Women in the Academy: Jennifer Lane

By April 22, 2010

Our third participant in this series, Jennifer Lane, is associate professor of Religious Education at BYU?Hawaii, where she has taught since 2002. She recently presented a paper titled “Subjection, Mastery, and Discipleship” at the seventh annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Jennifer’s interview reflects an academic path that has had some unexpected turns. However, along the way she has been supported by remarkable scholars, both male and female. She looks forward to responding to your questions and comments.

Education: BA (History, minor in Philosophy, BYU); MA (Ancient Near Eastern Studies, BYU); PhD (Religion, with an emphasis in History of Christianity, Claremont Graduate University)

How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?

As a high school student I was convinced that I didn?t like history because I wasn?t good at memorizing dates. As an undergraduate I was delighted to find that the study of history allowed me to address fundamental questions that I had always asked about the world?How did things get to be this way? Why are we the way we are? My initial excitement about the capacity to explain the world increasingly shifted to exploring questions of meaning and understanding. With time I realized that the questions I was investigating and the papers I was writing were almost entirely about religious history. After serving a mission I was particularly interested in biblical history and began to prepare for graduate work in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I feel fortunate for the support of Stephen Ricks, an associate dean of Honors at the time. I walked into his office wanting to explore the idea of redemption in the Old Testament without any previous study in his area of specialty. He both guided my studies and supported my efforts to write my Honors thesis about adoptive covenant and redemption in the Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon.

The opportunity to be a part of the one-year master?s program in Ancient Near Eastern Studies under the auspices of BYU?s Kennedy Center?s International and Area Studies program was pivotal in my education.  (Sadly this program is no longer extant; it was a helpful experience for a number of students who are now religion professors as a bridge to doctoral work.)

First, I realized that I didn?t love Hebrew and the ancient Near East enough to continue on with that emphasis for a PhD. I also discovered that I was able explore similar issues in the world of the New Testament, bringing me to my next stage of my educational journey. The opportunity to work at a graduate level with faithful Latter-day Saints was an important foundation for all my later work. Here I was able to think through and discuss important methodological and exegetical issues in a perspective of faith. Being able to study methodology of the social sciences with Valerie Hudson, the then-director of the master?s program at the Kennedy Center, has continued to inform the broad scope of my interests.

When I began my doctoral work in History of Christianity, I believed this would be the next stage to build upon my master?s thesis on adoptive redemption in the writings of Paul and look at these issues in the world of early Christianity. Interestingly, again it was realizing what I didn?t love that moved me in a direction to find a truer fit for my interests. Starting to work through Hellenistic Greek texts and basic Coptic translation that first year made me rethink my focus on early Christianity. I?ll never forget the experience of dread in the bookstore picking up a recommended Greek grammar book contrasted with the feeling of joy a few minutes later, having wandered down the aisle, and seeing a full set of shelves filled with of books on medieval history. I?ve never learned what class those books were for, but that experience changed my academic career. I will always be grateful for the personal and academic support and flexibility of the faculty at Claremont to allow me to finish my program focusing on medieval Christianity and their support with my dissertation on the role of Franciscans in reshaping late-medieval pilgrimage to Jerusalem into an experience of compassio, participation in the suffering of Christ.

What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects (papers, books, dissertations, etc.)?

At this point in my career, my work continues to stem from the different areas that made up my academic training. I do work in theology, usually setting LDS thought in dialogue with the broader Christian tradition.  My participation in the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology has been invaluable in providing a space to explore these issues. My colleagues there are from a broader pool, and I am grateful to engage with those with philosophical training and different perspectives.  Much of what I write comes as part of this dialogue.  For example, my article, ?Embodied Knowledge of God,? (Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology [March 2007]: 61?71) grew out of thinking through a claim of one participant that the flow of revelation seems to have shrunk since the early days of the Restoration. I take on that claim by using contemporary ritual theory to make us reconsider how we learn of God and reconsider the role of the temple in particular as part of preparing for the day that ?they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them? (Jeremiah 31:34).

The international student body of BYU?Hawaii and university encouragement to connect our research to our target area of Asia and the Pacific opened up a space to explore the Franciscans? journeys even further than the Holy Land. The first three years that Keith and I were here at BYU?Hawaii I was teaching part-time for both History and Religion and during that time I was able to write several papers on aspects of the inter-religious encounters of Friar William of Rubruck during his travels in the Mongol Empire.  Topics such as his shock at the Nestorian cross without the body of Christ and the debated issues of ritual purity between the Orthodox and the Nestorians over drinking qumis, the fermented mare?s milk of the Mongols, made for fascinating exploration as a Latter-day Saint scholar presenting at the Medieval Academy of America, the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, and the History of Christianity section of the American Academy of Religion.  I am grateful to have been able to highlight and explain concerns that had not been previously been explored.  The world of Franciscan piety and the contemporary ramification of their inter-religious interactions continue to intrigue me, but since becoming a full-time member of the department of Religious Education I have chosen not to continue to expand this work as much as I might otherwise have enjoyed.  Sometimes we can only do so much.

