Our list of influential women in religious studies features women who have been highly cited and searched online over the last 10 years. They include a broad group of academics and practitioners who specialize in topics like feminist theology, philology, the Quran, and social activism.
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Top 10 Women in Religious Studies From the Last 10 Years
As an academic discipline, religion refers to the study of theology, the scriptures, historical practices of worship, and current divinity leadership practices. According to the American Academy of Religion, scholars in the field of religious studies inquire into how various religions have developed their ideas, and how those ideas relate to the world today. The role of women in religion is a prominent area of academic study, often arising from the commitment to the equal dignity of the sexes and focusing explicitly on the dynamic and reciprocal interplay between religion and women’s lives.
Our list celebrates the women who have achieved a status of leadership and authority in divinity, religious education, religious feminism and more. For instance, Candida Moss, Christian historian and Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham, tops our list for her contributions to the study of the New Testament and martyrdom in early Christianity. Rosemary Radford Ruether, who has been referred to as one of the major Christian feminist theologians of our time, is included here both for her work on feminist theology and for tackling topics such as antisemitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Progressive American Muslim theologian Amina Wadud is included here for her extensive writing on the role of women in Islam, and for her work as Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Influential Women in Religous Studies From the Last 10 Years
1978 - Present (45 years)
Candida R. Moss is an English public intellectual, journalist, New Testament scholar and historian of Christianity, and as of 2017, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. A graduate of Oxford and Yale universities, Moss specialises in the study of the New Testament, with a focus on the subject of martyrdom in early Christianity, as well as other topics from the New Testament and early Church History. She is the winner of a number of awards relating to her research and writing.
Rosemary Radford Ruether was an American feminist scholar and Roman Catholic theologian known for her significant contributions to the fields of feminist theology and ecofeminist theology. Her teaching and her writings helped establish these areas of theology as distinct fields of study; she is recognized as one of the first scholars to bring women’s perspectives on Christian theology into mainstream academic discourse. She was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and her own work was influenced by liberation and black theologies. She taught at Howard University for ten years,...
Antje Jackelén is archbishop emerita and primate emerita of the Church of Sweden, the national church. On 15 October 2013, she was elected the 70th Archbishop of Uppsala and formally received through a service in Uppsala Cathedral on 15 June 2014, making her Sweden’s first foreign-born archbishop since the 12th century, and the first female archbishop.
Karen Armstrong is a British author and commentator of Irish Catholic descent known for her books on comparative religion. A former Roman Catholic religious sister, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical Christian faith. She attended St Anne’s College, Oxford, while in the convent and majored in English. She left the convent in 1969. Her work focuses on commonalities of the major religions, such as the importance of compassion and the Golden Rule.
Kathryn Eileen Tanner is an American theologian who serves as Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. Biography Born on March 29, 1957, Tanner earned her BA, MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees from Yale University. Her career began at Yale by teaching for the department of religious studies. She later moved to the University of Chicago where she served as the Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Theology. Afterwards, she returned to teach at her alma mater.
Angelika Neuwirth is a German Islamic studies scholar and professor of Quranic studies at Freie University in Berlin. Quranic education Born in Nienburg, Lower Saxony, she studied Islamic studies, semitic studies and classical philology at the Universities of Berlin, Tehran, Göttingen, Jerusalem, and Munich.
Amina Wadud is an American Muslim theologian. Wadud serves as Visiting Professor at Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies and was also a visiting scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry. Wadud has written extensively on the role of women in Islam.
Christine Hayes is an American academic and scholar of Jewish studies, currently serving as the Sterling Professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica at Yale University, specializing in Talmudic and Midrashic studies and Classical Judaica.
Rebecca S. Chopp is an academic administrator and professor. She was the 18th chancellor of the University of Denver, and the first female chancellor in the institution’s history. Prior to that, Chopp was a president of Swarthmore College and Colgate University.
Doris Reisinger is a German philosopher, theologian and author, and former nun. Early life and abuse Reisinger was born Doris Wagner in Ansbach in 1983 and joined the Catholic religious community at an age of 19. In 2008, aged 24, Reisinger alleges she was sexually assaulted by Austrian priest Hermann Geissler, a member of both “The Work” – FSO and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . Geissler resigned from the CDF in January 2019 but denied the accusations against him.
Rita M. Gross was an American Buddhist feminist scholar of religions and author. Before retiring, she was Professor of Comparative Studies in Religion at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. In 1974 Gross was named the head of Women and Religion, a newly created section of the American Academy of Religion. She earned her PhD in 1975 from the University of Chicago in History of Religions, with the dissertation “Exclusion and Participation: The Role of Women in Aboriginal Australian Religion.” This was the first dissertation ever on women’s studies in religion. In 1976 she published the ar...
