Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir, professor of theology at the University of Iceland, has her windows open into the past these days as she is peering into the life of a woman who was the first Icelandic female University graduate, not only from one line of study; but two.
The woman Arnfríður's study focuses on is Steinunn Jóhannesdóttir, later Hayes (1870-1960). She completed her university studies in both theology and medicine almost 120 years ago. Steinunn moved to the United States towards the end of the nineteenth century where she got a university education. After that she moved with her husband to China where she worked as a medical missionary doctor for four decades.
"The spark for the study lies in an interest to search for the missing women in Icelandic history, especially those connected with the history of the church and Christianity in an Icelandic context," says Arnfríður.
"Little or nothing has been written on this remarkable woman until now; which means that she has not had the place she deserves in the history of the Icelandic church, education or women," says Arnfríður who is determined to change that with her research.
"Little or nothing has been written on this remarkable woman until now; which means that she has not had the place she deserves in the history of the Icelandic church, education or women," says Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir, who is determined to change that with her research.
"This is an important project, but I also find it very exciting to find out who this remarkable woman was, and about time to introduce her in a domestic and international context. It is extremely important that we do what we can to tell the stories of women who have paved the way for us who later follow in their footsteps."
It is fitting that Arnfríður focus on a woman pioneer in her research project, as she has studied the interplay between Christianity and the women's rights movement in her research for some time and repeatedly been noticed for her feminist view of theology.
"The feminist point-of-view is the emphasis I place on the impact of individual theories within theology on the lives of women, and also the impact of women on the development of the Christian religious traditions."
Revision of history
Even though COVID-19 stopped Arnfríður from going to Steinunn's home in the United States to gather historical data as she intended, the study's progress is good.
"I was lucky to be able to hire two assistants who spent the summer searching for and registering data on Steinunn. I am very excited to get the time to analyse this data."
All research is important and its value is often multi-dimensional and not necessarilyu immediately apparent. Arnfríður says that research within her field is highly important as the role of the theologian is to interpret a message from the past into the present, in light of new research.
"The value of this study lies first and foremost in the revision of history, including the ecclesiastical one but also the history of theological ideas, and the patriarchal focus that has prevailed for centuries," says Arnfríður.