(Im)pure thoughts : rethinking women's ritual and physical impurity
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Cursed. Polluted. At times demonic, often ill and aberrant. Across time and space, political lines and religious traditions, menstruating women have been and are today described in these and myriad other ways. Almost universally, the blood of menstruation marks women as not only different but also dirty. Yet why, how and to what end are women's bodies situated so that they become the nexus of impurity? Scholars have established intra-cultural connections between the biological process of menstruation and its articulation as impure. Missing from academic conversation, however, is a feminist-centered analysis of this impurity from a cross-cultural perspective that incorporates the symbolic significance of menstrual blood with a community's changing reactions to it. To counter this absence, I am undertaking a historical-comparative investigation of the interconnection of religious, cultural and political histories with women's perceived ritual and physical impurity. Using the religious and ritual traditions of Zoroastrianism and Judaism, both of which reflect prevalent themes of impurity specific to menstrual blood in their respective sacred texts and socio-religious practice, I analyze the evolution and intensification of a community's attention to impurity during times of chaos or change in their respective histories. This data provides rich information with which to articulate a theory about the connection of women's bodies and chaos.