The research project Lived Scriptures in Late Antiquity: Ascetics, Martyrs, Miracle Workers (Academy of Finland, 2018-2022) was officially launched on Friday, January 25 at the Faculty of Theology. At the launch event, project leader Outi Lehtipuu presented the project's key themes and project members Susanna Asikainen and Vilja Alanko further elaborated them by presenting their prospective research within the project. The keynote speaker of the event was Professor Marianne Bjelland Kartzow (University of Oslo), one of the members of the project’s international advisory board. In her talk, Kartzow commented on the overall project and its objectives from the perspective her own research.
In her presentation ‘Illiterate Bodies and Imaginary Scripture’, Kartzow encouraged the project members to engage critically with different concepts and analytical tools that make the framework for the project. For example, she pointed to how the critical studies of gender that have presented us that gender is a fluid category both in antiquity and in the present. ‘The category of woman … is not unified and given. Women is not one thing, as is not men: They can be old or young, poor or rich, coloured or not, able-bodied or not.’ When studying ancient texts, intersectional critique needs to be taken into account: the category of woman is always constructed and modified by other power structures, such as race, class, age and religion. It is both a methodological challenge and a responsibility of the researcher to take these notions into account.
Furthermore, while it is evident that in a patriarchal culture, men are in the centre and women at the margins, it is important to realize that also within the margins, new margins and centres are constructed. A full picture of women and their lived experience only emerges when noticing the variety of women and the hierarchies between them.
Kartzow also noted that from a gender perspective the welcome shift of focus from doctrine to practice and lived experience may entail the danger of reimagining women as particularly embodied, mostly concerned with everyday life, naturally oral and gossipy, and not dealing with complicated doctrine, reasoning, conceptualization, and public affairs. Accordingly, they belong to the margins, far away from the center, lacking the skills needed to engage in reading, writing or more advanced cultural production.
Does this mean that we are accepting the gender rhetoric, the male fantasy in the texts we study? The sources tell about gender-divided lives and spaces by the use of gender stereotypes, related to bodies, speech and talk, and reproduction. However, women did not read only with their bodies. There is ample evidence that some women were not only living scripture in an oral community, they were also reading it, perhaps even writing it, copying it, and transmitting it. ‘These exceptions may contribute to how we reimagine how scriptures were lived, as both created and recreated.’
The launch of the project was further carried out in a writing retreat with Professor Kartzow in Hvittorp educational centre. During the retreat, the project members' individual projects were discussed in more detail, and the future activities of the project Lived Scriptures were further sketched out.