Kenosis as Performance of Power in the Theology of Julian of Norwich

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2008


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

William Thompson-Uberuaga

Committee Member

Anne Brannen

Committee Member

Anne M. Clifford


divine maternity, medieval women writers, trauma and recovery, universal salvation, vernacular theology


This dissertation examines models of power and submission in the writings of Julian of Norwich through the symbol of kenosis. Chapter 1analyzes kenosis in its original context (Paul's letter to the Philippians) where it expresses the "self-emptying" movement of a divine person becoming human, suffering a violent death and returning to an exalted state. It then examines uses of kenosis as a model of power and submission in late 20th century thought and proposes critical questions from a feminist standpoint, specifically its potential to justify or re-enforce abuse. The therapeutic context of recovery for survivors of abuse is proposed as a test case for determining the value of kenosis as a model of power in relationship.

Chapter 2 examines the ways in which Julian of Norwich negotiated the conflict between her assertion of theological authority and her submission to Church teaching. Writing in the vernacular as a woman visionary in late medieval England placed Julian in an unprecedented and precarious position and enabled her to develop a creative dialectal theology that enacted her negotiation of power and submission.

Chapter 3 investigates Julian's presentation of kenosis within her parable of a lord and a servant. In retelling the story of God's relationship to humanity, Julian reinterprets kenosis by rejecting an exclusively patriarchal, hierarchic concept of power. Extending this close reading of Julian's revisionary approaches to kenotic tropes, chapter 4 explores Julian's figuration of God/Jesus as mother, arguing that Julian offers a distinctive model of kenosis that significantly alters the meaning and performance of power and submission as traditionally interpreted. Maternal kenosis entails placing one's power at the service of a more vulnerable other within a dynamic process of assertion and submission that is oriented toward growth.

Drawing on Judith Herman's study of trauma and recovery, the final chapter applies Julian's models of kenosis to the therapeutic context of survivors of abuse. The study concludes that while traditional models of kenosis are harmful in this context, the maternal model offers ways of understanding power and submission that can aid the survivor's process of recovery.





This document is currently not available here.