Women's Role in the Monastic Family

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:
Women's Role in the Monastic Family

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I argue that in terms of both language and function, the White Monastery becomes a monastic family that replaces, in an idealized form, the families the monks are to have renounced. The use of kinship language allows Shenoute to stress egalitarian relationships, where all monks including Shenoute are “brethren,” even as he also uses particularly female metaphors of childbirth and infertility to define the proper monastic life. In addition, Shenoute's use of familial imagery allows him to create a genealogy that traces the monks’ “ancestry” to past biblical figures. I then move to an investigation of points of comparison between the Egyptian family and the monastery – that both provide food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support – to show how the family was a model for the monastery. Of particular importance is the shared expectation that the women's role in both was to provide clothing, thus allowing gendered, indeed patriarchal, aspects of the nonmonastic family to affect the monastery.

Keywords: childbirth; clothing; egalitarian; family; genealogy; infertility; metaphor; model; patriarchal; women's role

Chapter.  16211 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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