When StFX religious studies professor Dr. Sara Parks, and colleagues, Dr. Meredith Warren and Dr. Shayna Sheinfeld, couldn’t find material they needed that explored Christianity, Judaism, and Greco-Roman mythology together, and included women’s and gender studies as a regular part of ancient life, they knew they had to create their own. Now their efforts, which resulted in the book, Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean, have won the annual Beare Award from the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies for the best book on Early Christianity and Judaism.
Prof. Richard Ascough announced the winner at the recent CSBS Annual General Meeting, part of the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, where he amalgamated and read comments of the anonymous jury.
“This book is scholarly but beautifully written and is recognized for its originality and methodological innovation…It makes important contributions and offers a much-needed alternative to traditional, mainstream textbooks that remains suitable for history/literature-oriented courses at research universities. The authors have done a huge service to our teaching and in making our work accessible to the wider community,” the comments read in part.
Dr. Parks says it felt like such a confirmation that they’d succeeded in their aims.
“The part that got my tears really flowing was the line ‘a huge service to our teaching.’ Part of a feminist scholarly praxis, in my opinion, is working in collaboration with others rather than in competition. It’s recognizing that students and colleagues around the globe are struggling in stressful, and at times oppressive, conditions, and it’s trying to do work that makes everyone’s lives a little more humane. That language of ‘doing a service’ to fellow teachers, to students, and to the wider community is exactly what I aspire to as an academic.”
Dr. Parks says they were delighted, but surprised, to win. The roster of past recipients contains stars in the field, including she says some of her academic heroes and world-class scholars whose work she admires.
“Another reason I doubted our book could be a contender is that it’s really a classroom resource and is geared to be enjoyable for non-academics and students. While it does contain lots of our original scholarship, it also teaches the basics. The description of the award says that the category of outstanding should be understood expansively, but in reality, it’s typical that these awards only go to scholarly monographs—written by specialists for specialists. The fact that our very accessibly-written and teacher-friendly book won really shows a commitment on the part of the awarding body, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, to value work that is designed to benefit those outside the ivory tower.”
IMMERSED IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Dr. Parks says the book’s origins stretch back to 2013 during her PhD at McGill when she pitched a new class, "Reading Women in Greco-Roman Judaism and Early Christianity.” When the course was accepted, she enlisted two more teachers, Shayna Sheinfeld and Meredith Warren, also then doing their PhDs in religious studies.
“I really wanted students to be immersed in the messiness and interconnectedness of the ancient Mediterranean world, rather than learning things in unnaturally separate pieces—either Judaism or Christianity or Greco-Roman religions. I knew Shayna and Meredith could add their expertise from Rabbinic Judaism and from Classics to my expertise in early Christianity and early Judaism to make a more well-rounded knowledge base for students,” Dr. Parks says.
“To our delight, we ended up concocting a really popular class, and got invited to teach it again the following year. In fact, we’ve all been teaching versions of it ever since. But the book project came about kind of by accident!”
When they began looking for teaching resources, Dr. Parks says they found it difficult. There were excellent separate sourcebooks for Greek writings, Jewish writings, Christian writings, and ancient material culture, but nothing combined all four, and they didn’t want students spending money buying several books.
They also wanted to teach methods, including the basics of gender theory and how to use specific lenses to uncover more information from the evidence, so students could dive into ancient source materials for themselves right away with confidence, she says. “But general history books either ignored women and gender completely, or stuck women and gender briefly into one optional chapter. Also, the articles on gender theory and other analytical lenses were written in dense technical and philosophical jargon just not appropriate or enjoyable for undergrads,” she says.
“So we soon learned that if we wanted to break the habit of compartmentalizing Christianity, Judaism, and Greco-Roman mythology, and we wanted to disrupt the idea that women’s and gender studies are a separate “option,” instead of a regular part of ancient life, and we wanted to teach methods at the same time, we simply had to build our own set of readings that wove these things together and made them accessible.”
The three continued teaching classes on ancient women, and kept sharing information, but never thought of publishing these as a resource until a few years ago at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference when Routledge Press approached Dr. Warren, a citizen of the Manitoba Metis Federation who works especially on ancient fiction. Dr. Warren was at the conference speaking about her first book, and Routledge asked if she had her next book idea in mind. Unexpectedly, to all three, she replied, “oh, I’m thinking of co-authoring a textbook on ancient women, with Sara Parks and Shayna Sheinfeld.”
“This blurted brainwave turned into a book contract, and the result, after a decade of collaboration, is Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean!”
At StFX, Dr. Parks, who joined the faculty in 2022 in a tenure-track position, teaches Gospels, Apocalypses, Early Christian Women (which features Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean), The Jewish World of Jesus, and Greek and Roman Mythology. She also team-teaches World Religions: What You Need to Know with other colleagues in the Religious Studies Department.
To learn more about or buy Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean, please see HERE