Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion
These seven essays by noted historian Caroline Walker Bynum exemplify her argumentthat historians must write in a "comic" mode, aware of history's artifice, risks, and incompletion.Exploring a diverse array of medieval texts, the essays show how women were able to appropriatedominant social symbols in ways that revised and undercut them, allowing their own creative andreligious voices to emerge. Taken together, they provide a model of how to account for gender instudying medieval texts and offer a new interpretation of the role of asceticism and mysticism inChristianity.In the first three essays, Bynum focuses on the methodological problems inherent in thewriting of history. She shows that a consideration of medieval texts written by women and therituals attractive to them undermines the approaches of three 20th-century intellectual figures -Victor Turner, Max Weber, and Leo Steinberg - and illustrates how other disciplines can enrichhistorical research. These methodological considerations are then used in the next three essays toexamine gender proper. While describing the "experiential" literary voices of medieval women, Bynumunderlines the corporality of women's piety and focuses on both the cultural construction and theintractable physicality of the body itself. She also examines how the acts and attitudes of menaffected the cultural construction of categories such as "female," "heretic," and "saint" and showsthat the study of gender is the study of how roles and possibilities are conceptualized by bothwomen and men. In the final essay, Bynum elucidates how medieval discussions of bodily resurrectionand the obsession with material details enrich modem debates over questions of self-identity andsurvival.Caroline Walker Bynum is a MacArthur Fellow and recipient of the Schaff Prize for ChurchHistory for her highly acclaimed Holy Feast, Holy Fast. She is Professor of History at ColumbiaUniversity.
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