"I Have the Power in My Body to Make People Sin": The Trauma of Purity Culture and the Concept of "Body Theodicy"

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores traumatic experiences of Christian purity culture and abstinence movements through a feminist theological lens. It introduces the term “body theodicy”: the idea that theodicy, historically conceptualised as a theological attempt to defend the love and goodness of God in a world of evil and suffering, can be understood as something which becomes trapped or embedded in women’s bodies as a result of trauma. Purity culture, which reached its height in both the US and the UK in the 1990s, has had a profound and lasting effect on young women who followed its central tenants (including, but not limited to the restriction of sexual activity to heterosexual marriage). In the current climate of #ChurchToo; which has created a space for women to speak of sexual violence in relation to their religious communities and contexts; the research contained within this chapter takes seriously the body trauma, mental anguish and spiritual suffering that women have experienced as a result of their involvement in abstinence movements or programmes. The chapter is centred on a series of qualitative research interviews with ten women, who have experienced some form of trauma as a result of their own experiences of purity culture. With these women, themes of consent, autonomy, choice, and patriarchal structures are explored. Theological reflection on theodicy, trauma, and the phenomenon of on-going suffering follows. Unique methodological contributions are also offered, in the form of suggestions concerning the intersection of practical theology and feminist methods.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFeminist Trauma Theologies
Subtitle of host publicationBody, Scripture and Church in Critical Perspective
EditorsKaren O'Donnell, Katie Cross
PublisherSCM Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print) 9780334058724
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2020


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