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Generating piety: agency in the lives of British orthodox Jewish women

Simmonds, Lindsay (2019) Generating piety: agency in the lives of British orthodox Jewish women. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004412


This thesis argues that British orthodox Jewish women (BOJW) generate spaces within the British orthodox religious community to practice piety in a non-conformist fashion. The spaces they generate both enable BOJW to perform these interventions, as well as reflect back on the normative practices of the British orthodox community. In this way these pious practices inform, influence and shift what constitutes normative practice going forward. I ask what sort of agency accounts for these practices, and how these particular practices inform wider questions of agency. Some theories of agency have rendered the religious subject as repressed, and religious women as voiceless, sometimes invisible. Many religious subjects reject this traducing of their choices, and, instead celebrate opportunities for personal and communal religious agency and alternative performances. I consider these pious interventions through the ethnographic examination of three crucial areas of orthodox religious life: education, ritual participation and issues of leadership and authority. These three areas of investigation represent the most significant arenas of religious life within which BOJW negotiate their identities. During the eight months of fieldwork, I conducted twenty-one qualitative in-depth interviews; additionally, I examined material from local communal websites, synagogue-community mailings and advertising. My findings suggest that intelligibility, as a function of identity, plays a vital role in the ways in which BOJW navigate their way through their religious lives in their homes, communities and workplaces – such that it functions as sacred edifice, restrictive restraint as well as avenue for creativity. Contemporaneously, some of the BOJW interviewed stated that although there has been some shift in normative religious practice in their local synagogue-community, they also experienced backlash from local religious authorities who construed their performances as meta-acts of communal, political and social transgression, rather than acts of religious piety – precisely because they were pious acts performed by women.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Lindsay Simmonds
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD100 Land Use
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Supervisor: Madhok, Sumi

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