Despotism och erotik: kvinnan och religion i Montesquieus Persiska brev
This study aims to investigate how, in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters (1721), religion and religious structures are presented to influence women’s position in French society.
In Persian Letters Montesquieu presents a dogmatic religious life, which proceed from a literal interpretation of the bible. Such a reading raises critical questions concerning the nature of women, and subsequently places man over woman. Persian Letters show how this male dominance gets institutionalized in marriage. The religious life depicted is also distinguished by a non-genuine religious conviction and by acts which take on a simulation form. The compliance with the religious order has little to do with religious conviction and more to do with fear of punishment and social stigma. Montesquieu also shows how Christianity can be said to battle against human nature and especially her sexual passion. Montesquieu calls the divine origin of the bible into question, and instead suggests it was written by human hand. Subsequently, by means of rational thinking, a humanist perspective and a utilitarian principle, he questions a world order founded on a dogmatic interpretation of the bible.
Fear as a central part of the religious life, the subjects complete subordination to the religious structures, the suppression of the human passions and simulating modes of actions are all central parts in what Montesquieu calls despotic structures. In Persian Letters he exposes parallels between religious despotism, political despotism and despotic family life.
Montesquieu further links women’s situation directly with the political life. Within the family, Montesquieu tells us, citizens first developed a relationship to power, and power structures. These experiences later come to influence the individual’s behaviour in society, and constitute the foundation for the political life.
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