I continue to work with New Testament issues, both textual analysis and historical setting, with an LDS audience in mind.  I am particularly grateful for the chance to participate in the volumes edited by Thomas Wayment, a friend from CGU, and Richard Holzapfel reconsidering the life of Christ and early Christianity as well as regularly participating in the annual Sperry Symposium at BYU. Since I primarily teach New Testament classes, in addition to Honors Book of Mormon, these invitations to participate and calls for papers keep me exploring the text and scholarship on the New Testament in fresh ways. I find it interesting how organic the process of inquiry and exploration feels for me. A current example is in the work that I have recently done connecting to social justice. It began with a call for papers for the Latter-day Saints and Bible section of the Society of Biblical Literature last year in New Orleans focusing on social justice. At first I thought, ?I haven?t worked in this and don?t have anything to say.? But with more thought and study, I examined how Christians and Latter-day Saints may talk past each other using different terminology?social justice and Zion?when much more is shared than they realize. Thinking along these lines changed my focus so that when the call for papers came for the 2010 Sperry Symposium about the Sermon on the Mount, I chose to write on the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount and how it can be understood both in terms of personal salvation as well as the call for social justice and a more equitable world.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the academy?

From my early years at BYU, I have been very fortunate to have both male and female professors encourage me to go on to graduate school. As an undergraduate I was particularly fortunate to never have felt slighted as a woman, even when working with faculty that are entirely male, such as those with training in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. My experience working with them was uniformly positive. I also look back to the experience that I had in my Junior Tutorial with Mary Stovall Richards. She, as others had, took the time to take me aside and encourage me to go on to graduate studies. But she was the one to put in a good word for me with Stephen Robinson, then chair of Ancient Scripture, that allowed me a chance to teach a Book of Mormon class during my master?s program.  Working with professional, challenging, and supportive women like her, Valerie Hudson, and Cathy Thomas, while at BYU gave me an initial vision that continuing on and working as a professor would be viable and enjoyable.

When Keith and I moved to Southern California after I finished my master?s degree, he began his PhD work in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at CGU. I was undecided as to how quickly to move forward with additional studies. We were hoping to have a family, and I thought that perhaps going part-time would be a way to find a balance. The choice to start the History of Christianity program as a full-time student rather than part-time, as I had initially thought, came in part because time was moving along, and we hadn?t been able to have children and because I just couldn?t bear being a legal secretary any longer. Closing that door opened up a very good new path for me. I had turned down the offer to join the Ancient History program at UCLA for a variety of reasons, but in retrospect the opportunity to study at Claremont with so many engaging, successful, and supportive women scholars was probably the very best reason to go there.

Since joining the faculty at BYU?Hawaii, I?ve been grateful to be a part of a faculty with a number of women professors and academic couples like Keith and myself. The scale of the university is such that there are no more than 150 or so full-time professors and so one has the chance to get to know people across all the disciplines. While I am the only full-time woman professor in our department, the percentage isn?t too bad since there are only four full-time, tenure-track positions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be at a smaller institution where I can get to know students out of class?visiting around campus, in their wards when I served with my husband during his time as a student-ward bishop, in their culture clubs and performances, and just running into them at the grocery store.  I?ve come to see them as human beings and not just people who may or may not be studying as hard as they should. So, part of what I?ve realized is that, for me, being part of the academy is being a part of people?s lives and hoping to be a positive influence in their growth.

In your field who are some women you admire? Why?

Last semester a student was doing a presentation on early Christian asceticism in a GE class I teach called World of the New Testament and her handout listed her sources: Karen Torjesen, Teresa Shaw, and Peter Brown.  I had to smile when I told her that I had studied with the first two and read many of the works of Peter Brown with them. I likewise feel grateful to have studied briefly with Ann Taves and Helena Wall and to have had Lori Ann Ferrell agree to work with me as my dissertation advisor. I didn?t choose CGU specifically because of the high concentration of female faculty but every time I hear people tell horror stories about their graduate work or dissertation experience I can only feel grateful for the personal and intellectual support that I felt all the way through my experience.  Having worked with them gives me a vision of the personal dimension I hope to bring to my teaching, being rigorous and demanding, but never taking one?s self too seriously. I feel I?ve learned how to care for and mentor individuals in a way that I might never have learned from male professors.

