Rarely is traditional Christian writing compared with romance novels, but this is where MU professor Patricia Beckman’s studies have led. During her year-long research leave from religious studies courses, Beckman is finishing “Medieval Mysticism,” which analyzes writings by women during a surge of women’s piety and writing in the Middle Ages.
“It’s like these love stories of this woman and her god, but it’s written in like the romance style of the day,” Beckman said. “Instead of having a king as the absent love or some woman in a tower somewhere, it’s this woman’s longing for her God. It’s very different from what people today think of as traditional, but it was tradition, and it was very popular.”
After considering attending the seminary before graduate school — as her husband had done to become a Lutheran pastor — Beckman chose the academic route because of her interest in exploring the place of women in religion.
“Every religion has an interesting negotiation with women — this kind of love-hate relationship going on,” she said. “I was reading all this stuff about religion, but I never read about women. And then I went home and all I saw was women. So, I thought, ‘There’s got to be something else to the history that they’re not telling me.’ ”
In one of her favorite courses, Women and Religions, Beckman teaches the role of women in different faiths and talks with her students about how religion is viewed and used from a woman’s perspective. Beckman said she enjoys the sometimes contentious discussions in her classroom.
“I don’t think we have a lot of places where people civilly disagree with one another,” she said. “There’s not a lot of people who say, ‘I disagree with you and here’s why,’ without saying, ‘You’re a demonic monster.’ ”