A new wave of interest on sex and gender in the Ancient World

The immense interest in the conference on sex and gender in the Ancient World implies a renewed interest in the Humanities, the ancient past and in gender studies.  

parthenon acropolis

Excursion to the iconic Parthenon Acropolis. Foto. Parthenon, Frank Dürr, CC BY NC ND 2.0

This autumn, the Centre for Gender Research and the Norwegian Institute at Athens collaborated on an interdisciplinary conference on sex/gender in the ancient world. The conference “Hierarchy and Equality – Representations of sex/gender in the Ancient World” took place in Athens, from 11th to 13th of September.

The collaboration was the first of its kind, and made possible by the fact that Jorunn Økland, professor at the Centre for Gender Research, is currently also the Director of the Norwegian Institute at Athens.

A more nuanced understanding of sex and gender

The conference aimed at bringing together a wide range of scholars of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world, and draw on their respective materials to investigate the diversity of ancient conceptions of sex/gender.

In the call for papers the applicants were encouraged to explore hypotheses outside scholarly consensus regarding ancient understandings of sex/gender. Scholars were asked to explore more broadly what was “before sex”, i.e. the modern reproduction-based two-sex model (Thomas Laqueur), and seek new and potentially more fruitful ways to approach sex/gender in the ancient world. Applicants were also requested to reflect on how our modern notions of sex/gender affect our reading of the past.

Optimal atmosphere

Graduate, junior and senior scholars, from all over the world, responded to the call for papers, and 35 of these were accepted for presentation at the conference. Reinert Skumsnes, PhD-candidate at Centre for Gender Research was one of the organizers of the conference. He explains that the committee was stunned over the immense interest in the conference both from various disciplines and different countries around world.

The combination of excursions (to the Artemis sanctuary and museum at Brauron, as well as the Acropolis), theoretically diverse and astute keynote spreakers, and presentations focusing on material and/or theoretical interest in sex/gender, or in social structures based on gender distinctions created optimal atmosphere for discussions and exchange of knowledge, perspectives and insights.

Excursion to the Artemis sanctuary and Brauron archaeological site. Guided by dr. Michael Wedde and dr. Lene Os Johannessen. Foto: Lene Os Johannessen

See the program and abstracts.

Is there a third wave?

Reinert Skumsnes explains the surprising interest in the conference with a potential third wave of scholarly interest in gender and the ancient world.

-  The success of the conference might be part of a larger pattern of renewed and growing interest in the Humanities, studies of the ancient past, but also the fact that gender studies are experiencing an ever growing interest among scholars. This promises well for the future, and perhaps an even larger conference on this topic is within reach. Indeed, the participants at the conference expressed a dear desire for a follow-up of the conference. The discussions started in Athens this spring no doubt shows a persistent hunger among scholars, and also a need for more research on the topic.

The next step is to work towards publication. Through a peer view process, the best contributions will be selected for publication in a conference volume in the “Papers and Monograph Series” of the Norwegian Institute in Athens. Publication is planned for spring 2018.


Published Nov. 1, 2016 12:53 PM - Last modified Nov. 2, 2016 12:43 PM