Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Cynthia Epstein

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Religion | Women's Studies


Church, Collective Memory, Madonna and Child, Religious education, Sociology, Women's identity


Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a deliberative subjugation of women through ideologies, hierarchical structures and performative practices that effectively relegate women to an inferior position. The Christian tradition has one of the longest-standing and most consistent iconographies with regard to the characterization and status of women in society. The Christian church is prototypical of a religious institution iterating an ideology of women's inferiority through various mechanisms that lodge and preserve it in societal collective memory. This study examines three mechanisms used by the Church to preserve collective memory about women's inferior status in society: doctrine, liturgical practices and visual images related to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Through structured interviews with 40 women raised in the Roman Catholic tradition and educated in Roman Catholic schools, this study examines how collective memory about women's identity transferred through these mechanisms become lodged in individual memory through socialization and education, and influence their attitudes, behaviors and self-identity. The study expands the examination from the realm of the individual and family to how doctrine, liturgical practices and visual images of Mary exert influence far beyond the confines of the church itself and its participants. The institutional church, and Roman Catholicism in particular, exerts global influence through reputational entrepreneurs who are power holders in society. The study considers whether collective memory about women's place in society, set forth and maintained by the Church, can be reconstructed and, if so, how it might be accomplished.