Interview: Jeannie Sellick


University of Virginia

Areas of Interest/Research:

Early Christian ascetic & monastic movements/Gender & Sexuality/Masculinity studies 

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I love the pure wackiness of religion & early Christianity. The canonical texts, the apocrypha, the patristic commentaries, the controversies – so much of it is weird in the best way. I particularly love getting to teach this stuff to undergraduates because we have the chance to make the familiar strange & also the unfamiliar relatable. 

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

Men can be virgins whose sexual bodies & identities are just as subject to cultural shaping. Is this a big or original idea? Shouldn’t be, but we don’t discuss the sexual construction of men’s bodies (both in antiquity & modernity) nearly as much as we do women’s. Our collective gaze has long been focused on dissecting the intricacies of the female sexual body, it’s high time we turn this gaze on men. 

What is your current research about?

My dissertation, The Strongest Seed, focuses on Jerome’s conception of male virginity and sexuality. Lots has been written on Jerome and female virginity (I mean, Letter 22 is a true banger), but less attention has been paid to his early career obsession with male bodies. My dissertation brings together Jerome’s treatises, hagiographical literature, and letters to show how he constructs an ascetic masculinity.  

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

Easy, Caroline Schroeder. Her Monastic Bodies was my gospel while writing my master’s thesis. Her work brought me to the wonderful world of Shenoute & the White Monastery and the Coptic Scriptorium has revolutionized our ability to do Coptic studies. Plus, when I met her in person recently, it solidified for me what a badass queen she really is – a quality much overlooked in academic circles if you ask me. 

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

Like I said, Schroder’s Monastic Bodies absolutely changed the trajectory of my academic career and pushed me into ascetic/monasticism (see above). David Hunter’s Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity rocked my world and his work on Jovinian, Helvidius, and anti-asceticism was the gateway into my current project on Jerome. And Michael Rosenberg’s Signs of Virginity inspired me to focus on masculinity studies, and his book continues to be a model for my dissertation.  

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

I currently have a few publications in print and two more on the way. You can find my first piece, “Drunk in Love: Who’s Afraid of a Spiritual Marriage?” in the festschrift The Narrative Self in Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Judith Perkins. I’m also a co-translator with Rebecca Draughon & Janet Spittler of “The Apocalypse of John Chrysostom (2 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John)” in New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 2

Where can we follow you online?

I’m everywhere. Follow my Twitter @TheAtheistNun and my blog, shockingly called, The Atheist Nun. Though I should warn you, the blog may be a little NSFW in a tongue in cheek way. And while I’m here, please also follow the work of Open Greek & Latin – it’s an international project that is working towards digitizing the first 1,000 years of Greek & Latin in an open access format. I’m the (self-entitled) social media czar, so please follow us @OpenGreekLatin on twitter!

If we ran into you at SBL/AAR and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Taco Bell. Or my dog. Or Love Island (UK only). But mostly Taco Bell. 

Other than your thesis, what research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I’m currently writing a piece for an upcoming compilation from Christy Cobb & Eric Vanden Eykel about sexual violence in Early Christianity. My chapter is about how sexual violence is committed against men, particularly John, in the Acts of John. Apocrypha is my first love because, well, it’s wacky in the best way (see q. 1). Also, this piece was the brainchild of my original dissertation proposal but it got axed, so I’m glad it’s getting to see the light of day. 

>> Thank you so much, Jeannie, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.

Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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