Rebecca Krawiec

in Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery

Published in print February 2002 | ISBN: 9780195129434
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834396 | DOI:

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I begin by giving a general description of Shenoute and what survives of his monastic literature. I then turn to the evidence of women's lives within that literature, focusing on 13 letter fragments that address the female community or individual female monks directly. I argue that the genre of this material requires a methodology similar to that of feminist studies of Paul, rather than solely comparing Shenoute to his contemporaries: both Shenoute and Paul wrote rhetorically complex letters that responded to actual events, indeed crises, in physically distant communities over which they wished to exert their authority. I then lay out the major arguments of the chapters that follow, which, after giving a narrative of the women's conflicts recorded in the letters, analyze the material through three lenses, namely, power, gender, and family. One central thesis links these three approaches: that Shenoute advocated a universal monasticism he defined in terms of purity of the body (both individual and communal), a purity that could result from properly disciplining the flesh by the spirit so that differences located in the flesh (gender, biological kinship, social status) would not affect monastic or ascetic practices

Keywords: ascetic; body; feminist; flesh; genre; methodology; monastic literature; Paul; purity; spirit

Chapter.  5049 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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