Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood

Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood

Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood

Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood


Between Poverty and the Pyre examines the history of the experience of widowhood across different cultures. It brings together a collection of essays by historians, anthropologists and philologists. The book shows how difficult it is to define the 'typical' widow, as the experiences of these women have differed so widely, not simply because of their different time periods and locations, but also becuase of their varying legal and religious status and economic conditions.The study is diverse with subjects ranging from:*Hindu wives who followed their husbands to the pyre*widows who were burned as witches*and widows who had to become prostitutes to stay alive.The book also explores Jesus's interest in widows and the experience of some well-known widows, such as Mohammed's first wife.


Since time immemorial widows have been associated with notions of ambiguity. They often represented a marginal group and, unlike widowers, their lives were controlled by many rules. This marginality may explain the small amount of attention which they receive in scholarly research. This lack of interest induced us to organize a colloquium on the position of widows throughout the centuries in the Mediterranean and western Europe and in those great religious traditions, Islam and Hinduism, which more and more are becoming a part of our own culture. We felt that the subject should be looked at from as many angles as possible and therefore invited historians, jurists, philologists, anthropologists, and theologians. the conference, which was held in Groningen in February 1992, was a great success and its proceedings will provide a basis for further historical and anthropological research into widowhood.

We thank all those who made the event possible. the Faculty of Theology of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and the Groninger Universiteits Fonds supported the conference with generous contributions. Mirjam Buigel-de Witte, secretary of the Centre for Religious Studies, proved to be of great assistance both before and during the conference. Ken Dowden was (as he so often is) very helpful and revised the English text of various contributions. We are grateful to Annemiek Boonstra for her assistance in compiling the index.

Finally, we thank the contributors for their enthusiasm and for their interest in the colloquium. Without them we would have been unable to offer the reader this volume with its various studies on widowhood past and present. These studies, we hope, may enable us to take a fresh look at the power relations between men and women, which are often at the basis of the many restrictions connected with widowhood.

Lourens P. van den Bosch, Jan N. Bremmer Centre for Religious Studies, Groningen, the Netherlands

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