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Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery$
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Rebecca Krawiec

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195129434

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195129431.001.0001

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Gender and Monasticism in Late Antiquity

Gender and Monasticism in Late Antiquity

(p.120) 6 Gender and Monasticism in Late Antiquity
Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery

Rebecca Krawiec (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The coexistence of two apparently contradictory attitudes towards gender in Shenoute's monasticism engage the variety of literature describing female monastic experiences in late antiquity. This chapter describes the evidence for Egyptian monasticism, including virgins living in the cities, the desert mothers of Upper Egypt, and the female community under Pachomius; the dual monasteries of Jerome and Paula in Palestine; and a letter by Augustine written to a female monastery undergoing conflicts of leadership similar to Shenoute's. I conclude that the different nature of the various sources make a one‐to‐one comparison difficult but that, in general, Shenoute seems to have been more willing than his male counterparts to be intimately involved in the female community. I then examine another gender issue of late antique Christianity, namely, the role of eunuchs, especially those who voluntarily castrate themselves. Here I argue that Shenoute was unable to tolerate the presence of these individuals because their sexual ambiguity called into question the essentialism of gender in the construction of the self, as well as the gendered foundations of the monastery.

Keywords:   Augustine, castrate, desert mothers, essentialism, eunuchs, gender, Pachomius, Palestine, self, virgins

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