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April 13, 1980 - Image 11

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Page 6-Sunday, April 13, 1980-The Michigan Daily



The Ochigan Daily-Sunda


Women's Studies ont


By RJ Smith

Gnostic challenge revived:

By Gregory Langworthy
and Karen Wigen
or an academi-
cian writing a
religious history,
Elaine Pagels has
been fortunate in
getting attention.
Her 1979 pub-
lication The
Gnostic Gospels
was graced by the
National Critics'
Circle Book
Award for nonfic-
tio and even
reviewed on commercial television and the pages of
Rolling Stone. Pagels' topic would hardly appear to
make her book compelling reading for anyone but a
specialist. Her concern is a theological controversy
that was vigorously suppressed 1800 years ago, a split
in the early Christianchurch between the group which
came to define Christian orthodoxy as we know it and
another group that died out before 300 AD. The secret
wrritings of the denounced group-called "gnostics"
for their claim to have knowledge of ultimate
truths-went underground, literally, where they
remained buried until the middle of this century. Ex-
cept for a brief account of the exciting but confusing
events surrounding their rediscovery in the 1930's and
their fate since, Pagels spends her 200 pages expoun-
ding on the controversy that these documents roused so
many years ago.
What emerges, though, makes for surprisingly con-
troversial reading even in the 20th century. In Pagels'
sympathetic reconstruction of the gnostics' arguments
against orthodoxy one is startled to find the theores of
quite a few people on the fringes of the orthodox
church today. Her leaning toward the heretical view-
point is bound to stir as much reaction as her ques-
tionable analysis of it.
Pagles deals in the body of her book with what she
claims are the four major arguments between the
gnostics and their orthodox counterparts. The disputed
issues are the bodily resurrection of Christ; the gender
of divinity; the monotheistic nature of god; and the
nature of Jesus' suffering on earth. Proceeding as an
anthropologist would, the author goes on to extrapolate
what she considers to be the unavoidable-and
threatening-political implications of the gnostics'
beliefs. She argues that it was their challenge to church
authority, as much as to church ideology, that upset
the higher-ups; she actually insinuates, despite her
disclaimers, that the quarrel was at bottom a power
ER EDITOR calls Pagels' account
"brilliantly lucid," but the casual
relationship the author draws be-
tween beliefs and their supposed
effects are argued more glibly than
lucidly. The validity of her, hypo-
thesis that theology determined hier-
archy in the primitive church is call-
ed into question by her incomplete
examination of both the beliefs and then results.
Inquisitor Gregory Langworthy, a junior in Eco-
nomics and MARC, has suspicions that Japanese
Studies majorKaren Wigen is a heretic.

theolo.gy or both?

Chapter 1, for example, asserts that it was the belief
in Christ's bodily resurrection that justified Apostolic
authority. The apostles, according to Pagels, based
their influence on having seen the risen, corporeal
Jesus; they, in turn, passed on this control to their suc-
cessors, the "orthodox" bishops who continue to guide
the church. Gnostic Christians, on the .other hand,
believed not in a bodily resurrection but only in a
spiritual one, the truth of which was experienced by
every gnostic in ecstatic, psychic form. Since this
spiritual resurrection allegedly was made evident to so
many individuals, no select group could claim
authority on that basis.
But Pagels glosses over the fact that as many as 500
people are supposed to have seen the bodily resurrec-
ted Christ. By her logic these people should have been
able to claim as much authority as the apostles. But they
didn't. And are we to believe that the three years
during which the apostles lived with Christ and listened
to his teachings-a much more likely reason for their
position-gave them less authority than the claim that
they simply saw him after the resurrection?
The fact is that most of the early Church's bishops
had nothing to do with the apostles. We know this
because St. Paul, who never claimed to see Jesus in
any form more tangible than a vision, started many
churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and possibly France,
and gave instructions for the election of bishops from
among local Christians. Deacons also were an impor-
tant part of the church hierarchy, yet they made no
claim to apostolic authority based on the doctrine of
the bodily resurrection. No reader thus informed can
trust Pagels' assertion that the gnostics' belief in only
a spiritual resurrection challenged the bishops'
apostolic authority.
The author's liberal use of partial quotations from
diverse sources and her omission of other relevant
materials which might have changed her argument is'
a clear cause for skepticism. A good deal of the gnostic
beliefs, for instance, came from supposedly secret or
private transmissions from Christ to the apostles.
Gnostics, believing themselves to possess this higher
knowledge, considered themselves above submission
to the spiritual authority of the orthodox bishops. Ac-
cording to Pagels, the bishops condemned the gnostics
as heretics worthy of persecution because this belief
threatened the bishops' political power in the church.
The bishops' attitude toward this 'private knowledge'
might, however, be more fully understood not in terms
of its threat to their authority but in light of the fact
that it flatly contradicts the word of Jesus himself as
recorded in the orthodox gospel of John. When
questioned by the high priest Annas, Jesus said of his
teaching, "I have always taught in synagogue and in
the temple, where all Jews congregate; I have said
nothing in secret" (John 18:21).
F PAGELS WANTS to review the character
of each -of the two groups and the conflict
between them, why does she neglect some
of the Christian texts, such as the afore-
mentioned gospel of John? Even if the
author interprets fairly the quotes she has
selected, she fails by her blatant omissions
to convince a legitimately skeptical reader
that her thesis is valid. Pagels questions the
legitimacy and necessity of the church hierarchy
when she asserts that Christ taught self knowledge,
rather than participation in a catholic community, as
the way to know God's truth. Jesus once rebuked cer-
tain apostles who thought the "kingdom" was at hand.
Pagels interprets this rebuke as Christ's rebuttal to the
orthodox doctrine that truth is found and collectively
enjoyed in a community of believers. And when Christ.

