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Magical 'Display' and Dancing Female Figures in the Religions of Ancient Eurasia

A lecture by Miriam Robbins Dexter, UCLA Women's Studies

Thursday, October 7, 2010
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
A163 Bunche Hall
Palm Courtyard, Basement Level
Los Angeles, CA 90095

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UCLA Central Asia Initiative
Religions of the Silk Road  Lecture Series

This lecture demonstrates the extraordinary similarities of depictions and descriptions of magical female figures who give fertility and strength to the peoples of their cultures by means of their magical erotic powers.  The "sexual" display of these female figures reflects the huge numinosity of the prehistoric divine feminine, and of her magical genitalia. The functions of fertility and apotropaia, which count among the functions of the early historic display and dancing figures, grow out of this numinosity and reflect the belief in and honoring of the powers of the ancient divine feminine.

The broad geographic and temporal range of these female figures includes very early Neolithic Anatolia, early and middle Neolithic southeast Europe - Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia-continuing through the late Neolithic in East Asia, and into early historic Greece, India, and Ireland, and elsewhere across the world.  Some conclusions are drawn about how such strikingly similar depictions of female figures found their way from Southeastern Europe to Western China.

Miriam Robbins Dexter's most recent publication is Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia (Cambria Press, 2010), co-authored with Victor H. Mair.

Religions of the Silk Road: Transformation and Transmission in the Heart of Asia, is a lecture series co-sponsored by the UCLA Central Asia Initiative and the Center for the Study of Religion

Before the rise of the maritime empires of Europe, the ancient trade routes of Central Asia served as one the world’s most vital thoroughfares of religious traffic. From the goddesses of prehistoric Eurasia through the Iranian religions of Zoroaster and Mani, to the Buddhism transferred from India and the Judaism, Christianity and eventually Islam carried in from the Mediterranean west, almost all of the major religions of Asia were imported into the oasis towns that lined the route between Persia and China. Yet if the monks, books and relics who moved along the ‘silk road’ point to a history of religious transmission both into and through Central Asia, important questions remain about what happened to these religious forms in their long periods in transit. Placing the question of transformation alongside that of transmission, the current series of talks excavates the neglected history of Central Asia’s own contributions to the religions of the old world.


Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for the Study of Religion