Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture and Early Christianity


Women are conspicuously absent from most church history books. Yet women made up at least half of early Christian congregations. This course looks at the women who have been hiding in plain sight in texts and archaeological evidence of the first five hundred years of the expansion of Christianity across the Mediterranean world and beyond. Who were their role models in Scripture? What avenues were open to them to use their gifts in serving their communities? Did Christianity mean conformity or revolution in regards to agency and social norms?  Were there women priests? How did views of female embodiment affect their experience as wives, mothers, virgins, widows? What can archaeology, inscriptions and papyrii reveal about their daily lives?

Each week a recorded lecture will provide important historical and cultural background for understanding the assigned texts and an overview of significant women representative of that topic. The live online sessions will be a seminar discussion of primary sources about one or more of these women, such as Deborah, Huldah, Rahab, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan Woman, Priscilla, Junia, Maximilla, Perpetua, Amma Sarah, Macrina, Proba, Egeria, Paula, Eustochium, Galla Placidia and Theodora. Assessment will be via written assignments, with two different options: three 500-word essays or one 1500-word essay. Suggested topics will be provided, but students are free to propose a question for research. 

Programme details

Course begins: 17 Jan 2023

Week 0:          Course Orientation

Week 1:          Women in antiquity: social, cultural and religious contexts

Week 2:          Deborahs and Delilahs: women in the Old Testament

Week 3:          Meeting Jesus: women in the Gospels

Week 4:          Women in the first churches

Week 5:          Female priests and deacons?

Week 6:          Prophetic women: Spirit and controversy

Week 7:          Wives, widows, virgins: female embodiment

Week 8:          Martyrs and monastics

Week 9:          Matrons, scholars and pilgrims

Week 10:        Christian empresses


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from between January 1st and July 31st after the current academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course fee £238.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Susan Griffith

Dr Griffith is an Associate Member of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford and a member of Wolfson College, specialising in early Christianity and patristics.

Course aims

To introduce students to a range of women from the Bible and first few centuries CE, many of whom are often overlooked in historical surveys.

Course Objectives

1. The course will assess attitudes towards women and the roles of women in antiquity and early Christianity.

2. Students will encounter narratives of women in primary sources and examine their participation in church and society.

Teaching methods

Lectures on historical and cultural background combined with seminar-style discussions on primary sources.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to:

1. be able to discuss the significance and contribution of key women from Scripture and the early church;

2. demonstrate awareness of attitudes towards women in the broader culture and the church of the period;

3. have the tools to assess divergent scholarly opinions on the interpretation of Scripture and other early texts relevant to understanding the role of women. 

Assessment methods


A) Three very short (c. 500 words) essays


B) One short (c. 1,500 words) essay. Students will be asked first to provide a brief (c. 300 words) plan for the essay.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

No prior background necessary.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)