urged his apostles to decide for themselves who he
really was, she says, he was recommending that they
seek spiritual fulfillment through introspective
The problem with this is that Pagels doesn't consider
the orthodox interpretation of this parable: that the
apostles were incorrectly anticipating the reinstitution
under Jesus' leadership of the political "kingdom" of
the historical King David, rather than the spiritual
"Kingdom of God"-which would be a community of
Christians headed by Christ. The orthodox church
believed that Christ would indeed be a political king,
but it wanted his disciples to comprehend the imminent
appearance of the Kingdom bf God. A complete
analysis of gnosticism versus orthodoxy requires ex-
pounding both sides' doctrines-and Pagels has failed
to do this.
Whatever the problems with Pagels' argument,
though, and there are many, there remains something{
compelling about the idea that there are in fact connec-
tions between theological beliefs and social
organization. Geography of religion classes teach that
there are correlations between how certain religious
communities conceive the layout of the cosmos and
how they lay out their own cities. Courses on the arts,
too, show that the various manifestations of any one
culture should reflect the same organizational prin-
ciples in everything from painting to politics. There is
nothing especially new or controversial, then, in the
central premise behind Pagels' hyvnesis.
UT THE ISSUE of church politics,
to which she applies it here, has a
long history of emotional debate. The
search for correlations always has a
nasty tendency to turn into a search
for causal connections; one decides
in favor of the chicken or the egg,
and dismisses prematurely the ques-
tion of continual and complex in-
fluence. This has been an especial
hazard in the debate over the politics of religion. What-
ever her shortcomings, it is to Pagels' credit that she
has succeeded in considerably scaling down the
At their most balanced, Pagels''articulations of the
relationship between theology and politics show a real
understanding of the complications involved. In her
chapter on church hierarchy, for instance, she con-
cludes with the following observations:
Were Irenaeus' religious convictions nothing
but political tenets in disguise? Or, con-
versely, were his politics subordinate to his
religious beliefs? Either of these interpreta-
tions oversimplifies the situation. Irenaeus'
religious convictions and his position-like
those of his gnostic opponents-reciprocally
influenced one another . . . we need not
reduce gnosticism to apolitical movement.
If the orthodox tradition could learn from this to
admit the political implications of its teachings, and
the play of politics in its history, so would many of those
outside the church do well to -learn from Pagels'
respect for religious conviction as the source of those
political moves. To dismiss every move the in-
stitutional church has made as motivated by politics
is facile. People in the church do take theology
seriously, and to analyze their behavior with integrity
one must being to appreciate that there is a complex
interconnection between the metaphysical and
political planes. Pagels at her best displays that kind of
integrity. It's too bad she didn't maintain it throughout.

