PhD Candidate Religion
Anna Wells, in her dissertation titled "Exemplars of Piety: Christianity, Context, and Gender in Medieval Ethiopian and European Saints’ Lives," employs hagiography to compare the intricate relationship between Christianity and culture in medieval Europe and Ethiopia. Her work highlights how saints' lives serve as sites of cross-cultural diffusion within the history of Christianity, adapting to new contexts and shaping representations of piety.
Wells employs a comparative approach, drawing on insights from World Christianity to argue that the specific cultural contexts of Europe and Ethiopia during the Middle Ages played a crucial role in shaping representations of women in two compilations of saints’ lives: Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea and the Ethiopian Senkessar (Book of the Saints). She demonstrates that a single model of female piety did not exist in Christendom, emphasizing the nuanced differences influenced by the religious priorities of each context.
Wells sheds light on the evolution of the concept of female piety in medieval Europe, where virginity became the dominant model. However, by expanding the scope to include Ethiopia, her research reveals a more diverse representation of female piety. The Senkessar not only features representations of female saints as virgins but also includes roles such as teacher and mother.
This project serves as a bridge between Christianity in Europe and Ethiopia during the Middle Ages, contributing to a more inclusive narrative of Christian history. Wells' research promises to deepen our understanding of the diverse manifestations of piety within different cultural contexts, enriching the broader discourse on the history of Christianity.
What Faculty Say
Anna has a privileged intellectual curiosity with a rigorous discipline for research and writing—she is an outstanding teacher; creative, personable and thoughtful in her teaching methods. In the classroom and as a historian, Anna makes history come alive as her telling of stories is interconnected with today’s issues and challenges.