Rethinking Gender, History, and Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean

Ross Shepard Kraemer

in Unreliable Witnesses

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199743186
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894680 | DOI:
Rethinking Gender, History, and Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean

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Drawing on previous chapters, this chapter explores further the relationships between religion and ancient constructions of gender. Most religion in the ancient Mediterranean was gender-specific. Shared practices usually had gendered dimensions: even seemingly gender-neutral Christian practices (prayer, prophecy, singing of hymns) encoded ancient constructions of gender. Engaging the work of Pierre Bourdieu that religion “ratifies and amplifies” already existing constructions of gender, the author concludes that religion is one of those many social practices that are both gendered and gendering. Religion in antiquity produced properly gendered persons, both female (passive, subordinated) and male (active, dominating). Yet some ancient religious practices constituted attacks on gender asymmetry and social imbalance, and gender was regularly a site of cultural contestation worked out in religious contexts, such as rabbinic and Christian refashionings of Roman constructions of masculinity. Kraemer ends with several observations. Unmasking the history, contingency, and artifice of gender threatens to unmask those of religious claims as well. Yet just as the emerging field of cognitive science may explain the cognitive basis of religious thinking without authorizing religion, so, too, it may be able to explain why ideas of gender difference are so pervasive in human thought, while allowing us to refuse them as well. Such work, though, remains to be done by others.

Keywords: gender; gender construction; contestation; Bourdieu; cognitive

Chapter.  14741 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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