Fluid Matters: Gendering Holy Blood and Holy Milk

Willy Jansen and Grietje Dresen

in Things

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780823239450
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780823239498 | DOI:

Series: Future of the Religious Past (FUP)

Fluid Matters: Gendering Holy Blood and Holy Milk

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This chapter discusses the religious meanings of blood and milk in Christianity and Islam. It is demonstrated that these meanings matter in the construction of men and women as differently and hierarchically placed religious and social subjects. Whereas male blood, as in the passion of Christ or Islamic blood sacrifices, has historically been valued as holy, female blood, in particular that of menstruation and childbirth, was considered impure and polluting and an argument to exclude women from religious leadership or certain religious practices. Milk, another bodily and quintessentially female fluid, mattered differently. In early Christianity Mary's milk was sacralised as a symbol of passing on the Word of God and adored in the Maria Lactans. But whereas the religious values attached to blood only increased in Christian history, that of milk declined. In Islam however, the high value attached to mothers' milk still can be seen in the ideas on milk kinship.

Keywords: Bodily fluids; Gender; Blood; Milk; Maria Lactans

Chapter.  8671 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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