For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books you would recommend on the subject?

This is from the cultural history part of my studies, with an emphasis on the Middle Ages. I?m including a few surveys, some theory, and lots of monographs that I have found engaging and helpful.

Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

________. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Vintage, 1985.

Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400?1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

Geary, Patrick. Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Hunt, Lynne, ed. The New Cultural History. Studies on the History of Society and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Kolbaba, Tia M. The Byzantine Lists: Errors of the Latins. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 3rd ed.  London: Longman, 2000.

Markus, R. A. The End of Ancient Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Morgan, David. Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Os, Henk van. The Art of Devotion in the Later Middle Ages in Europe, 1300?1500.  Translated by Michael Hoyle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Ross, Ellen M. The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Smith, Jonathan Z. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Vallée, Gérard. The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries [100?800]. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Culture and Value. Edited by G. H. von Wright. Translated by Peter Winch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

________. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillian, 1958.

Article filed under Miscellaneous Women in the Academy


  1. I love these things! Thanks Jennifer for giving us this glimpse into your path as a scholar.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — April 22, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

  2. Thank you for participating in this series, Jennifer. I am really intrigued by the title of your Element article. I am going to read it. In the mean time, I am wondering what role you feel religious education should have in helping the knowledge of God become embodied in the lives of students. In other words, do you see religious education as moral formation? Having not read your article these questions are probably unrelated or entirely ancillary, but since you are a religious educator I am interested to hear your thoughts.

    Comment by Elizabeth — April 22, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  3. This was an excellent read. Thanks to Jennifer and Liz.

    Comment by Ben — April 22, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

  4. Jennifer’s article’s on the 2 terms for Redeem in the OT were awesome. Thanks for this peek behind the curtain.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 22, 2010 @ 9:47 pm

  5. Every installment in this series has been fantastic. Thanks for participating, Jennifer, and as always, thanks Liz.

    Comment by Christopher — April 22, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

  6. Thanks, Jennifer, for a really great post, and a really great reading list!

    Comment by Jonathan Green — April 23, 2010 @ 8:31 am

  7. Great post. I particularly like Bell and Geertz.

    Comment by BHodges — April 23, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  8. I very much enjoyed the post. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 23, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  9. Another great addition to a great series. Thanks, Jennifer and Elizabeth.

    Comment by jp — April 23, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  10. I feel I?ve learned how to care for and mentor individuals in a way that I might never have learned from male professors.

    I just so happens that all of my examiners (4 though I may make it 5) are women (Ann Taves is my adviser). But there area lot of women faculty here (UCSB). I wonder what that means and what effect it will have.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — April 23, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  11. Thanks to everyone for your comments. It has been a real pleasure and privilege to be a part of this series.

    To follow up on Elizabeth?s excellent question about the role of religious education, Alma?s statement comes to mind: ?he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people? (Mosiah 18:20). I see the potential misstep in religious education, whether on Sunday or in other classrooms, is to confuse learning about God with coming to know God. If, as teachers or learners, we are satisfied with merely teaching or learning information, then we are missing the profound invitation to come to know God, which is finally about becoming (through Christ) like Him. This knowledge is embodied as it is enacted and as we are transformed. So there is a sense where this cannot be taught. But at the same time we teach and are supposed to be teaching. There is historical information to be conveyed that is quite important. There are also skills of reading and analysis that can be conveyed. We can teach truth and testify. But the knowledge that matters most can only come through the learners? choices to act?to exercise faith and to repent.

    Steve raises an interesting question about the impact of having so many women on his committee. I hesitate to generalize about someone else?s situation since I was thinking through a hypothetical counter-factual situation even with my own experience in graduate school. I?ll never know what my experience would have been with entirely male professors. But I certainly am grateful that the women I worked with had a spirit of nurturing and mentoring. I know that many male professors can have that, as I have seen in my own experience. But since so much of learning to be a professor is following the modeling of what we have experienced, I think it may be harder for those whose ideas about interactions with students have been shaped by hostile or uncaring advisors.

    This last year I?ve served on a university committee about teaching and learning and in conjunction with that had the chance to read an outstanding (and short) book that I very highly recommend: Ken Bain?s What the Best College Teachers Do (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). The impression that I had while working through it pretty closely is that what the best college teachers do is very similar to what the best parents do. Having never had children I don?t have a daily engagement with the process, but I do think that the balance of nurturing and setting limits with consequences, combined with mentoring and giving feedback all are strikingly similar. Interesting issues as one has to be a mother and father to a class.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 23, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  12. “Thinking along these lines changed my focus so that when the call for papers came for the 2010 Sperry Symposium about the Sermon on the Mount, I chose to write on the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount and how it can be understood both in terms of personal salvation as well as the call for social justice and a more equitable world.”

