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
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019


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

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