Julia Kelto Lillis

Julia Kelto Lillis is the Assistant Professor of Early Church History at Union Theological Seminary. Her primary research interests concern ancient constructions of social difference, especially in areas we today call gender and sexuality, and the ways they are discussed in early Christian texts. Her teaching areas span multiple periods of Christians’ history and literature, ancient genders and sexualities, early Christian theologians and saints, and diverse ancient perspectives on the body, healing, and disabilities.

Dr. Kelto Lillis’s first monograph, Virgin Territory: Configuring Female Virginity in Early Christianity (University of California Press, 2022), explores the variety of definitions that early Christians and their neighbors formed for virginity as they discussed its value. Her earlier article “Paradox in Partu: Verifying Virginity in the Protevangelium of James” (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 2016) was awarded the American Society of Church History’s Jane Dempsey Douglass prize as an outstanding contribution to the historical study of women in Christianity. Her next book examines notions of genderless personhood that some early Christians imagined for heavenly or earthly human life. Other research interests include the history of New Testament canon formation, the early saint Thecla, and the ways ancient Christian authors utilize gender in preached or written works. Dr. Kelto Lillis has served on the executive board of the academic working group ReMeDHe (pronounced “remedy”: Religion, Medicine, Disability, Health, and Healing in late antiquity), and her work on virginity, gender instability, and concepts of purity and pollution draws from a strong interest in ancient medical reasoning as well as ancient social and theological reasoning.

Dr. Kelto Lillis has taught in numerous faith communities and in academic institutions of all sizes. She received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching during her doctoral studies at Duke University and Duke Divinity School. Prior to joining the Union faculty, she taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the Department of Religion at Luther College. She is passionate about making ancient texts and contexts accessible to present-day audiences, and she sees thinkers of past periods as stimulating conversation partners for present-day concerns with identity, health, social justice, and religious and theological boundaries and intersections. At home and church, she invests in the rich opportunities of ecumenical connection within a two-denomination family and through church music. In professional circles, she works to create community and access through virtual spaces for scholars, staff, and students.