Zuleima's New Covenant: Montesquieu and the Theologico-Sexual Question in the Persian Letters
Matthew Sharpe (Deakin University)

August 3, 2021, 3:30pm - 5:00pm

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Deakin University

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Abstract

Leo Strauss talked of a theologico-political question: what role should theology play in politics? But given the connection between political and theological systems, and relations between the sexes, there is also a theologico-sexual question--or so Montesquieu's Persian Letters, this extraordinary text in which over 50 of the 150 letters are by, to, or about women and relations between the sexes, can be read as claiming. This paper will argue that Montesquieu's marvelous text is best read, in light of Spirit of the Laws, as a deeply anti-despotic one, in which tyrannical power is linked to males' theologically-sanctioned control of women in the revealed religions, in ways which unnaturally denies their equal capacities for intelligence, virtue, and sexual self-expression. Especial attention will be paid in his light to letter 135/141, the story of Aneis and Zulema.

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