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Title: Barren Women: The Intersection of Biology, Medicine, and Religion in the Treatment of Infertile Women in the Medieval Middle East
Authors: Verskin, Sara
Advisors: Cook, Michael A
Contributors: Near Eastern Studies Department
Keywords: Barren
Subjects: Islamic studies
Women's studies
Middle Eastern history
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Barrenness has often had profound legal, social, and medical implications for women. This dissertation explores some of those implications in the context of the medieval Middle East, focusing on three aspects of infertile women’s experiences: the disparate impact of Islamic family law on childless women; how physicians understood the etiology and treatment of infertility; and religious attitudes towards the pursuit of healing. Chapter 1 examines the ways in which Islamic law could influence the experiences of infertile women over the course of a lifetime. It begins with an examination of what Islamic religious texts had to say about the role of fertility in marriage. It then goes on to explore aspects of fertility which had legal significance including puberty, menarche, amenorrhea, and menopause. The chapter further explores the prospects and mechanisms of divorce and remarriage, and how reproductive dysfunctions complicated these procedures. It concludes with an exploration of how childlessness affects the application of Islamic inheritance laws. Chapter 2 explores how infertility is addressed in the Greco-Arabic medical tradition. It explores how medieval physicians adopted and modified Greek principles of gynecology and methodologies for diagnosing and treating infertility. It then addresses the question of how much contact existed between female patients and the writers of medieval gynecological texts, and hence how practically significant those texts are. Chapter 3 begins with an examination of the competition between the Arabo-Galenic medical tradition, the “medicine of the Prophet,” and folk medicine, from the point of view of medieval jurists. It addresses religious attitudes toward the respectability and piety of engaging in the process of seeking healing, particularly for women. Not only were interactions between male healers and female patients fraught, so also were interactions between female healers and their female patients. It shows that discomfort with women’s intimate interactions and rituals that had religio-medical significance reflects broader concerns about the search for healing and its potential religious impact. Taken together, these chapters shed light on institutions and modes of thought that played an important role in shaping medieval women’s experiences.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Near Eastern Studies

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