Archaeology and women’s ritual business

Kelley Hays-Gilpin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Social scientists have long discussed definitions for the terms religion, ritual, men, women, gender, and sex, but use of these terms often proves problematic. A few simple comments about vocabulary will suffice here. First, the words anthropologists use to generalize about gender categories tend to obscure the local meanings that really interest us. In many societies, females, males, inter-sexed individuals, and people whose gender identity and gender roles do not coincide with their biological sex often had socially approved ritual roles. Exceptions to social rules occurred as well. Second, by now all anthropologists realize that simplistic dichotomies such as sacred/secular and sacred/profane do not pertain in many non-Western societies, much less correlate with masculine/feminine domains of values or practice. But despite our superior and more nuanced understandings of such matters today, our vocabularies and our unconscious cultural biases still shape the way we think about the pasts of other people. Overcoming our own biases requires conscious effort. Concrete examples of other ways of thinking help that effort. My goal here is to provide three examples of how thinking outside dominant gender categories leads to a more interesting archaeology of religion. I focus here on the gender of ritual practitioners in a few recent studies of rock art and religion in Australia, the Pueblos of the southwestern United States, and the northern Plains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBelief in the Past
Subtitle of host publicationTheoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781315433080
ISBN (Print)9781598743418
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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