The Gender of the Religious: Wo/Men and the Invention of Monasticism

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This article analyzes the different textual techniques that, by marginalizing female religious life, have created the common perception that female monasticism was a mere variant of a dominant male monastic model. As a counter to that common perception, I examine what female and male monasticism shared in the early middle ages, and I ask to what extent we can regard medieval monastic life as a sequence of unisex experiments, that is, experiments of communal religious life that were not predominantly determined by the gender of practitioners. I then show that many central aspects of medieval monasticism were more rooted in concepts derived from female religious life than from male traditions, especially male traditions derived from desert eremeticism. Figuratively spoken, the first “medieval monk” may have been a nun.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOxford University Press
EditorsJudith Bennett, Ruth Marzo-Karras
Place of PublicationOxford
StatePublished - Dec 16 2013


  • Monasticism
  • Female Monasticism
  • Gender and Religion


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