March 5,1998

2000 years of thinking about women

Sylvain-Jacques desjardin

It was an unusual place to launch an academic book, but it worked. About 60 people, many of them friends, former colleagues and students, turned out for Professor Emeritus Sister Prudence Allen's presentation of The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 BC - 1250 AD at the downtown Chapters bookstore recently.
A Chapters employee told Sister Allen with some excitement that 20 copies had already been sold.";It's quite unusual for an academic book to draw such a large crowd and to sell so many copies," the employee explained.
Sister Allen opted to conduct an entertaining chat with her audience. "I thought that if I read from the book, it would be so boring," she said. This is the second edition of The Concept of Woman, which was first published by Eden Press in 1985. It has been updated and some factual errors corrected following suggestions by various scholars. She said having her book published and out for everyone to read "is a great delight. It can now be criticized and the subject taken to a new level." It took the philosophy professor 15 years to complete The Concept of Woman. In it, she describes concept of woman as first articulated by the great thinkers of the West. Through her research, Sister Allen discovered that every philosopher over the first 2,000 years of Western thought about woman in relation to man. Thanks to grants provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, she was able to conduct research for her books all over the world, from Italy to Washington D.C.'s Library of Congress, during two sabbatical periods and summer holidays. Another book, The Concept of Woman: The Early Humanist Reformation (1250-1500), will be published later this year. Sister Allen is currently polishing her fifth draft, while working on a third book on the same theme. Sister Allen taught at Concordia, and Sir George Williams University before it, for 25 years. She was principal of Lonergan University College from 1991 to 1994, became a full professor in 1993, and took early retirement in June 1996. She is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, a Michigan-based order that has a convent in NDG and on ‘le Perrot. Sister Allen was born Christine Hope Allen and joined the congregation at 43. Although it was a late calling, she said that it isn't unusual in today's context, considering "the renewal of the Catholic religion" and other faiths as we approach the new millennium. Throughout her teaching, the fact that she was a nun was always well accepted by her students, possibly because "they understand dress as an expression of one's identity." Olaf de Winter, 25, a Philosophy graduate and former student of Sister Allen, came to offer his support at her book signing. "Sister Allen was an amazing teacher," said de Winter, who is now an independent History major. "She was always challenging, and made her students think. I have great respect for her as a professor."
"Sister Allen was an outstanding teacher," concurred Murray Clarke, Chair of the Philosophy Department, who has known her for about a decade. "She was always an excellent researcher and we were delighted that this book could come out of the Department. Her retirement was a great loss."

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 BC - 1250 AD, 585 pages, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Comp., Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge U.K. $50.75.

Copyright 1998 Thursday Reports
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