Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A state of purity, particularly a body not yet defiled by sexual activity.

The early church fathers held that sexual union corrupted men; it took their minds off God and caused them to be preoccupied with their lower nature. Rosemary Radford Ruether (1974:150-183) studied the rationale for Christian virginity and found that the virgin state allowed women to rise above their sinful nature and enabled men to fulfill their good nature. Historically, a vow of chastity was a woman's only path to holiness. The Virgin Mary encompasses the mystery and honor accorded the celibate state. In the words of Marina Warner (1985), she represents a central theme in the history of Western attitudes to women.

See also Purity

Nancy Nason-Clark


R. R. Ruether (ed.), Religion and Sexism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974)

M. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex (London: Picador, 1985).

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