Religion and Migrating Genders and Loves

Marianne Schleicher, Anna Rebecca Solevåg
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16:00 - 17:15
COMPAS - Online (Zoom)
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Lectures and seminars
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Diffractions of Migration, Gender, and Love among Jews in Medieval Europe
Marianne Schleicher, Associate Professor in Jewish Studies, Department for the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark

To understand how material-discursive aspects of migration, gender, and love diffract each other and as such affect contexts of and orientations in individuals and groups, we need “situated knowledges” not only from contemporary and global contexts, but also from different periods in time.

This presentation offers one glimpse into gender and love among Jews in Medieval Europe who lived in exile, often with displacement and migration experiences as a common denominator. From the Spinozian perspective of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy of becoming and based on an analysis of relevant passages in Sefer Hasidim, the Hebrew First Crusade narratives and Eleazar of Worm’s elegies for his wife and daughters as well as rabbinical rulings and adjustments of Jewish law by e.g. Gershom of Mainz and RaShI, I shall focus on how migration sometimes stimulated normative performances of gender and love; at other times motivated normative deviation therefrom.

The male identity of intersexed people and the criminalization of “lesbianism” were segmented, but so were women’s rights to use contraception, to initiate divorce and to keep her own dowry. More women became agentic in public domains of religion and commerce; yet, were still “trafficked”, but now to establish commercial trade relations between business houses far apart. Due to many Jewish men’s perpetuated migration now in relation to trade, legal experiments were made to protect young women from their husband’s long-term absence and lack of financial sponsorship. Experiments included women’s rights to travelling alone, to dormant divorce bills in case the husband stayed away for more than 18 months, and most importantly a ban on polygyny to prevent men from marrying more women along their trade routes in far-away countries. Reproduction rates lowered to 1.7 child per couple, now living in nucleus families of only two generations, directing mothers and daughters toward education in writing and accounting skills, turning them into important agents in the family businesses.

In this Deleuzian perspective, migration involves movement and shifts at increased velocity and detectable instability, vulnerability, and chaos, thus overtly threatening segmentations that otherwise function to uphold illusory, yet vital senses of stability. However, migration also allowed for ruptures in conceptions of gender and love, just as gender and love changed the migration experiences where the intraaction of all three phenomena sometimes have led to increased agency and new domains for Jewish genders and loves.

Migration, Gender and Love during the Roman Empire: The Case of Migrant Women in the New Testament
Anna Rebecca Solevåg, Director, Centre for Mission and Global Studies Professor of New Testament Studies, VID Specialized University, Stavanger, Norway

The New Testament is a valuable source for the study of migration during the Roman Empire, including the migration of women. Drawing on migration theory, migration history, and intersectional theory, this presentation will present three women from the New Testament material: Prisca (Acts 18; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19), Lydia (Acts 16:13-15) and Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2) and argue that there are historical patterns of migration behind these textual representations.

Migration historians have countered the claim that migration and mobility is a phenomenon that came with modernity. The Ancient Mediterranean world is one example of a pre-modern society in which migration and travel was widespread. During the Roman Empire a number of factors conducive to travel and migration were in place, such as peace and political stability, various means of travel and transportation, and few restrictions on travel in the form of state control.

I will use the textual traces of Prisca, Lydia, and Phoebe to address some central topics concerning migration during the Roman Empire. One such topic is the presence of migrant networks, including religious networks such as the Jewish diaspora. Another is the spectrum of migration from voluntary (e.g. trade) to forced (e.g. slave trafficking). The topic of love will be addressed by comparing these texts with the ancient Greek novels (Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe; Xenophon of Ephesus’s An Ephesian Tale; Achilles Tatius’s Leucippe and Clitophon; Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe; and Heliodorus’s An Ethiopian Story). These novels were written around the same time (1st – 2nd c. CE), and within this body of literature women are depicted as on the move. In contrast to the New Testament texts, however, romantic love is an essential part of the travel narrative – the end of the journey results in the reunion with the beloved. In the case of Prisca, Lydia and Phoebe, their migration is connected to work (such as trade and missionary work) as well as religious persecution. Yet, through their stories we can glimpse various family connections that might tell us something about the interrelations between migration, gender and love.