‘Liberating the Bible from Patriarchy:’ Poullain de la Barre’s Feminist Hermeneutics

  • Ruth Whelan
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 163)


It seems anachronistic, even bizarre, to present François Poullain de la Barre — a Cartesian, sometime Roman Catholic priest, and later Protestant convert4— as an early modern feminist theologian. Contemporary critics, whatever their discipline, commonly define feminism not only as a critique of the gender bias in culture and society and its relationship to power, but also as a commitment to correcting that bias in favour of women. In other words, feminism, as we understand it, is not simply a critical stance, it is also a political movement.5 While this definition is appropriate in our own time, it cannot be generalized to the early modern period. In societies where women and men were disenfranchized, thinkers might denounce the injustice of the position of women, might even imagine a society in which women took an active and equal part in public life, but they were understandably unable to envisage a programme for social change.6 Nonetheless, their failure to articulate pragmatic political goals is not a sufficient basis, in my view, for denying them a place in the intellectual and social history of feminism.7 As contemporary feminists have shown, criticism of the androcentric bias of culture and society is a political act in as much as it seeks to change the consciousness of readers and, thereby, necessarily, their relationship to their culture and society.8 That is to say, although early modern feminists were not political activists, they were active critics — and Poullain is no exception — of the gender bias in the politics of knowledge.


Female Voice Early Modern Period Feminist Ideology Biblical Text Cartesian Dualism 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Ruth Whelan

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