Teresa Forcades i Vila is a Catalan physician, Benedictine nun and social activist. Forcades i Vila is known for her outspoken and sometimes controversial views on the church, public health and Catalan independence, and for her vaccine skepticism.
Angela Warnick Buchdahl is an American rabbi. She was the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi, and the first Asian-American to be ordained as a hazzan . In 2011 she was named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast as one of America’s “Most Influential Rabbis”, and in 2012 by The Daily Beast as one of America’s “Top 50 Rabbis”. Buchdahl was recognized as one of the top five in The Forwards 2014 “Forward Fifty”, a list of American Jews who had the most impact on the national scene in the previous year.
Athalya Brenner-Idan is a Dutch-Israeli biblical scholar known for her contribution to feminist biblical studies. Academic career Brenner studied at Haifa University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before doing a PhD at the University of Manchester under the supervision of James Barr. She taught for a time at Oranim Academic College.
Irja Kaarina Askola is the former Bishop of Helsinki. She was the first female Finnish bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Askola was the Bishop of Helsinki from 2010 to 2017. Early life and career Askola first became involved with the Church as a child after the early death of her father. She started her theological studies at the University of Helsinki 1971 and continued them as an academic research assistant until 1981. In 1982 she was named the editor-in-chief of Vartija magazine together with Simo Knuuttila.
Dame Sarah Elisabeth Mullally, is a British Anglican bishop, Lord Spiritual and former nurse. She has been Bishop of London since 8 March 2018. She is the first woman to hold this position. From 1999 to 2004, she was England’s Chief Nursing Officer and the National Health Service’s director of patient experience for England; from July 2015 until 2018, she was Bishop of Crediton, a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Exeter.
Yairah Amit is an Israeli biblical scholar. Amit studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before doing a PhD at Tel Aviv University under the supervision of Meir Sternberg. She is currently Professor of Biblical Studies at Tel Aviv University. In 2012 a Festschrift was published in her honor. Words, Ideas, Worlds: Biblical Essays in Honour of Yairah Amit included contributions from Athalya Brenner, Cheryl Exum, and Yael Feldman.
Barbara Aland, née Ehlers is a German theologian and was a Professor of New Testament Research and Church History at Westphalian Wilhelms-University of Münster until 2002. Biography After having completed her degree of Theology and Classical Philology in Frankfurt, Marburg and Kiel she received the PhD in 1964 in Frankfurt/Germany. In 1969 she gained her licentiate at the “Oriental Faculty” of Pontificio Istituto Biblico in Rome, Italy. In 1972 she could habilitate in Göttingen about the Syrian gnostic Bardesanes of Edessa. Since 1972 she acted as private lecturer, later on she became profe...
Jo Ann Hackett is an American scholar of the Hebrew Bible and of Biblical Hebrew and other ancient Northwest Semitic languages such as Phoenician, Punic, and Aramaic. Early life and education Hackett was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and grew up in Jeffersonville, Indiana. She graduated from Jeffersonville High School in 1966. She received her B.A. in Mathematics from DePauw University, 1970; her M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, 1975; and her Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, 1980.
Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey , is an American historian of religion. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Pagels has conducted extensive research into early Christianity and Gnosticism.
Janet Elizabeth Smith is an American classicist and philosopher, and former professor of moral theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. Life Education Smith studied Classics at Grinnell College, earning the B.A. degree in 1972. She also received the M.A. in Classical Languages at the University of North Carolina in 1975, and a Ph.D. in Classical Languages at the University of Toronto in 1982. Her doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Timothy Barnes, was titled “Plato’s Use of Myth as a Pedagogical Device”.
Sarah Anne Coakley is an English Anglican priest, systematic theologian and philosopher of religion with interdisciplinary interests. She is an honorary professor at the Logos Institute, the University of St Andrews, after she stepped down as Norris–Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. She is also a visiting professorial fellow at the Australian Catholic University, both in Melbourne and Rome.
Margaret Barker is a British Methodist preacher and biblical scholar. She studied theology at the University of Cambridge, after which she has devoted her life to research in ancient Christianity. She has developed an approach to biblical studies known as Temple Theology.
Lauren Frances Winner is an American historian, scholar of religion, and Episcopal priest. She is Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School. Winner writes and lectures on Christian practice, the history of Christianity in America, and Jewish–Christian relations.
Paula Gooder is a British theologian and Anglican lay reader, who specialises in the New Testament. She is Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral. She has previously taught at two theological colleges, Ripon College Cuddesdon and The Queen’s Foundation, served as Theologian in Residence for the Bible Society , and as Director of Mission, Learning and Development in the Diocese of Birmingham . She is a freelance writer and speaker.