T HIS IS THE week the economics
of running the University of
Michigan look about as honor-
able as the reputation of your average
University quarterback.
The fun starts tomorrow. In a time
when President Carter tells us all that
University financial woes are making it
harder to recruit minority students,
when the Regents are so hasty to make
a few thousand bucks that they would
threaten us with another Stegeman
behemoth, and when God knows how
administrators lie in wait with honed
razors for next year's tuitionary blood-
letting, some have decided to stiffen up
and let a smile be their umbrella.
They've decided to throw a ,bash for
President Shapiro, honoring his official
inauguration as University president.
Tomorrow morning Shapiro's
presidency is officialized at an in-
vitation-only ceremony in Hill
Auditorium. In order to dance away
their fiscal miseries, administration,
faculty and students attend the
inaugural ball Thursday evening. And
this is just a start; the University is
planning on honoring Shapiro's in-
vestiture throughout the term, kicking
in a base sum of $25-28,000 for a spec-
trum of festivities.
Meanwhile, the Women's Studies
Program is marking a more somber
event in a quite different fashion. The
Program was reviewed by an LSA
review committee at the end of last
year. The panel was a quartet of LSA
professors whose purpose was to assess
the Program's worth and make
recommendations for its future. The
report was often glowing. "We have
found the Program to be a valuable
component of the undergraduate
curriculum.. . the Program has major
value for the university community on
this level," wrote the committee. The
panel recommended that the Univer-
sity continue the Program at its current
level of funding.
So why do many people in the
Program fear that unless they can get a
sum of money ironically close to that
being spent on Shapiro's coronation, the
Program will be gutted by LSA? And
why, despite the fact that both LSA
Dean Billy Frye and Associate Dean
John Knott have praised the Women's
Studies Program and recognized the
review report as a positive document,
has Frye acknowledged that changes
now -in the works for the Program
would set its curriculum back years, so
far back, he said, that it might never
again be as strong as it is today?
The answer can be gleaned from
recent statements by Frye and Knott,
and by observing some unfortunate at-
titudes and practices in both the LSA
and the University. Those trends that
strike fear in the hearts of those
rallying to save Women's Studies
should worry as well anyone concerned
about the University's commitment
to undergraduate education, and its
responsibility to promote the teaching
of women's and minorities' issues.
INCE IT BEGAN, the Program
has offered a major in Women's
Studies, and last term the stu-
dent major could select from among ten
classes as well as numerous cross-
listed offerings. The college of LSA
RJ Smith is co-editor of the Sunday

formed the Women's Studies Program
in 1973, making it one of the very first
such programs in the nation. Born out
of -both the feminist movement and a
growing interest in research on women
in a multitude of disciplines, the
Program worked to develop a
curriculum to teach the so-called "new
scholarship on women.",
1973 was part of a time when many
liberal programs were instituted within
the University. They could be afforded
because it was a relative boom period,
and the University could therefore
respond to the many liberal pressures
from both within and without. Clearly
Women's Studies was an important ad-
dition to this evolving liberalism; here
was a program which from the start
emphasized undergraduate education.

oppression-was taught nowhere else
on campus and needed to be taught.
That is still needs to be taught is
evidenced by the fact that the
reviewers, coming from various
University departments, agreed that
they knew hardly anything about it.
"What evaluation can we make of
this material?" they asked. "We are in
no position to offer comprehensive
judgement; no member of the review
committee has extensive prior
familiarity with this work, and the field
itself is changing so rapidly." But a
review needed to be done. To assist the
panel, the LSA administration agreed to
bring to the University three "super-
stars" from various branches of
women's studies. It was the appraisals
of these experts that made for the most

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-Frye to students: "Trust me."

For how could research be truly em-
phasized in a program lacking both
faculty and graduate program?
"Our program has never been thought
of as a research center; our interests
have always been in teaching," ex-
plains TA Alice Echols. "That's not to
say that there has not been good, solid
research on women done here. But
that's not our focus." The structure of
the Program also was a radical depar-
ture from University norms. There was
virtually no hierarchy, as decisions
were and still are made by a variety of
committees upon which any interested
faculty, TAs, or students could sit.
When it was the Program's turn to be
evaluated by an LSA panel, such
atypical qualities made the reviewers
hesitant to pass judgement. What made
them even more apprehensive was the
nature of what the Program was
studying and teaching. The Program
was started because the new scholar-
ship-the study of women's history and

affirmative parts of the review report.
"... . I left the University with the strong
conviction that the Women's Studies
Program could continue to be one of the
strongest in the country; that it did com-
bine Michigan's traditional concern for
rigorous scholarship with intellectual
freshness," commented Catherine
Stimpson, a faculty member at Bar-
nard University and editor of SIGNS,
one of the top journals dealing with
research on women. "I trust that the
University will nurture what it has."
HE EXECUTIVE committee,
however, seems to be ignoring
the nature of the report. Instead
of encouraging Women's Studies to con-
tinue the work it now does, the commit-
tee almost certainly will in the next few
weeks act to chop off about half of the
Program's curriculum. Frye is talking
seriously about removing the
Program's major by reducing the
number of classes to the point where st-
udents could only minor in Women's
Studies; he and the school are intent at

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