A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy

“Because historians have excluded women’s theological engagement with the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, they have obscured the dynamics of both the debate and the resulting culture wars that all churches navigate today. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Andrea L. Turpin Baylor University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy examines the voices of women who entered into American Protestantism’s defining religious struggle in the early twentieth century: the split between theological and social liberals and conservatives that contributed to the modern American culture wars. Previous scholarship on this controversy has focused almost exclusively on the beliefs and actions of men; I analyze how Protestant women’s organizations navigated these religious changes.

The book explores what Protestant women thought about the larger issues being debated and how some such women came to contribute a unique prophetic voice linked to their sex. It then analyzes the repercussions for the resolution of the controversy of including or silencing women’s voices. Exploring the reasoning and approach of these women will force us to rethink the causes and nature of the split between fundamentalists and modernists, and between today’s conservatives and liberals. Reclaiming their now-marginalized voices also suggests a potential path forward.

Specifically, I focus on how the issues related to the controversy played out for women--Black and white, northern and southern--in the women’s auxiliaries of the nation’s three largest denominations (Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian) as well as in the independent pan-Protestant YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), one of the largest American women’s organizations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.