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Queering Thecla: Divine Non-Conformity


The Acts of Paul and Thecla is a second-century CE Christian work detailing Thecla’s conversion to the apostle Paul’s teachings and her divine rescues from martyrdom. With this apocryphal text characterized by intricacies of gender, scholars debate Thecla’s relation to womanhood and sexuality. Thecla, in her devotion to Paul’s teachings on virginity, and in her multiple martyr episodes, is portrayed through a wide array of gendered actions. She is a woman both sacrificing and embracing her womanhood as well as a devoted lover, paradoxically desiring the pleasures of a virgin life. Through a queer theological framework that has been provided by revolutionary scholars, this project seeks to examine sexuality, pleasure, desire, gender non-conformity, and the voyeuristic gaze in the Acts of Paul and Thecla. Thecla’s adherence to a virgin life, her passion for Paul, and her rejection of consistently gendered practices are unmistakably breaking cisgender and heterosexual norms. The story is further queered through the voyeuristic gaze of God and Thecla’s desire for this gaze. This project, with an unapologetically queer lens, explores these elements and argues for embracing Thecla as a queer Christian character that can positively impact the way the modern queer community understands spirituality. 


Cambria Dyess is majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in Nonprofit Management and Community Leadership. After graduation, Cambria will enjoy taking a gap year or two before pursuing a Ph.D. path in Theology. They discovered a love for the Acts of Paul and Thecla in their first year at Salem and have been researching the intersections of gender and sexuality within the story ever since. During Cambria’s time at Salem, they’ve also grown into their transgender identity and discovered a passion for queer theology. Throughout this project, Cambria has combined his love of queer theology and Thecla into a cohesive paper that is an unapologetically queer culmination of what Cambria has learned in their time at Salem.