The readings for the first day are meant to get you thinking about two critical concepts that form the basis for our study this semester: gender and mysticism. I chose the Jacqueline Murray essay because she considers gender specifically from a medieval Christian perspective, providing essential information on medieval understanding of both biological and social difference. Her exploration of the notion of a third "clerical" gender is less important than her description of a sex and gender spectrum. Do pay careful attention to her discussion of medical views of sex difference beginning on page 38 before you get to the heart of the essay—Christian constructions of gender—on page 40. If you would like to read a more general introduction to the subject of gender and religion, I recommend Elizabeth Clark's "Women, Gender, and Study of Christian History," in Church History 70 (2001): 395-426 and the introduction to Elizabeth Castelli's Women, Gender, Religion: A Reader (New York, 2001), which I will post on our Blackboard Course Documents page early next week.

The second selection to read for our first class is an excerpt from the first volume of Bernard McGinn's four volume series, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism. The first part ("General Introduction") explores the meaning of the term "mysticism" in Christian context at its most basic level, describing the challenges for historical study of a phenomenon that is essentially experiential. The second part ("Introduction") is an outline of the volume -- I only need for you to pay attention to McGinn's brief description of the various ancient traditions that fed into early Christian mystical traditions. The third part looks particularly at Jewish assumptions about encounter with the divine during the Second Temple Period--assumptions that were picked up by early Christians and that form the basis for subsequent Christian writings.

Don't worry if you feel as if you have walked in on the middle of a conversation and that you don't know the references that McGinn presumes you know. In an ideal world, we would begin at the very beginning and do a thorough study of ancient philosophy in order to provide a basis for understanding later traditions. But you have to start somewhere, and even though we are starting rather in the middle of things, I have no doubt that you will be able to catch up as we move along.

If you have questions as you do the reading, please post them in the Discussion Board under the forum "Questions on the Sept. 13 Reading" by adding a new thread. I will check there periodically and answer in that space. I like to have students post questions publicly because most of the time, the questions and responses are helpful to others as well. Of course if you have questions that concern your own participation in the class, you should email me directly.

Graduate students, there are two additional readings for you this week. The Coakley article is meant to give a helpful overview of scholarship on the question of gender and authority so that you can situate what we are doing in this class. The Lerner article is meant to help provide a closer look at the tension between authority and innovation as it pertains to the material we'll be looking at in this class.

I look forward to meeting you all soon!