Gender and Religion in Early Modern Europe

Volos, 20-21 June 2008
Main University Library

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Aglaia Kasdagli (University of Crete)
Gender and religion in the early modern Aegean: the evidence of the sources

In the seventeenth century the Aegean islands constituted a multi-religious and multi-cultural milieu. The growing Ottoman expansion and ultimate conquest of the entire region had not eradicated Western influence altogether: next to the long-established Venetian presence that of France had been recently gaining weight. The dwindling Latin minorities of the islands had taken a new lease of life, while at the same time the policy adopted by the Ottoman administration strengthened the majority of Orthodox Greeks and encouraged anti-Latin feeling. The role, therefore of religion in shaping the identities of the islanders was undoubtedly important. Some narrative or “formal” documentation allows a glimpse into the specific ideology propagated or the conflicts that marked intercommunal relations: these are letters, memoirs or reports by Jesuit missionaries or by the inspectors sent from Rome to inspect the Latin Churches of the East; there are also patriarchal decrees and letters or reports on the activities of those tireless peripatetic preachers, the Athonite monks. The problem with this type of sources is that they tend to be normative and abound in stereotypes. We can hardly depend on them to detect how the islanders experienced religion and how far religious practices (such as fasting, mourning or attempting to secure salvation by testamentary provisions) were gender-specific. In an attempt to throw some light on the matter I have looked for any scrap of information available in documents of legal practice. Such documents seldom deal directly with religion, but one way or another, the issue comes to the surface continuously. This is in itself suggestive of the deep mark religion left on these small parochial societies, but the question is how far this suggestion is substantial enough to lend itself to theories and interpretations.