Selfhood and self-government in women’s religious writings of the early modern period

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Some scholars have identified a puzzle in the writings of Mary Astell (1666–1731), a deeply religious feminist thinker of the early modern period. On the one hand, Astell strongly urges her fellow women to preserve their independence of judgement from men; yet, on the other, she insists upon those same women maintaining a submissive deference to the Anglican church. These two positions appear to be incompatible. In this paper, I propose a historical-contextualist solution to the puzzle: I argue that the seeming inconsistency can be dispelled through a close examination of (i) the concepts of selfhood and self-government in Anglican women’s devotional texts of the period, and of (ii) the role that these concepts play in Astell’s feminist arguments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-730
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • agency
  • Elizabeth Burnet
  • feminist theories of autonomy
  • Mary Astell
  • self-government
  • selfhood

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