Habitual Gender: Rhetorical Androgyny in Franciscan Texts
Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholar Award Second-Place Winner
This article examines the notion of “rhetorical androgyny” in medieval and contemporary Franciscan hagiography. Rhetorical androgyny is androgyny that exists as spiritual motivation in religious texts but finds no corollary in everyday life due to social constraints. Depictions of St. Francis of Assisi's transformation stress his assumption of feminine characteristics, but even as androgynous existence is upheld as the epitome of pious achievement, the very definition of androgyny is problematized. A demonstration of feminine qualities enhances the male saint while the woman saint closest to him, Clare of Assisi, may not assimilate masculinity. Nevertheless, the female saint achieves a higher state of androgyny in medieval sources than she does in modern representation due to a foregrounding of the tension between social constraints and spiritual ideals in religious texts of the Middle Ages.
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