(Foreign) Bodies

Julia Gebke, Henry Whittlesey Schroeder

To identify, to prevent and, if necessary, to fight mechanisms of social exclusion, discrimination and persecution, we need to understand them. Considering the currently omnipresent discussion in the media about the asylum and refugee policy, unfortunately to ask for mechanisms of social exclusion becomes of particular relevance. For a better understanding how social exclusion functions through stigmatization, a closer look at the Iberian Peninsula in the early modern period is illuminative.
The ideology of purity-of-blood (“limpieza de sangre”) divided society into two different classes: Old Christians and New Christians. New Christians, i.e. Conversos (converted Jews) and Moriscos (converted Muslims) but also their offspring, were thought to be inferior Christians and always tending towards apostasy, which means in this case the abandonment of the Catholic faith. Due to the purity-of-blood statutes New Christians were barred from obtaining exalted positions and dignities.
At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century an increased interest in bodily markers to proof the presumed inferiority of the New Christians can be observed. The publication aims at analyzing apologetic texts claiming the adherence to the purity-of-blood statutes on the one hand and medical treatises on the other. This way, reciprocal influences between the ideology of purity-of-blood and contemporary medical theory can be uncovered.
For this purpose three presumed bodily markers ascribed to the New Christians will be discussed in detail: 1) The mother’s milk of new Christian women: The apologists of the statutes argued that women of Converso or Morisco descent should be prevented from wet-nursing old Christian babies. The new Christian mother’s milk was considered a considerable threat for the child’s character and a source of contamination with heretical ideas. 2) Converso male menstruation: Relying on the topos of Jewish male menstruation Converso men were accused to suffer monthly blood flow, sometimes also described as rectal bleedings. Therefore hemorrhoids could be interpreted as divine sign of apostasy. 3) New Christian stench: New Christians were thought to exhale a bad smell. This stench was ascribed to their bodies and often considered a natural attribute of divine punishment. The topos of the foetor judaicus (the Jewish stench) served as background for this kind of reasoning. Consequently, body odor could be defined as a hint of a simulated conversion.
In a nutshell, the debate about purity-of-blood in early modern Spain offers a fruitful basis to analyze in depth social exclusion through stigmatization. Therefore, it provides one stone in a mosaic which can and shall contribute to a better understanding of classical archetypes of discrimination.

Institut für Geschichte
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601005 Europäische Geschichte, 601014 Neuere Geschichte, 605002 Kulturgeschichte, 603123 Wissenschaftsgeschichte
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