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date: 04 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Monastic rules, manuscript studies, female monasticism, female authors, early medieval monasticism, historiography of monasticism, gender differences, constructions of gender, grand narratives

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