genderofauthority2013

Ruling Bishops and Ruling Eunuchs, c. 400-1800

Conference organised by Almut Höfert, Matthew Mesley and Serena Tolino

The Program is now available here.

Wednesday 28th August – 30th August, 2013

Current speakers include:

  • Hugh Kennedy (SOAS, University of London)
  • Jane Hathaway  (Ohio State University)
  • Shaun Tougher (Cardiff University)
  • Nadia el-Cheikh (American University in Beirut):
  • Mathew Kuefler (San Diego State University)
  • Hans Peter Pökel (FU, Berlin)
  • Metin Kunt (Sabanci University, Istanbul)
  • Stephen Marritt (University of Glasgow)
  • Rachel Stone (King's College London)
  • Ruby Lal (Emory University, Atlanta)
  • Jennifer Jay (University of Alberta)
  • Antje Flüchter (University of Heidelberg)
  • Shane Gannon (Mount Royal University, Calgery)
  • Michael Höckelmann (University of Münster)
  • Serena Tolino (University of Zürich)
  • Matthew Mesley (University of Zürich)
  • Ezgi Dikici (Independent Scholar)
  • Jessica Hinchy (Nanyang Technological University)

From antiquity to modernity, pre-modern ruling systems in different parts of the world often shared a common feature: the participation of men who were either physically unable or normatively forbidden to father children. One the one hand, there were the childless eunuchs who fulfilled a variety of functions at courts in the Middle East, Byzantium and China; they were much more than simply guardians of the harem. Due to their specific “gender”, the eunuchs formed an integral part of the different ruling systems; indeed, they held a central position in court politics, and their loyalty towards the reigning dynasty was not conditional on nepotism or favouritism towards their family, since they were childless. On the other hand, we have the ruling priests: the celibate bishops both in the Byzantine Empire and Latin Europe. Whereas the Eastern Church tolerated eunuchs as priests, the Western Church demanded that a priest was not castrated, and that instead he needed to have the willpower and resolve to remain celibate. Bishops, who formed an integral part of the ruling elites in both the Western and Eastern were subject to the same rules surrounding celibacy, and were prevented in theory from fathering legitimate children.

Without aiming at a strict comparison between the two groups, this conference wants to take the phenomenon of pre-modern ruling systems that incorporate celibate or childless men, as a starting point in order to address the following questions:

(1)  What were the political and economical consequences of integrating men who were childless or without any legitimate children into the ruling elites and the respective networks of family and kinship?

(2)  If we take the definition of gender by R. Connell in his classic study on Masculinities (Gender as a social practice in relation to the “reproductive arena”), we might expect specific gender conceptions for both priests and eunuchs. How should we view these men: as a third gender; a hybrid gender; or as an asexual gender? Were they always gendered in a specific way or only in certain contexts or environments? And how did the actors perceive their own role in this respect? Is gender still “a useful tool of historical analysis” (Joan Scott) even, or should we adopt different approaches?

(3)  What was the relationship between these men and a divinely legitimized rule in respect to sacredness?

In asking these questions, this conference aims to shed light on the culture of political rule in a period before a strict biological dichotomy of the sexes might be said to have existed. We hope that the ensuing discussion and debate will open up new perspectives on the connections, parallels and peculiarities that can be discovered between rule and gender on a pre-modern global level. The papers will explore such themes within the Middle East, the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity and Byzantium, Latin Europe, China and other geographic areas.

Currently there is space for two doctoral candidates to deliver a 25-minute paper on any geographical area. Financial support will include accommodation and travel costs to and from the conference.

If interested please send a 1 page CV along with an abstract of not more than 300 words to matthew.mesley@uzh.ch, by March  31st 2013.

The conference will be held at the University of Zurich between Wednesday 28th August – 30th August, 2013. Registration, which will be free, will begin at 2.30pm on Wednesday.

Questions and queries about the conference programme or the call for papers can be directed to Matthew Mesley, University of Zurich, (matthew.mesley@uzh.ch)

Accommodation and transport queries should be sent to Serena Tolino, University of Zürich, (serena.tolino@uzh.ch)

Registration details will be forthcoming.