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Religious and Gender Ideals in Middle Byzantine Typika

Bearbeiter: James Hooper

Typika serve as lasting records of religious perspectives written by leading monastic figures, accustomed to overseeing a transformation in initiates, and directing their community's activities and practices. Through these documents, a charismatic founder could assert themselves institutionally, even after death. Accordingly, each surviving typikon serves as evidence for the religious mores of their era, as indicated by the prescriptive instructions of a particular leading figure. They served as lasting records of their desires for the community’s continuation after their death. Monasteries were institutions which lasted across generations, intended (in certain cases quite explicitly) to last indefinitely. Using a range of techniques, such as close instructions of expected routines for monks, and the use of symbolic logic (such as equating monasteries to families, or brothers to a body’s limbs), typika presented a picture of an ideal community, which subsequent generations would continue to enact. These writers specifically aimed to instruct their audiences in cultivating lives alterior to those typical in lay society. As such, they operated as ethical manuals for a religious elite.

For our purposes, typika are to be treated as historical records of religious ideals, and practice. Arguments in these texts often reference particular conduct (whether encouraged or discouraged) as fitting for a religiously dedicated Christian. These texts served as documents both influenced by social forces prevailing at the time they were written, and influential on the monasteries they were written for. They indicate the existing ideals and concerns pursued by monastic leaders; while also seeking to formulate an ideal community to direct their presumed audience, and continue to serve as the basis of inspiration for a particular community’s ethos.

This research will primarily focus on the foundational material of Mount Athos, during the formal establishment of monasteries there (the 10th and 11th centuries). Prior to this shift towards Lavrite and coenobitic monasticism, the Athos peninsula was already a notable centre for those pursuing the religious life, and had been inhabited by eremitic figures. After the shift towards serving as a formalised, imperially supported hub of collective monasteries, Mount Athos would come to play a prominent role in the Empire’s history (especially in serving as the birthplace of the Hesychasm movement).

I will explore these document’s prohibition of women, eunuchs and boys from Athonite monasteries. This topic is especially of interest in that it was established early in the process of formalisation, but later required an intervention from Emperor Constantine IX to enforce. In this way, it appears to offer a means of analysing both the gender history of middle Byzantine monasticism, and the relation of imperial power to these religious centres. I will examine both the context of these restrictions both specifically within the history of monastic institutions, and in light of broader shifts in Byzantine social relations.

I will also consider how this gender-based exclusionary principle served as part of the creation of sacred spaces, or ‘Hierotopy’, a category of analysis proposed by Lidov (2006). Athanasios the Athonite, influential founder of Athos’ Great Lavra monastery, will be considered as an example what Lidov terms a ‘concepteur’: a figure directively instrumental in the creation of a holy site, across multiple fields. Previously scholarly accounts of Athanasios’ success have emphasised his ‘structural’ role, in providing the ‘Lavrite’ compromise between fully collective or eremitic life (with a core community orbited by a select number of seasoned and proven monks, engaging in eremitism formally sanctioned by their superior). While this is likely to have served as one aspect of the Lavra’s success, I will instead consider his normative texts as evidence of Athanasios’ effort to establish a community which proved both compelling to outsiders, and durable across time.

As a Byzantine point of comparison, the typikon of the Kecharitome monastery, written by Empress Irene Doukais Komnenos will also be historically analysed. This will provide another middle Byzantine example of a normative text, authored by a highest tier aristocrat, which features particularly prominent references to gender. Following an article analysing Byzantine women’s monasticism by Abrahamse (1985), I will consider the implications Komnenos’ envisioned female-run community (with eunuchs serving as subordinated administrators). I am especially interested in using the Kecharitome typika as a means of assessing the claim of Halsall (1999), that the increased prominence of marriage resulted in middle Byzantines experiencing intractable difficulties in envisioning holy women. This normative document will be compared with the exclusively mature male world intended by the founders of Athos, to analyse the operations of Byzantine gender relations. Through examination alongside Athonian texts, the Kecharitome typika will provide a means of considering the severing of social (and especially familial) ties as a focus of middle Byzantine asceticism.

The mentioned material will be evaluated alongside the treatment of temptation and community in the Rule of Augustine, and familial metaphor in St. Francis’ instructions to hermits. Through this comparative historical treatment, both the commonalities and divergences of the approaches to gender and asceticism found in these religious manuals offer will be evaluated.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gert Melville

Wiss. Geschäftsführerin / Koordinatorin: Priv.-Doz. Dr. Cristina Andenna

Technische Universität
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04. Dezember 2018, 18:30 Uhr
C. Stephen Jaeger, University of Illinois


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