Coakley, John W. (John Wayland Coakley)
Coakley, John W. (John Wayland Coakley)
Education: Wesleyan University, B.A.; Harvard Divinity School, M.Div., Th.D.
Office—New Brunswick Seminary, 17 Seminary Pl., New Brunswick, NJ 08901. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, editor, theologian, historian, and educator. New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, NJ, L. Russell Feakes Professor of Church History.
(Editor, with E. Ann Matter) Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissance, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1994.
(Editor, with Renee S. House) Patterns and Portraits: Women in the History of the Reformed Church in America, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.
(Editor) Concord Makes Strength: Essays in Reformed Ecumenism, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
(Editor, with Andrea Sterk) Readings in World Christian History, Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2004.
Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2006.
John W. Coakley is a writer, editor, theologian, historian, and professor. He earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University before attending Harvard Divinity School, where he earned his M.Div. and Th.D. After serving for several years as a parish minister in Massachusetts, Coakley then went on to work at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary as the L. Russell Feakes Professor of Church History. Through his role as a theologian and professor, Coakley has edited many books on religious subjects. His first book, Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissance, edited with E. Ann Matter, was published in 1994.
Coakley's second book, Patterns and Portraits: Women in the History of the Reformed Church in America, was edited with Renee S. House. It was published five years after Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy. The volume is a collection of essays examining women's roles in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Indeed, the book includes biographies of little-known women who affected the reformation of the church, as well as explorations of the missionary work that women have historically participated in. The essays included in Patterns and Portraits were originally written as part of a lecture series at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, though they eventually took on a "larger purpose," noted Margaret Bendroth in Church History. Bendroth did state, however, that despite, or perhaps because of, this expanded approach, "the most likely audience for this book will be scholars." Valerie S. Rake, writing in the Journal of Women's History, also acknowledged the book's comprehensive overview of women's church roles. Rake stated that "several essays consider the place of women's organizations within the overall institution of the RCA."
Concord Makes Strength: Essays in Reformed Ecumenism is Coakley's third book, which he edited as a solo project and published in 2002. The volume, like its predecessor, is a collection of essays on topics regarding the RCA. Rather than focus on women's roles, however, this collection reviews the RCA's history, theology, and possible future. Concord Makes Strength also contains essays that examine some of the splintering factions of the RCA. As with Coakley's previous work, reviewers had much praise for the book. For instance, Jeffrey Gros, critiquing Concord Makes Strength in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, observed that the book is "a helpful reflection" of the challenges that the RCA faces. Gros also stated that "one can appreciate these essays as a window into the ecumenical pilgrimage of this denomination and as a challenge" to adhere to "the gospel call to unity." Indeed, Gros concluded that Concord Makes Strength "will be a resource for Reformed Christians and their ecumenical colleagues for years to come."
Coakley's fourth book, like his first two, was also coedited. Readings in World Christian History, Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, which Coakley edited with Andrea Sterk, was published in 2004. A collection of primary sources, the volume is meant to be read in conjunction with History of the World Christian Movement, Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453 (2001), by Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist. Readings in World Christian History, Volume I is divided into four parts that reflect the four historical periods stretching from early Christianity to 1453. The book was deemed a triumph by critics. Indeed, an International Review of Mission contributor commented that the book is "intended to show the wide diversity of forms and differences of cultures by which Christian faith crossed borders." The contributor called this a "postmodern approach" to history that takes "a global perspective" on the spread of beginning Christianity. Indeed, the primary source "documents represent the geographical spread of ancient and medieval Christianity through theological treatises, letters and chronicles," stated the contributor, adding that, notably, "the voices of women are included, unlike in most church histories." Thus, the contributor concluded that Readings in World Christian History is "a rich and imaginative collection showing the variety of cultures in the early centuries of Christian faith."
For his fifth publication, Coakley moved away from editing, acting as the sole author of Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Col-laborators. The volume explores the lives of nine female mystics who lived during the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Written in nine chapters, the book studies these women through the texts written about them by male clerics and through the writings of the male clerics who acted as the women's spiritual guides. The crux of Coakley's investigation is the religious quandary surrounding women and their spiritual authority. The book was widely reviewed and acclaimed. Canadian Journal of History contributor Donna Trembinski called the book "a well-researched and insightful exploration" that "fills a void in the research on female mystics." Similarly laudatory in her assessment, Catholic Historical Review critic Barbara Newman called Women, Men, and Spiritual Power "the capstone of a well-established scholarly edifice and a spur to further research." Indeed, Newman concluded that "Coakley's elegant study belongs in every medievalist's library."
Coakley told CA: "I write slowly, and always in multiple drafts, and aim for the phrase or image, or argument or narrative, that finally feels right, or, better, that stands as not just true or correct but (in the mathematicians's sense) elegant. I write for the elusive moment of such a feeling, and trust that some shadow, at least, of that feeling comes across to the reader. That is the sort of writing I want to do, and to date my most sustained attempt to do it—and my favorite among the things I've written—is Women, Men, and Spiritual Power, which in fact stands as a witness to my own discovery of my desire as a writer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Canadian Journal of History, December 22, 2006, Donna Trembinski, review of Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators, p. 541.
Catholic Historical Review, October 1, 2007, Barbara Newman, review of Women, Men and Spiritual Power, p. 916.
Choice, October 1, 2006, W.L. Pitts, review of Women, Men, and Spiritual Power, p. 312.
Church History, September 1, 2002, Margaret Bendroth, review of Patterns and Portraits: Women in the History of the Reformed Church in America, p. 681.
Historian, September 22, 2007, Glenn W. Olsen, review of Women, Men, and Spiritual Power, p. 578.
International Review of Mission, January 1, 2005, review of Readings in World Christian History, Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, p. 163.
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, June 22, 2002, Jeffrey Gros, review of Concord Makes Strength: Essays in Reformed Ecumenism.
Journal of Women's History, June 22, 2002, Valerie S. Rake, review of Patterns and Portraits, p. 201.
Medieval Review, April 1, 2007, Ulrike Wiethaus, review of Women, Men and Spiritual Power.