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Eschatological time as women’s time? Gendered temporality and female holiness in Early Christianity and Byzantium

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Gentime (Eschatological time as women’s time? Gendered temporality and female holiness in Early Christianity and Byzantium)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

The project GenTime (Eschatological Time as Women’s Time? Gendered Temporality and Female Holiness in Early Christianity and Byzantium) investigates the nexus between time and the construction of the feminine in Late Antique and Byzantine hagiographical discourses. By looking both at ways time is experienced through the body and construed by society and religion, GenTime engages with a highly debated problem in Byzantine studies: why did female saints progressively disappear over the Byzantine millennium? GenTime argues that this trajectory has to be understood against the eschatological expectations shaping early Christian ideals of female holiness.
The enquiry was informed by three main questions:
1) How does the new notion of the end of time affect early Christian ideas of gendered temporality?
This first research question explored how eschatological tensions shaped gendered time in the apocryphal acts and early vitae and passions, exerting a lasting influence on the relevant narrative patterns. Taking its cue from the Acts of Paul and Thecla, it investigated how these scripts are transformed in late antiquity, by analyzing the process of adaptation in the Byzantine Lives of female saints that look explicitly at Thecla as a model.
2) What happens to entrenched narratives of gendered temporality when the eschatological horizon becomes less urgent?
The second research question focused on the middle Byzantine lives of holy women to highlight the dynamics between different models of temporalities. The analysis showed how the eschatological horizon is explicitly downplayed - if not denied - by the Byzantine lives of women saints.
3) How does the inscription of women’s time into the social practices affect narratives about female sainthood in the Middle Byzantine period?
The third and last research question aimed to prove that the Byzantine lives of women saints pointed to a repossessing of historical, non-eschatological time by female agency, thus showing how a new sense of historical temporality affected policies of holiness in a cenobitic context. The analysis proved that new notions of secular temporalities, emphasizing linear progression within history, emerged. The shift was determined by processes of “domestication” of the eschatological radicalism and by the turn from apocalypticism to a restored notion of historical time. In the same period family became more and more important in Byzantium, with a shift in the role of women.
In consideration of the current state of the art, GenTime is an innovative project: while it tackles a topic presently at center stage in scholarship on early Christianity and Byzantium (gender studies and hagiography), it opens up a new avenue of research, looking at social and gendered constructions of temporality. In addition, through the angle of gender and time, this project adds new meanings to much debated texts, and the focus on the relationship between time and gender also establishes a conversation with modernity, raising awareness on the enduring conflict between different typologies of gendered temporalities.
Work performed during the fellowship was ascribed to seven specific work packages:
Data Collection. This first preliminary work package aimed at creating a data collection on 3 groups of texts referring to 3 different forms of temporalities respectively: 1) eschatologies; 2) temporalities; 3) memorialization. The isolation of direct and indirect references to the 3 forms of temporalities has been successfully achieved and provided a solid basis for the construction of an overall theoretical framework allowing for cross-references between WP.
Eschatologies. Aim of this WP was to explore how eschatological tensions shaped gendered time in the apocryphal acts and early vitae and passions, exerting a lasting influence on the relevant narrative patterns.
Temporalities. WP3 focused on the transition between early christian female models and the middle Byzantine lives of holy wives. Aim of WP3 was to highlight the dynamics between different models of temporalities.
Secondment. An online five-month secondment has proved to be extremely fruitful in terms of analyzing hagiography through the angle of gender studies. The intensive monthly sessions of the secondment resulted not only in the discussion and improvement of articles and presentations at conferences, but also in the writing of an additional draft article not planned in the original schedule.
Memorialization. Aim of this WP was to show that a new sense of historical temporality affected policies of holiness in a Byzantine cenobitic context: this also highlights a repossessing of historical, non-eschatological time by female agency.
Training. Specific tasks of the training were: 1) acquiring skills in Byzantine Greek; 2) early career training; 3) Science Communication training; 4) reading group on the Vision of Anastasia.
The overall analysis of the set of sources listed in the original research plan proved to be successful in terms of outlining a new model for the investigation of gender issues in late antique and Byzantine sources. The reference to the notion of ‘gendered temporality’ as a theoretical framework for a different and new understanding of women’s social and religious agency in late antiquity and Byzantium showed that: 1) texts traditionally studied in isolation due to chronology and genres can be fruitfully brought together within a successful attempt to describe a consistent arch within late antique and Byzantine cultural history; 2) through the angle of gender and time new meanings to much debated texts can be fruitfully added; 3) ancient and medieval texts can be fruitfully connected to modernity, raising awareness on the enduring conflict between different typologies of gendered temporalities.
The deliverables produced are here provided and exceed the stated expectations:
I wrote 8 articles (1 has already been published; 1 is currently in press; 1 has been already accepted for publication after a peer review process; 1 has been accepted by the journal and is currently under peer review process; the remaining 4 articles are in a first complete draft and will be submitted between 2021 and 2022).
I participated in 8 international conferences and workshops. I have also organized a panel on Women in Early Christianity at the International Annual Meeting on Christian Origins (Bertinoro, 1-3 October 2021), and an international online conference with invited speakers (from Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, Cyprus) on 11-12 May 2021.
GenTime deals with early Christian and Byzantine/medieval sources; therefore, it is targeted mainly at scholars of religious and literary studies. However, the subject at its core is topical as it reflects on the dialectics between integration/assimilation, minority/majority cultures, as well as gender/societal values, all of them of major concern in modern societies. In this sense, it is a project with a wider societal implications: it raises awareness among contemporary audiences about the ways gendered discourses of time have historically been used to promote life-styles that have less to do with women’s empowerment and more with power struggles between male-dominated social groups.
Poster of the International online Conference