Women, Rituals, and the Domestic-Political Distinction in the Confucian Classics

Loubna El Amine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, I show that women are depicted in the early Confucian texts not primarily as undertaking household duties or nurturing children but rather as partaking in rituals of mourning and ancestor worship. To make the argument, I analyze, besides the more philosophical texts like the Analects and the Mencius, texts known as the “Five Classics,” which describe women in their social roles in much more detail than the former. What women’s participation in rituals reveals, I contend, is that the domestic-political distinction does little to illuminate the philosophical vision offered by the early Confucian texts. Relatedly, while women’s involvement in communal religious rituals has also been noted about early Greece, the political import of such participation is even more pronounced in the Confucian case. Specifically, I show that, by embodying intergenerational continuity, the mourning and ancestor rituals that women partake in are foundational to the Confucian state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-119
Number of pages30
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Confucianism
  • domestic-political distinction
  • public-private distinction
  • rituals
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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