Chosen among Women: Mary and Fatima in Medieval Christianity and Shi`ite Islam

Posted on: January 2nd, 2013 by herman

fatimaChosen among Women: Mary and Fatima in Medieval Christianity and Shi`ite Islam combines historical analysis with the tools of gender studies and religious studies to compare the roles of the Virgin Mary in medieval Christianity with those of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Muhammad, in Shi`ite Islam. The book explores the proliferation of Marian imagery in Late Antiquity through the Church fathers and popular hagiography. It examines how Merovingian authors assimilated powerful queens and abbesses to a Marian prototype to articulate their political significance and, at the same time, censure holy women’s public charisma. Mary F. Thurlkill focuses as well on the importance of Fatima in the evolution of Shi`ite identity throughout the Middle East. She examines how scholars such as Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi advertised Fatima as a symbol of the Shi`ite holy family and its glorified status in paradise, while simultaneously binding her as a mother to the domestic sphere and patriarchal authority.

This important comparative look at feminine ideals in both Shi`ite Islam and medieval Christianity is of relevance and value in the modern world. It will be welcomed by scholars and students of Islam, comparative religion, medieval Christianity, and gender studies.

MARY F. THURLKILL is assistant professor of religion at the University of Mississippi.

“Thurlkill has produced a remarkable study, a model for comparative work in the history of religions. The book is original, well-researched, and shows great erudition. Thurlkill’s original acumen is brought to bear on a rich and variegated topic that has for too long been ignored by specialists not willing to move beyond the confines of overly determined areas of research.“ —Brannon Wheeler, United States Naval Academy
“Doing substantial comparative work in rhetoric, gender, and religion, Thurlkill is outwardly interested in holy women. Her study provides a side-by-side examination of the ways in which men in medieval Christianity and Shiite Islam constructed and enshrined feminine images ‘without seriously compromising conservative gender designations.’ Extensively footnoted and with a rich bibliography, this is recommended for academic gender and religion collections.” — Library Journal
“Thurlkill examines feminine imagery in medieval Christianity and Islam, using Mary and Fatima as exemplars for complex political, religious, and social agendas. . . . Christian and Shi’ite Muslim theologians used Mary and Fatima as orthodox gender models for pious women to imitate, with marriage and motherhood serving as sacred vocations. Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, symbolized the reverence for the prophet’s family in Shi’a Islam; she became a symbol of both religious orthodoxy and dynastic mandate, just as the Merovingians used Mary’s maternal image to provide themselves with a political pedigree in the sixth and seventh centuries.” — Choice
“This is an interesting book, covering historical, political, media, cultural, and feminist aspects of Mary and Fatima. It shows that image-making in the concrete and abstract senses has long been a tool of those seeking to influence and control others.” — Journal of Islamic Studies
“. . . Mary F. Thurlkill presents a new thoughtful and provocative work, exploring the decisive role that both Mary and Fatima have played respectively in Christianity and Shi’ite Islam. . . . Thurlkill’s book explores the proliferation of Marian imagery in Latin Antiquity through the church fathers and popular hagiography. Chosen among Women combines historical analysis with the tools of gender studies and religious studies to compare the roles of the Virgin Mary in medieval Christianity with those of Fatima . . .” — The Sixteenth Century Journal
“Crossing the topics of religious studies, gender, and hagiography, Thurlkill juxtaposes the images of Mary and Fatima as they were constructed by late antique and medieval thinkers for various theological and political purposes. . . . Thurlkill’s study is to be welcomed as a bridge connecting gender studies, Christian studies, and Islamic studies, and as a indicator of directions for future research.” — Church History
“An ambitious attempt to compare depictions of the sacred feminine in medieval Christianity and Shi’ite Islam. A strength of Thurlkill’s study is her use of concepts from a range of disciplines . . . a work that highlights the potential for future comparative studies.” — Speculum
“. . . This work is a welcome contribution to the fields of both medieval Christian and medieval Muslim studies . . . It adds to our understanding of how gender is deployed by the clerical establishment or figures of authority in a religious tradition to negotiate the terrain of diverse theological, political, social, and religious practices in the ongoing struggle to shape orthodoxy and orthopraxy . . . The greatest contribution of the book is its demonstration that even though patriarchal constructs draw parameters around these two holy women, the possibilities such figures open up for multivalent understandings of their roles and accomplishments are nonetheless significant.” — History of Religions