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Carol Coburn

Carol Coburn

Complete Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Coburn is a Professor Emerita of Religious Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies and the Director of the CSJ Heritage Center at Avila University.  Dr. Coburn received her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1988 where she worked as a Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant in the History Department and as teaching faculty in the Women’s Studies Department.  Since coming to Avila University in 1989, she has taught courses in education, history, psychology, religious studies and women’s studies.  Dr. Coburn has published two books on American religious history and women’s history, including Life at Four Corners: Religion, Gender and Education in a German Lutheran Community, 1868-1945 (University Press of Kansas, 1992) and Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920 (University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

Researching and publishing on the topics of Catholic sisters, religious history, and peace and justice, she has published numerous articles, essays, and book reviews, and presented over 40 papers at national and international venues.  Dr. Coburn has served as a consultant for three independent filmmakers on the topic of American sisters and social justice, including the PBS documentary, Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change (2007).  Additionally, she worked on the Consulting Team for the Smithsonian Exhibit: Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America (2009) and as a historian/consultant for the Sisters of St. John of God in Wexford, Ireland. Most recently she was part of a three-person Avila team to visit Sister of St. Joseph communities in Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina.  This coming academic year she will make presentations at conferences at Loyola University — Chicago and in New York City, as well as the International Symposium: The Nun in the World: A Transnational Study of Catholic Sisters and the Second Vatican Council, sponsored by the Cushwa Center for American Catholic Studies, University of Notre Dame (London, UK campus).

On Teaching

Knowledge is Power
. I often say this in my classes to make students think about the course I’m teaching and about their broader college experience in a way that goes well beyond perceiving their degree as just a career choice or as a means to an end. If this axiom was not true then cultures, including ours, would not have historically denied or limited education to certain groups of people based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, class and other markers of difference. In the 21st century it is still possible to be maimed or killed for trying to go to school in some parts of the world. Just ask Malala Yousafzai. I want my students to understand that education raises our expectations and encourages us to expand our worldview, beyond what we know or have experienced. I want students to think critically, engage in dialogue, and see themselves as change agents empowered to create and influence the world around them. Nobel Peace laureate Nelson Mandela knew this first hand when he said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.'”


B.S., Kansas State University
M.S., Kansas State University
Ph.D., University of Kansas

Research and Teaching Interests

Peace Studies and Social Justice
American Religious History
History of American Women Religious
The 3Rs: Race Religion and Reform in American Education
Images and Realities of Women: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Women, Religion and Community in the U.S.
Women in the American West

Selected Publications


Spirited Lives

Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920

Life at Four Corners

Life at Four Corners: Religion, Gender and Education in a German Lutheran Community, 1868-1945


Keynote Introduction to Envisioning the Future of Catholic Religious Archives: A working conference, Boston College (July 18, 2018).  

The Selma Effect: Catholic Nuns and Social Justice Fifty Years On,”  Global Sisters Report. Editor’s Choice Award for Top Ten Articles of 2015 – Ranked “Most Read” article for 2015.

Ahead of its Time . . . Or, Right on time?  The Role of the Sister Formation Conference for American Women Religious,”American Catholic Studies (Fall 2015). Awarded Best Scholarly Article by National Catholic Press Association, 2016

“Spirituality in the Wild,” America Magazine, 2009

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