Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture

Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture

Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture

Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture


In the current North American climate, the word "fetus" usually either evokes turbulent political issues or refers to a medicalized entity. However, these associations belie the extraordinary range of religious literature and oral traditions throughout the world in which the fetus features centrally as a powerful symbol or metaphor.


Vanessa R. Sasson and Jane Marie Law

In contemporary Western culture, the word “fetus” introduces either a political subject or a literal, medicalized entity. Neither of these frameworks gives sufficient credit to the vast array of literature and oral traditions emerging from religious cultures around the world that see within the fetus a symbol, a metaphor, an imagination. It is our argument that the fetus has been hijacked by two dominant and powerful modes— the political and the medical—and the potential of the fetus as symbol to serve as a gateway to imagination has been reduced as a result. This book grows out of the acknowledgment of the fact that, throughout much of human history and across most of the world’s cultures, when the fetus was imagined, it enjoyed a much wider range of symbolic and cultural subjectivities, often contributing possibilities of inclusivity, emergence, liminality, and transformation.

The editors recognize that even within contemporary language of the fetus as political or medical subject, the fetus functions as both a symbol and a sign—a symbol of the vulnerable, the unrecognized, even the violated; as a sign, pointing toward one’s ethical stand on issues of modern culture from embryonic stem cell research to abortion and the debate about when life begins. This circumscription of the fetus as literal subject has limited its symbolic potential, and our symbolic language is the poorer for it. the purpose of this book is to restore the nuance of the symbolism of the fetus, liberating it from the stultifying parameters of the abortion/embryonic stem cell debate, giving it room once again to function as a symbol of greater and more complex human emotions, dilemmas, and aspirations.

It has been well noted that the current cultural tendency to regard the fetus as both a medicalized entity and a political subject has been generated in large part by the relatively new phenomenon of widely . . .

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