“They Too Are Our Brethren”

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:
“They Too Are Our Brethren”

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Shenoute's goal for the monastery, including the female community, was to create one monastic experience for all monks “whether male or female.” His emphasis on uniformity was meant to preclude difference, especially gender difference, even as his language continually reinscribed the categories of “male” and “female.” Three areas – corporal punishment, fasting, and teaching – show evidence of change within the female community as a result of Shenoute's insistence on uniform monastic practices. Yet, Shenoute also, perhaps unwittingly, created an asymmetrical monastic hierarchy where all monks were subordinate to Shenoute, but the female monks were also under the authority of male envoys (with the same monastic rank as the female leaders) who served as proxies for Shenoute. Gender also served as a structural basis of the community: both a physical boundary, evident in the women's seclusion and the prohibition on visits between male and female monks, including relatives, and a cultural boundary, reinforced by Shenoute's alignment of the women with susceptibility to the Devil, separated, and so created difference between the male and female communities.

Keywords: boundary; corporal punishment; Devil; difference; fasting; gender; hierarchy; male or female; seclusion; uniformity

Chapter.  16350 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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