Student Services Overview

DATE: Sunday,December 8, 2013
TIME: 4:30 p.m
PLACE: South Hall, Lambert Road campus
CANDIDATE: Kayleen Elizabeth Asbo
DISSERTATION TITLE: "Passion and Paradox: The Myths of Mary Magdalene in Music, Art and Culture"
CHAIR: Dr. Christine Downing
READER: Dr. Elizabeth Terzian

Asbo, K. (2013). Passion and Paradox: The Myths of Mary Magdalene in Music, Art and Culture (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2013)


Throughout the centuries, Mary Magdalene has occupied a unique position within the religious history of the West as the woman who has carried the collective Shadow of Christianity. In every epoch, Mary Magdalene stands at the crossroads of cultural tension and psychological paradox, holding countless images, projections and societal concerns, inspiring millions of acts of devotion and countless works of art and music.

This dissertation explores the mythology of Mary Magdalene from her earliest appearances as the faithful witness, disciple and apostle in the New Testament and apocryphal gospels through her later legends as a prostitute, contemplative hermit, princess and priestess, with particular attention paid to artistic and musical portrayals. I suggest that the emerging composite portrait of the 21st century is a healing image of wholeness that integrates all four aspects of the female psyche articulated by Toni Wolff (the Hetaira, Mother, Medial and Amazon) and that Mary Magdalene points the way to a reclamation of the sacred feminine and a reinvigoration of spiritual life.

Magdalene as an icon and mirror of cultural transformation is evident in recent contemporary classical music works, particularly in Mark Adamo’s opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. M experiences as resident mythologist for the San Francisco Opera during the world premiere of this work form the basis for my observations of the enormous transformational impact of images and stories of Mary Magdalene drawn from the apocryphal gospels and Gnostic tradition. Magdalene as woman who embodies anthropos, or full humanity, has become a catalyzing bridge for individual personal development and communities of diverse scholars and seekers.

This dissertation culminates with a multimedia dramatic production inspired by Medieval mystery plays. The Passion of Mary Magdalene interweaves Taize chants, instrumental music of Estonian composer Arvo Part, traditional Christian hymns and my original compositions with a text drawn from both the Canonical Gospel and the Gospel of Mary and includes images taken from pilgrimages to Mary Magdalene sites in France.

Key words: Magdalene, Christian spirituality, Gnostic-Sacred Feminine, Toni Wolff


Please note: All oral defense attendees must shuttle to the Lambert Road campus from the Best Western Hotel in Carpinteria. Parking on campus is not available.