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Beyond SurgeryInjury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital$
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Anita Hannig

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226457154

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226457321.001.0001

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The Pure and the Pious: Flow, Containment, and Transgression

The Pure and the Pious: Flow, Containment, and Transgression

(p.64) Two The Pure and the Pious: Flow, Containment, and Transgression
Beyond Surgery

Anita Hannig

University of Chicago Press

This chapter details the ways women with fistula manage their affliction on a physical level and in their capacity as pious subjects belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It explores the techniques and strategies they deploy to negotiate their continued participation in the secular and religious life of their communities. Specifically, it asks how women with fistula try to address some of the religious challenges wrought by their injured bodies. Among Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, unchecked bodily flows are strongly associated with notions of profanity, and bodily orifices are subject to strict forms of self-judgment when it comes to one’s ability to approach the sacred. Since the uncontrollable flow of their excretions makes such self-mastery impossible for women suffering from fistula, most of them refrain from entering a church while they are leaking. Yet, this chapter contends that there exist multiple other avenues of devotion in Ethiopian Orthodoxy that allow fistula sufferers—just like other lay members of society—to navigate times of compromised purity. Pointing to the gradated nature of the sacred in Orthodox Christianity, the chapter shows, in fact, that recognition of the body’s imperfection is built into the very system of Orthodox belief and practice.

Keywords:   Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, embodied piety, obstetric fistula, purity, containment, profanity, the sacred, transgression, fasting, holy water

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