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Material Culture as Agent in In-Between-Spaces of Religion and Gender

Panel Chair: Bärbel Beinhauer-Köhler, Edith Franke | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Our panel looks at the material representations shaping or dissolving the categories of religion and gender. In analyzing the use or active role of material media (e.g. “objects”, architecture, pictorial representations) we explore changing constructions of gender as part of fluid religions. This goes beyond the simple reconstruction of interdependencies of religion and gender (e.g. gender patterns and social orders in narrations and textual discourses) since our understanding of both categories focuses on flexible aspects: gender-patterns shift in encounters between religions and cultures, religions are no fixed entities. Moreover we want to contribute to debates about material culture. Therefore we will look at how materiality – in contrast to first hand impressions – does not play a mere static role as a passive medium of ideas but is a dynamic part of religious cultural systems and their development: material religion forms, leads, emotionalizes and realizes – in this case – gender patterns.

Birgit Heller

Images of God/ess and Transgender in Hindu Traditions

From Ancient times the imagery and mythology of the most important Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva – who are personified as males – comprise the well-known and popular representations of transgender phenomena. For special purposes Vishnu takes on a female form called Mohinī, whereas the androgynous manifestation of Shiva as Ardhanārīshvara unites the male god with his female counterpart. The significance of these images does not remain the same throughout history. The varying interpretations change according to different cultural contexts, developments, discourses and interests. Regarding Vishnu Mohinī, she may represent the classical pattern of the temptress, but can also be considered as a transsexual. Pictorial representations act as powerful symbols which legitimate traditional patterns of sex and gender, as well as their dynamic transformations.

Bärbel Beinhauer-Köhler

Wealthy Women Marking Public Urban Spaces in Cairo around AD 1200. Reconstructing their Material Traces

Inscriptions on buildings marked quarters as well as spaces of interest and power by engraved statements of their founders that could be seen by everyone (I. Bierman 1998). The founders of these buildings ca. AD 1200 were not only important political figures, such as Sultans and Wazirs. The Ayyubid dynasty in Syria is after AD 1200 is increasingly being identified with the female sponsors of religious architecture. Earlier traces of this tradition can be found in Fatimid Cairo and moreover among different religious groups. It seems that wealthy women showed their agency in society by marking urban spaces with architecture: they underlined their identities, their economic abilities as well as their piety. Recognizing this material leads to further discussions about patterns of “the Islamic city”, in-between-discourses of their pluralistic inhabitants as well as the stereotype of women as passive and unseen.

Anna-Katharina Höpflinger

Gendered Death? Roman-Catholic Ossuary-Chapels as In-Between-Spaces

In European Roman-Catholic regions bones of the deceased have been collected in ossuary-chapels. Their main function was a normative one: The exposed mortal remains reminded the living of death, and demanded of them a virtuous life. To explain the interrelation between such normative demands and the material representation of death, a gender-based perspective can be applied: The memento mori-semantics imply gender-concepts, because a good life depends on gender-specific regulations. Ossuaries offer, in their material representation, gendered ideas of death: e.g. wall paintings of male and female Reapers. However ossuaries also represent a non-gendered equality in death: girls, boys, women, and men, are nothing more than bones, arranged side by side. I shall elaborate upon these gender aspects of ossuary-chapels with examples from Switzerland and argue that ossuaries can be understood as In-Between-Spaces for gender concepts: They support a gendered society, but at the same time they also negate gender differences.

Edith Franke

Popular/ised Images of Sacredness as Spaces between Normative Systems of Belief

Religious objects and images are more than static or passive materialisations of concepts and expressions of normative religious teachings. Material religion, such as, objects of everyday religious praxis and popular religious culture, form, lead, emotionalise and realise patterns of religious praxis and gender-roles. Complementing those objects and images that comply to religious dogma, they reflect or enable non-conform beliefs and religious practices. This paper is focused on a selection of religious objects held in the collection of the Philipps-University Marburg‘s Museum of Religions. A look at the origin and meaning of the Christian "volto santo" motif, the so-called "Heilige Kümmernis", as well as the Javanese wayang figure "Semar" will show their relevance in the transformation of religious practice and gender roles.


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Thematic Outline

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