"A separate people"? Some directions for comparative research on medieval women

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Research to date has often positioned women of minority cultures as a separate group. They were, in many cases, twice removed — both from the men in their communities and from the majority communities within which they lived. This essay discusses the benefits of including these women, both as separate groups and as part of cross cultural comparison and points to the possible contribution of such studies. In the three parts of this article I propose different strategies for studying minority and majority women using examples from the sources on Jews in medieval Europe. In the first section, the article explores how to learn from similarities and differences between majority and minority practices, focusing on wet-nursing practices and medical care. The second part of the article proposes examining how ordinary people themselves perceived the ‘religiousness’ of certain everyday practices and set their own boundaries to what they were and were not willing to do. In this case, I suggest that more attention be paid to the way medieval women (and men) turned daily actions into religious proclamations and how in some cases they involved members of other religions in what seem to be internal affairs. This, in turn, leads to a final, larger comparative question taken up in the final part of the article: how do the larger trajectories of transformations in women's roles and rights compare across different religious cultural traditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-228
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Medieval History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Jewish women -- History -- Middle Ages, 500-1500


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