Bryce E Rich‎

"Becoming Human: Patristic Tradition, Gender Theory, and Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Ideas of Personhood"

Within Eastern Orthodoxy, debates over gender have become increasingly polemical over the past generation. Arguments that began with questions about women and the priesthood have expanded to include a full raft of questions about feminism, sexual orientation, the sacrament of marriage, definitions of family, the adoption of children, and the care of transgendered individuals whose medically assigned sex does not match their self-perceived gender identity. Initial Orthodox responses in each of these cases reflect a presupposition of gender essentialism, or the view that men and women are fixedly different from each other in their very being.

Orthodox theologians often claim that their teachings are grounded in the patristic tradition. However, a survey of patristic reflections on gender tells a different story. Instead of a unified teaching, we find a variety of opinions and a surprising degree of fluidity that shares unexpected convergences with contemporary theory concerning gender, sexuality, and the dynamics of power.

Because my work addresses a hot-button issue, my goal is to present the complexities of both Orthodox theological anthropology and contemporary gender theory in clear, accessible, and useful terms that will help to resource and expand the current conversation. The Martin Marty Center provides a unique opportunity to share my work with peers in a variety of subfields within the discipline of religion. The fellowship also provides opportunities for engagement with students in the classroom and a broader public. My hope is to use all of these encounters to test my work and identify the best ways to present the material. I look forward to lively conversations and a stimulating environment in which to complete the project.