The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography

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The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography. Edited by Dale B. Martin and Patricia Cox Miller. (Durham and London: Duke University Press. 2005. Pp. ix, 364. $89.95 cloth; $24.95 paperback.)

Dedicated to the pioneering scholar of late ancient studies, Duke University's Elizabeth Clark, The Cultural Turn offers specialists and students fifteen innovative essays in the fields of gender, asceticism, historiography, and Mediterranean history, c. 100-700 A.D. Dale Martin's fine introduction to the collection surveys cultural approaches to the study of late antiquity, maps out the intellectual heritages of new methodologies, and underscores the interdisciplinary nature of this exciting field. In so doing, Martin makes available for graduate students preparing for comprehensive exams a handy overview of the last thirty years of scholarship on late antiquity, from the field's origins in patristic studies to its fusion with social and cultural history, as well as anthropology, the philosophy of language, and linguistics. Acknowledging late antiquity's debt to the field work of cultural anthropologists, Martin notes that intrepid scholars must now "enter a world-a different and somewhat odd world-much the way an ethnographer would enter a foreign culture" (p. 5).

The fifteen essays then navigate the steadfast reader through the complexities of this "odd world," focusing on diverse topics such as Susan Harvey's inventive study of the gendered, liturgical speech of Syrian Christians and its performative spaces, to Blake Leyerle's provocative analysis of desert ascetic prohibitions against oral violence, that is, meat-eating or slanderous speech, itself considered a kind of symbolic cannibalism. James Goehring traces the export of the mythic Egyptian desert as exotic exchange-commodity, from its hagiographical origins to its Gallo-Roman reinvention. Equally intriguing are the intellectual forays into the body-history of late antiquity, including spiritual tattooing on virginal flesh (Virginia Burrus) and the "grotesque" bodies of harlot-saints (Patricia Cox Miller). David Brakke meticulously negotiates the charged territory between gender theory and women's history by arguing that rhetorical portraits of women in early ascetic texts do have "concrete effects for real women" (p. …


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