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Title: The sexual and reproductive health of women in sixth-century Christianity
Author: Groff, E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7962 9353
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis is about the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of women in the sixth-century Christianity. It employs World Health Organization categories of SRH because, far from being unhelpfully anachronistic, I argue, they can offer useful new angles from which we can inquire about the nuanced concept of "health" found in ancient sources. Furthermore, these categories well describe the spectrum of ancient sexuality as I mean to define it in the present study, that is, encompassing "all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions" and looking at a woman's "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being" in relation to sexuality and reproduction (WHO definition). Therefore this thesis seeks to explore what impact the social and moral changes brought about by the arrival of Christianity had on medical approaches to female sexuality and reproduction in the Byzantine world of the sixth century by engaging in a nuanced dialogue with medical and hagiographical texts. The research applies a comparative approach by looking at late antique attitudes to women's sexuality, women's sexual wellbeing and sexual pleasure, and women's reproductive power and autonomy in relation to classical antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It aims in particular to investigate the (male-centred) conceptualisation of the female sexual and reproductive body in the sixth-century Christianity, and the medical as well as religious responses to it, which defined the social identity and agency of women as mothers, wives or chaste but subordinate to a man's authority. This research arises out of my diverse academic background in Classics (BA), History of Religions (MA) and Anatomy (MSc), informed by my WHO training in sexual and reproductive health. As a trained ancient historian and human osteologist, my aim is to put the issue of SRH into an historical perspective and shed light on the evolution of SRH from antiquity into later times. Fertility, sterility, sexual rights are all key issues found in ancient sources that resonate with modern public debates today, affecting different parts of the world and different gender categories. By using the categories of the WHO, this thesis aims to develop a new understanding of the agency of Byzantine women who were often caught amongst reproduction, social and sexual expectations.
Supervisor: Langlands, R. ; Leith, D. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ancient Sexuality ; Gender ; Ancient Women's Health ; Byzantine women ; Hagiography ; Aetius of Amida ; Late Antiquity