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Unreliable WitnessesReligion, Gender, and History in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean$
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Ross Shepard Kraemer

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199743186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199743186.001.0001

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

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

(p.243) 7 Rethinking Gender, History, and Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean
Unreliable Witnesses

Ross Shepard Kraemer (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

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

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