Women with shaved heads: western Buddhist nuns and Haredi Jewish wives: polysemy, universalism and misinterpretations of hair symbolism in pluralistic societies
Keywords:Judaism, Buddhism, Nuns, Interviewing, Gender, Women, Monasticism and religious orders, Pluralism, Religious, Beauty culture, Hair, Baldness, Body, Human, Symbolism, Clothing and dress, Fashion, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Shaving, Feminist theory, Feminism
AbstractThis article focuses on female hair, or rather the absence of hair: it compares the symbols attached to shaved heads for Western Buddhist nuns and for Jewish married women from various Haredi or ‘ultra-orthodox’ groups, and the (mainly negative) representations of these in the external, secular society.The comparison is based on fieldwork research undertaken by the author. When interviewing Western nuns of Jewish origin, it appeared that their shaved heads had been very difficult to cope with for their families, to whom it was a reminder of the Holocaust. The same body treatment can thus represent, on one side, bliss (for the Buddhist nun for whom it is a symbol of libertation and spiritual engagement), and on the other side, horror (for her family and sometimes, out of a Buddhist context, society). Also, the same body treatment can be used to express celibacy for the Buddhist nun, or marriage for the Haredi, or ultra-orthodox woman. Therefore the meaning of head shaving seems to be fluctuating and contextual: it can mean either religious commitment, or punishment, or disease.
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Copyright (c) 2011 Mira Niculescu
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