Unweaving: A Response to Carol P. Christ

  • Miriam Peskowitz


My contribution to the roundtable exploration of “What ‘Feminist Studies in Religion’ Means” used the metaphor of weaving to make some points about current feminist practices. Using Roman stories about Penelope, the Homeric heroine who, to forestall her planned remarriage, weaves cloth by day and unweaves by night, I showed how the symbols of weaving and spinning that appear often in feminist writing on religion are enmeshed in masculinist traditions. The feminine qualities attached to weaving and spinning do not represent any inherent or essential penchant that women, as opposed to men, have for these tasks. Rather, these symbols have been—in several religious cultures as well as in “Western civilization”—useful tools for assigning gender, setting ideal standards of femininity, and confining the possibilities for women’s lives. But my conclusion was not that feminists must discard these symbols. Rather, I hoped to undermine the idea of feminine essence, or fundamental continuities between women, that often accompanies their use. When I am asked to think about the possibilities of feminism and feminist study in the future, several things become powerfully and poignantly clear: that we fight the temptation to claim an essence for women; that we not assume a universal connection between women; that we eschew desires for purity; that we recognize complexities where they occur; and that we resist building feminism on nostalgia.


Feminist Study Religious Culture Loeb Classical Library Feminist Writing Masculinist Culture 
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  1. 1.
    I find the phrase “broken Greek” the key to unraveling (so to speak) Christ’s work, especially when she pairs the phrase with “beautiful English.” The question that has often perturbed me about Christ’s feminist spiritual journeys to Greece is the extent to which they are located within the conventions of Euro-American travels to Greece. As the putative “birthplace” of “Western” civilization, Greece sits on the geographic margins of Europe but is central to a Euro-American fantasy of origins. In most versions of this ideology Greece is superior to all other civilizations, and is imagined as a pure and independent culture that emerged on its own, largely without “outside” influences. I also critique the way in which the Greek and Cretan women Christ meets are made into models for what is ancient and eternal. In the tradition of European travelers who, looking for pure origins, visit other places and ignore the “degenerate” cultures of the present, Christ, in her search for goddess spirituality, seems to ignore what I imagine must be the Orthodox Christianity that forms the lived ethos for many of these village women. See Inderpal Grewal, Home and Harem: Nation, Gender, Empire, and the Cultures of Travel (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. and Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), esp. 55–58.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 7.96–98.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Miriam Peskowitz, “Roundtable Discussion: What’s in a Name? Exploring the Dimensions of What ‘Feminist Studies in Religion’ Means,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 11, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 115–16 n. 10. Quotation on p. 33, n. 10 of this book.Google Scholar

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© Elizabeth A. Castelli 2001

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  • Miriam Peskowitz

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