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Maternal Sacrifice in Jewish Culture: Rethinking Sacrifice from a Maternal Perspective in Religion, Art, and Culture

The phrase “maternal sacrifice” combines two complex terms entangled in an even more complex dynamic. First of all, “sacrifice”, a word whose definitions have been considered inadequate to describe the multiformity of practices and meanings it evokes as a ritual, as a narrative, and as a metaphor. James Watts distinguishes between “narrative traditions about killing people”, oriented towards an evaluation of killing and murder, and “the ritual killing of animals”, focused on the social functions of ritual and religion (Watts 2011, 8). To those categories a third level can be added that is related to the metaphorical use of the notion of sacrifice as the act of giving up something in order to attain a higher goal.Secondly, “maternal” is another word that could arouse the same skepticism, were it notfor what Samira Kawans describes as a recent “body of scholarship that simultaneously insists on the particularity and specificity of motherhood while at the same time rejecting any notion of a fixed or essential aspect of maternal experience, desire, or subjectivity.”(Kawans 2011, 972)

Moreover, the ambiguity of this phrase resides in the possibility of reading it both as an objective and subjective genitive. The expression can then lead to the exploration of the sacrifice performed by the mother on several objects, includingherself, or performed by others on the mother or the potential mother, i.e. matricide or the sacrifice of the virgin-daughter. These two perspectives can be then developed with respect to sacrifice as a ritual, as a narrative, and as a metaphor.

Rethinking Nancy Jay’s opposition between sacrifice and childbirth in what she defines a “remedy for having been born of woman”, the conference aims to explore new approaches to the maternal sacrifice as a ritual, as a narrative, and as a metaphor.

The conference will take place in Paris, 19-21 of November 2019.