8. Reading 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 through Habits and Hijabs in the United States
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8 Reading 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 through Habits and Hijabs in the United States Janelle Peters Introduction Veiling, in the modern American context, means visibility. To veil is to stand apart from the ordinary and the costume of one’s contemporaries. This aspect of the extraordinary implied by veiling was found to some degree in Roman antiquity: men wore veils at sacrifice, and women veiled both to sacrifice and to exhibit their status as citizen women capable of being married. In this essay, I will propose that the veils of Catholic and Islamic modernity as expressed in the United States help us to see the authority (exousia) that would have been conveyed by women wearing veils at the worship meals of the Corinthian church. At the same time, a reading of modern veils through the antique discussion of interdependence in 1 Cor. 11:1-16 allows us to see an oftenobscured system of mutual interdependence. Female veiling, which plays off the veiling of elite men, functions as a corrective to exclusions experienced by Catholics and Muslims as subcultures and by women as a subclass. The visibility of veiling too often draws our attention to the fashions themselves, a problem I myself often face as a Catholic well-versed in the visual grammar of religious habits. However, Paul’s rhetoric returns us to the system of interdependence beneath the habitus of habits. Paul uses veiling to blur class distinctions and to promote group cohesion as a subculture through gender identification. Giving woman the exousia of the veil at the worship meal rather than man interrupts imperial narratives that see man as priest of his family on the order of Caesar himself. This is why Paul invokes the creation of the world, as his cosmogony competes with Roman cosmogonic religious claims. 129 Veiling in the United States The experience of being part of a subculture connects the Pauline house churches living in the early imperial Roman period and the communities of Catholic nuns and Muslim hijabis in the United States. While American Protestant biblical commentators on 1 Corinthians such as Richard Hays very generously include Catholics when highlighting the potential for Corinthianlike idolatry in Christian participation in subcultures like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, sociologists view American Catholics and Muslims as participants in subcultures of a Protestant or secular society (Hays 1997: 144). Historian Martin Marty in his article “The Catholic Ghetto and All the Other Ghettos” has explained the historical underpinnings of this cultural perception among Catholics (Marty 1982). While television shows such as The Colbert Report prove that Catholics can participate in American popular culture, the issue persists. At my recent baptism training for my godson at my parish in Atlanta, I was admonished that, if I neglected to choose values to impart to my godson, television, that arbiter of the dominant culture, would choose for me. On a more national level, the New York Times recently discovered it was the subject of a media boycott by one of the most visible and influential members of the American Roman Catholic hierarchy. Though Clifford Geertz has noted that religious symbols are particular to individual cultures, the veils of Catholic and Muslim women coexist in American culture (Geertz 1973: 3–23). Putting the veils of Catholic and Muslim women in the context of the United States in juxtaposition is, on some levels, quite natural on a structural level. The visual resemblance is analogous to the similarity of male and female habits in religious orders, which is meant to inspire solidarity; the viewer is supposed to identify male and female religious of a particular order with each other instead of identifying male clergy with men of other orders and female religious with women of other orders. Paradoxically, the observer must look closely at the veiled to discern the difference between religions, the difference among ethnic groups and religious orders, and the difference among individual women. Rather than a veil of a religious woman resonating with that of a secular one, the veils of nuns and Muslims resonate with each other to suggest female devoutness instead of the simple femininity of a metaphor for long female hair. As Umberto Eco has noted of dead metaphors, the standard, “dead” veil—a shabbier or more severe version of the headgear worn by every woman—has become reinvigorated (Eco 1983: 255). On another structural level, Roman Catholic women religious and Muslim hijabis share a commonality: they are both a female category...