In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women Prophets

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • The New World
  • Female Prophecy and Revolution
  • Female Prophecy and Evangelical Revival

Atlantic History Women Prophets
Elizabeth Bouldin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0190


Women prophets existed throughout the Atlantic world and came from a wide range of religious and spiritual traditions. The understanding of prophecy as the claim of speaking for God or the divine cut across time and place, but prophets always directed their messages to an audience situated in a particular social, political, and religious context. Prophecy’s emphasis on divine rather than human authorship could allow for the expression of marginalized voices, both male and female. Scholarship on women prophets has explored how and to what extent women shaped their religious and civic communities through prophecy and other public religious roles, as well as how gender informed their discourse and activity. In the early modern era, prophecy often emerged from individuals or groups who challenged established (or state) churches. Many early modern women prophets came out of the North Atlantic basin and were affiliated with radical Protestant groups. Catholic visionaries appeared throughout the early modern era in both Europe and the colonial Americas. In the New World, encounters among Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans produced new forms of religious and political expression through the blending of prophetic traditions. Female prophecy flourished during the 18th- and 19th-century evangelical revivals among the hundreds of women who prophesied and preached in local communities or as itinerant evangelists.

General Overviews

There is no comprehensive overview of female prophecy in the Atlantic world, but scholars have taken an interest in the subject as it relates to the history of gender, religion, and literature. Kienzle and Walker 1998 covers two millennia of female prophecy and preaching. Kostroun and Vollendorf 2009 brings together essays on religion and gender that form an Atlantic world perspective and addresses a range of religious groups. Brown 2007 offers a recent consideration of radical religion in early modern Europe. Crawford 1993 places women prophets in the context of female religious expression in early modern England. Westerkamp 1999 provides an overview of Protestant women and religion in colonial and early America and includes a chapter on women prophets. Irwin 2008 examines the history of prophecy in Native American religious traditions. Hobby 2002 is a useful overview of prophecy—which argues that prophecy may be the most important genre for early modern women writers—and considers both primary and secondary literature on the topic. Purkiss 1992 considers gender and the body in early modern female prophecy.

  • Brown, Sylvia M., ed. Women, Gender and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe. Boston: E. J. Brill, 2007.

    Volume of essays on women, gender, and radical religion that deals mainly with 17th-century Europe and England. While the collection is not particularly broad in its scope, the essays present a solid introduction to recent directions in historiography.

  • Crawford, Patricia. Women and Religion in England, 1500–1720. New York: Routledge, 1993.

    Solid synthesis of scholarship on women and religion in early modern England that also includes analysis of primary material. Especially strong in its consideration of women and radical religiosity.

  • Hobby, Elaine. “Prophecy.” In A Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Edited by Anita Pacheco, 264–281. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631217022.2002.00020.x

    Useful discussion of early modern female prophecy in the English context that includes a list of suggested references for further reading.

  • Irwin, Lee. Coming down from Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

    Irwin provides an overview of the history of Native American prophetic traditions while also giving considerable attention to the definition of prophecy in historical context.

  • Kienzle, Beverly Mayne, and Pamela J. Walker, eds. Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    This volume of essays addresses female prophecy and preaching from the early church through the 20th century. Includes essays addressing the often-blurred lines between prophecy and other forms of female religious participation, such as preaching or teaching.

  • Kostroun, Daniella J., and Lisa Vollendorf, eds. Women, Religion, and the Atlantic World, 1600–1800. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

    Collection of essays that places the study of women and religion in a transnational, multi-confessional lens. Sheds light on some overlooked areas of scholarship, such as pre-19th-century black Protestant women.

  • Purkiss, Diane. “Producing the Voice, Consuming the Body: Women Prophets of the Seventeenth Century.” In Women, Writing, History, 1640–1740. Edited by Isobel Grundy and Susan Wiseman, 139–158. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

    Purkiss’s essay on 17th-century women prophets forms part of a larger collection on women writers of the early modern period. It considers prophecy as a mode of female agency and gives attention to the relationship between female prophecy and the body.

  • Westerkamp, Marilyn J. Women and Religion in Early America, 1600–1850: The Puritan and Evangelical Traditions. New York: Routledge, 1999.

    Survey of women and religion in early America with a focus on Puritan and evangelical traditions, ranging from New England Puritans to African Methodists. Covers manifestations of female religiosity in both the private and public spheres and includes a chapter on prophetic women.

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