being vessels of new creation, the bodies of mothers are distinct ecosystems of God’s creative agency and demonstrate how God’s work involves both cooperation and competition. Marga seeks to broaden the Christian imagination about women and creativity, and to liberate actual biological mothers from myths of Christian motherhood. Two kinds of historical evidence give us some sense of what Christians imagined about mothering and women who were mothers: discourse from within the all-male theological writing establishment, and documented practices of women around the events of motherhood, such as magical customs around pregnancy and birth; the pilgrimages women took in order to pray for safe delivery; and ecclesiastical rituals such as postpartum rites of purification.
It may seem that mothers’ perspectives and practices did not influence the Christian theological imagination. Marga, however, maps historical and theological developments around Christian perspectives on mothering to show that Christian mothers—along with and in spite of male-dominated institutions and ideas—have continued to shape their own motherhoods, creatively and boldly adapting the received traditions of the faith to their circumstances for their own survival and the survival of their children.
This remarkable, erudite book weaves a fascinating narrative of diverse maternal voices across Christian history. Close examination of a range of historical documents puts motherhood studies into an entirely new framework, uncovering the imaginative ways that specific mothers have navigated their calling amid oppressive social structures. A remarkable contribution that is also instructive to anyone who wants to grasp the dynamics of families and children today.~Bonnie Miller-McLemore, author of Also a Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma
Although mothers have literally born Christianity forward through the centuries, scant theological consideration has been given to the maternal body. Amy Marga steps into this lacuna to give sustained attention to the ecclesial practices, artistic representations, theological references, scientific understandings, and hagiographic stories that suggest the shifting roles of mothers, motherhood, and the maternal body in Christian history. Written in accessible and lively prose, In the Image of Her is an enjoyable read that also gives readers a glimpse into one of the most understudied subjects of Christian theology.~Natalie Carnes, Associate Professor of Theology, Baylor University
Amy Marga’s careful analysis is a brilliantly constructed tribute to motherhood in the Christian tradition, long deserving of this kind of clearsighted yet hopeful treatment. She fearlessly confronts the undeniable misogyny in the Christian tradition, tracing it from its emergence in the early church through the Middle Ages and beyond, while also examining intersectional dynamics between race and gender once Protestants arrived to colonize America’s shores. Both lamentation and celebration, the story Marga weaves will benefit pastors and their faithful, alike. She produces a tapestry where the tradition’s cruelty is balanced by the spiritual resilience and theological creativity of mothers who, despite it all, instilled in their sons and daughters a love for God.~Kimberly Vrudny, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of St. Thomas