    Cool. Has this paper been presented or is it still up and coming?

    “I?ve come to see them as human beings and not just people who may or may not be studying as hard as they should.”

    I really like that sentiment and I hope to be better in this area.


    I met you at SMPT this year and I really appreciated your kind comments. I can only imagine the great example you are to your students.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 23, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

  13. Thanks, Chris. It was a pleasure to meet with you and hear your paper. I think the work you’re doing in thinking through social justice issues is very exciting.

    The Sperry Symposium will be the last weekend in October at BYU and the paper will also be available in the volume of selected papers which should be coming out from Deseret Book a little earlier in the fall.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 23, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

  14. Great. I will keep an eye out for the book (and attend the symposium if I happen to still be in Provo come fall).

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — April 23, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  15. Jennifer, your distinction between intellectual and embodied knowledge of God is very helpful. It helps me understand a little more of my own experience as a graduate student. One professor told me that her experience in graduate school was that of “a series of humiliations.” And I have heard similar things from other graduate students, current and former. Certainly dismantling ego is a valuable part of grad school, yet it becomes even more valuable when viewed from a theological perspective. Not only have I learned about God in a more intellectual way in grad school, but I have learned a bit more about who God is and who God would like me to become (although I am still baffled by where this “transformation” will ultimately lead).

    Comment by Elizabeth — April 23, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

  16. John makes a similar comment: ?Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is? (1 John 3:2). I love that phrase, ?it doth not yet appear what we shall be.? I think that?s where the trust and humility come into play. Through the ordinances and the Gift of the Holy Ghost we?re being invited into a way of living that transcends our capacity to understand. Those are the two components of embodied knowledge that I didn?t touch in on my earlier post, but that are essential in pushing beyond how we normally think about learning.

    In my paper on embodied knowledge I refer to Elder Oaks comment that: ?the Apostle Paul taught that the Lord?s teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain ?the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ? (Eph. 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something? (“The Challenge to Become,? Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32). I argue that we must see the ordinances as part of what is given to help us embody the ?the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.?

    Comment by Jennifer — April 24, 2010 @ 2:47 am

  17. Awesome! Thanks so much for asking for a reading list- great idea.

    Comment by crazywomancreek — April 26, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  18. Jennifer,

    I’m wondering if you could comment more on your experience teaching religion at BYUH. How have the things you learned at grad school shaped you teaching of religion in church classrooms?

    Comment by smallaxe — April 27, 2010 @ 9:32 am

  19. This is an excellent question. My choice to study History of Christianity in my doctoral program has given me a different kind of preparation. I have several friends who teach for Ancient Scripture in Provo whose training was specifically in the New Testament and they probably feel a tighter connection as far as passing along content they learned. Since I primarily teach New Testament, along with Honors Book of Mormon, my focus on early Christian and medieval piety is not the primary content material that I teach. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem is hard to fit into those syllabi. My study of Christian thought and practice does, however, very deeply affect how I frame our study of scriptural texts. On the very first day I discuss the challenge of interpretation of the Bible and try to help them find ways to make sense of their experience with different Christian viewpoints. I hope they can come to see that Christians over time held onto their faith in Christ and scripture, but that without prophets and apostles the way that they understood the text was affected by their cultural framework. I also discuss the post-Enlightenment world and the challenge to basic assumptions that Christians have preserved and how the Restoration and Book of Mormon comes as a second witness to the truths of the Bible.

    My awareness of different trajectories of Christian belief and practice makes me very sensitive to how to read different passages. It also helps me have a deeper appreciation for the clarity that we can find when we inform our reading of the Bible with the explanation of the doctrine of Christ found in the Book of Mormon, as well as the helpful clarifications in the JST. I?ve chosen to keep researching and writing on both New Testament context as well as doctrinal issues to make sure that I also keep sharpening my understanding of the historical world of the life of Christ and early Christianity. Over the last few years the world of intertestamental and Hellenistic Judaism has become increasingly fascinating for me as a cultural historian. The shifts of identity in this complex relationship between Jews and the Gentile world in which they lived are just as exciting as the work I did during my doctoral studies. But as I deepen my understanding, I have to keep trying to meet my students where they are. Many Asian students are first generation Church members or have little historical background for this period. I have to be very careful to help clarify this context for them to make sure they understand who the Jews are, who the Romans are, and how different branches of Judaism developed to negotiate how to interact with the pressures of a Hellenistic world.

    Comment by Jennifer — April 27, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  20. Excellent contribution to an excellent series, thank you!

    Comment by Jared T — April 27, 2010 @ 3:36 pm


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