English Faculty Publications


Review: 'Gendering Disgust in Medieval Religious Polemic'

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Book Review

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Church History


In her conclusion to Gendering Disgust in Medieval Religious Polemic, Alexandra Cuffel asks her readers, “What do our bodies and our effluvia really mean to us that we should impose abstract connotations on them signifying both great power and great danger?” (244). With this question, Cuffel ponders the psychologically disturbing fact that Islamic, Jewish, and Christian medieval polemic equated the feminine with pollution and then, in turn, gendered the despised Other as feminine. Studying a wide array of sources that include chronicles, poetry, scripture, art, and medical tracts, Cuffel documents the embodiment of religious and sexual difference.

Gendering Disgust provides copious evidence of the ways that this “polemic of filth” (7) separates the divine from the human by attributing human functions, such as defecating, urinating, menstruating, and eating, to an ungodlike nature. Through both her noteworthy ability to work with Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic texts and her skill for locating unsettlingly divisive polemic, Cuffel’s book in many ways has no peer.

A necessary text for anyone interested in the subject of medieval Otherness because of the wealth of information amassed in one volume, Cuffel’s Gendering Disgust can even be considered a type of reference text that provides a compendium of various sources featuring the “polemic of filth.” Gendering Disgust unfolds in six chapters, which Cuffel divides into two parts; a concise introduction and thoughtful conclusion frame her book.

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Book's citation information: Cuffel, Alexandra. Gendering disgust in medieval religious polemic. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.


Cambridge University Press