Call for Papers: Motherhood(s) and Polytheism

(The editors have expressed a particular interest in including work on/from Africa.)

Our aim is to analyse some ways in which a polytheistic system builds and represents itself, focusing our attention on the issue of divine motherhood.
When a deity is represented in an anthropomorphic form, is it male or female? Why? Moreover, when it is represented as a female being, is it (also) mother? There is a long-lasting tradition that tries to define a female divine category based on women’s characteristics, by focusing especially on the most important aspect of women’s life, i.e. being mothers. However, this approach shows some significant limits, in particular the risk of considering anthropomorphic deities as they were actually human and “maternal” (without taking into account, for instance, that the meaning of an apparently universal concept as “mother” can significantly change depending on historical and geographical context). In fact, if biological motherhood is a matter of fact, social motherhood (activities, rights, responsibilities, relationships, social status, representations of motherhood) varies from culture to culture: what we, “Western” people, call “maternal” might not match with what ancient people and/or people from other geographical zones call “maternal”. On the one hand, we have the “woman as symbol”, on the other hand, we have “women as agents”: Distinction by Adrienne Rich between “Motherhood as institution” and mothering (women’s experience and relation to her own reproductive capacities) might be relevant at this regard. Everyday experience suggests that there is a gap between representation/construction of motherhood and actual practice.
If we look at the Greek and Roman polytheisms, we see that male “authors” could certainly think of the divine as female, and even as mothers, that is as having given birth, but many were not, and those that did are not particularly “motherly” towards their children. It is the “virgin” Artemis who is most associated with a protective and nourishing role towards children; otherwise, the most “maternal” deities are “minor” figures from an earlier time or “minor” divinities, such as Maia, Leto, and Thetis. The nymphs, in particular, are liminal (in many senses) deities with a peculiar relationship not only to motherhood, but also to breast-feeding. These maternal figures are closer to human world and human experience. “Major” goddesses tend to enact a more abstract and metaphorical approach to fertility, abundance, and the care and protection of infants, that is what we call “kourotrophia”.
How is it represented the divine motherhood in other polytheisms? Why? Can men engage onto maternal thinking and practice, too? As far as ritual practice is concern, are mothers and mother-like figures (such as nurses and grandmothers) involved in specific rituals?
The ultimate goal of this miscellaneous is to contribute to a better understanding of mechanisms used in the construction of polytheistic religions, whose rise, development and (real?) death is still a matter of heated debate. Generally speaking, we have perhaps focused our attention too much on polytheisms present in the Mediterranean Basin, too little on other polytheisms so far.
We especially welcome contributions that offer a glimpse of polytheisms outside the “classic” world and / or help to enrich the debate on the desirable theoretical encounter between religious studies, gender studies and motherhood studies. More specifically, along with the reflections on the mechanisms to represent the deities in polytheistic systems, by analyzing motherhood as an institution (represented by goddesses?), mothering and on real mothers in several religious traditions, it could be possible to uncover the interdisciplinary potential of motherhood studies with the studies of religions and reflect on new paths of research (women’s religious experience as mothers, women reflecting on or challenging the religiously defined norms of “the good mother”, religious perspectives in family planning, construction of gendered roles in the domain of parenting, in particular that informed by religious traditions).
The proposals, which should not exceed 500 words, must be received by December 31, 2014 to the following e-mail addresses:; The accepted papers must be submitted in final form by September 2015. The final publication, from the publisher Aracne, is scheduled for the end of 2015.
We take this opportunity to extend our most cordial greetings.
Giulia Pedrucci and Chiara Terranova