Caroline Walker Bynum Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As more than one reviewer of her work has commented, Caroline Walker Bynum (BI-nuhm) is one of the few late twentieth century historians whose work undoubtedly will deepen and change not only traditional understandings of particular historical periods but also the writing of history itself. Bynum belongs more in the rank of historians and philosophers who only emerge a few times in a century than in the rank of “merely” brilliant scholars and researchers.

She received her bachelor of arts degree in 1962 from the University of Michigan, earning an M.A. in 1963 and a Ph.D. in history in 1969, both from Harvard University. She began her professorial career in Harvard’s History Department and was promoted to associate professor of church history in Harvard’s Divinity School in 1973. In 1981, she moved to the University of Washington as professor of history. In 1988, she relocated again, this time to Columbia University.

Bynum’s principal fields of study might be categorized as women’s studies, gender studies, and the history of Western Christianity and theology. As with all great historians, however, no single category or combination thereof adequately represents the breadth of her work. Nearly all of Bynum’s writings are unified by a consuming interest in the qualities that make human beings human and how their humanity shapes and is shaped by the actual physicality of their bodies and their perceptions of that physical structure. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women and The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336, for example, present arguments that, like Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, overpower the reader through their elegance and complex simplicity....

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Biddick, Kathleen. “Genders, Bodies, Borders: Technologies of the Visible.” Speculum 68 (1993). Although scholarly articles extending Bynum’s ideas and methods are countless, this is one of the very few lengthy critiques of Bynum’s historiography, limited to Bynum’s arguments in Holy Feast and Holy Fast.

Hollywood, Amy M. Review of Fragmentation and Redemption, by Caroline Walker Bynum. Journal of Religion 72 (1992). Provides useful background material.

Morris, Colin. “Individualism in Twelfth-Century Religion: Some Further Reflections.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31 (1980). Responds to and critiques Bynum’s “Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?,” one of her most famous and controversial essays.

Shaw, Brent D. “Out on a Limb.” Review of The Resurrection of the Body, by Caroline Walker Bynum. The New Republic, April 17, 1995. Valuable not only because it is aimed at a general audience but also because Shaw describes Bynum’s overall contribution to her fields of study.